Planning a renovation? From budgeting to working with contractors, follow these top tips to make sure your project is a success
1. Clear vision
Before you even think about approaching a designer or choosing your perfect paint shade, you need to know what look you want to create in your home. Successful renovators spend time looking to other people’s houses, magazines, architecture websites and design books to create a moodboard.
You can add to this when you come across new ideas and hone others that might not work so well. Keep it as a ‘bible’ for your design vision and share what you’ve found with a designer once you’re ready.
Once you’ve got well-rounded ideas for the design, you need to know what you can actually do to your property, legally speaking. This includes finding out if you’ll need planning permission or whether you can achieve the new look under permitted development.
You’ll also need to ensure your ideas will meet with Building Regulations. If you live in a listed building or Conservation Area, now is the time to find out as strict guidelines may apply. You can start your research online at websites such as planningportal.gov.
For large-scale projects, such as extensions, conversions or whole house renovations, successful renovators will consult an architect or architectural designer. They’ll have both the design and planning knowledge and be able to let you know if it can be achieved and if not, what can be done.
For smaller projects or internal reconfigurations, ask a trusted builder – such as us at London Builders - to offer guidance, plus consult a structural engineer to ensure any wall movements are safe. Similarly, plumbers, joiners, kitchen fitters and electricians can offer expert advice on specific areas of the project.
Seek expert advice before you apply for planning permission
4. Check in with the council
Keeping in touch with the council throughout a project is always a good idea. Any planning applications will have to go to the local authority, but you can get in touch before this stage to seek rough guidance on what will be accepted.
Remember though, this doesn’t constitute any guarantees of approval and certainly doesn’t mean you don’t need to formally apply for permission. The council can also deal with building regulations approval, so can organise a building control officer to visit your property before, during and after the renovation at various stages.
5. Set a realistic budget, plus a little extra just in case
Working out how much you can afford to spend and what you can realistically achieve within that budget is key to any successful project. It’s a good idea to discuss this with your designer or builder, as they may be able to advise on where savings can be made. Decide early how much you’ll spend on the fixtures, fittings and finishing touches and try to stick to your allocated amounts, as changes to a design later on can be costly.
It’s always wise to have a contingency budget, too. A 10 per cent buffer should be sufficient, but work out if you can afford more than that. If you’re planning an extension and want to find out how to save money, click here for our 10 top tips on cutting extension costs.
6. Employs the right team
Successful renovators know that having the best team on board is key. You should start by putting together a tender document outlining exactly what work needs to be done and which trades are needed. Then, search locally for the people you need; ask friends and family for recommendations; look out for reviews online and search via trade associations, such as RIBA, The Federation of Master Builders, Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT) or The British Institute of Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom Installers (BiKBBI).
Get at least three quotes and compare price, previous work, reviews and responsiveness, plus whether you get on, before making a decision on which to hire.
will work to your timescale and budget
7. Asks friends and family for help
Know anyone who’s a builder, plumber, electrician or keen interior designer? Ask them for some free advice on your project, or if they can offer their services for a reduced rate. Even if they’re not in a trade, they may be able to recommend someone who is.
Don’t be shy to ask friends and family to help out when it comes to removing furniture, stripping walls or decorating, so long as you can make a good cuppa and have a tasty stock of biscuits. You can always repay the favour.
If you’re investing in a home transformation, you better invest in a decent kettle to keep the workers watered
If you’re asking friends and family to help, you sure better be prepared to do your bit, too. From clearing rooms, sanding skirting boards to ripping out old furniture and carpets, you’ll be able to get involved, no matter your skill level. And the more projects you take on, the more skills you’ll gain.
9. Set a realistic timeframe
Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, a successful renovation takes time. Do plenty of research, finalise the design, gain the correct permissions and find the right trades. And then ask the professionals for an as-close-to-accurate timescale as possible. Keep a calendar to mark key stages in the project and keep track of who’s doing what each week.
A well-managed project will always run more smoothly, but don’t be surprised if some unforeseen occurrences happen to delay proceedings. When this happens, work out the best plan to move forward. Rushing a renovation could result in sub-standard finishes, while dragging it on could incur more expense. Work with your team and be honest about your expectations.
10. Be honest about time and money
As well as setting a realistic budget, successful renovators are totally up front about what they have to spend. This will stop your designer and trades providing you with ideas that are out of your reach. Be open and you’ll get the best results for you.
11. Decide on living arrangements
Savvy renovators know when to live on site and when to find temporary accommodation for part of the build. If living on a building site is your idea of hell, look around at local rental properties, so you can be close by to keep an eye on proceedings, or ask nearby family or friends if they can put you up.
Make sure they have enough room, though – you don’t want the stress of two families crammed in one house on top of that of managing a project. Take a look at 22 things you only know if you’ve lived on site during a renovation to find out what you might expect.
Two families under one roof likely to feel a bit cramped? Figure out the best living arrangements for you if you have to live off site
12. Stay in touch with the builders
Once the project is up and running, successful renovators will set up a weekly meeting with your main contractor or project manager to find out what’s been done and what’s planned for the coming week. This will not only mean your trades are meeting deadlines for tasks to be completed on time and within budget, but you’ll also feel fully informed and in the loop.
13. Ask lots of questions
Just because you’re renovating your home doesn’t mean you have to become an expert in construction methods or architectural design. Although it pays to have a basic understanding of the modes and materials used so you know exactly how a space is designed, there are bound to be technical terms, jargon and practices that are complex – this is why you hire the experts, after all.
Take every opportunity to ask questions, whether to your designer, builder, plumber or glazing specialist. If there’s something you don’t understand, ask.
14. Is prepared for quick decision making
Not to throw in too many clichés, but you need to expect the unexpected and remember that time is money. Unforeseen occurrences are annoying and can cause delays in a schedule or mean you have to dip into your contingency budget. But if something goes wrong, the quicker you make a decision on how to rectify it, the better.
As a build progresses, you may be asked about anything from the gaps in grouting, the depth of door frames or whether you want the paint in the hallway to carry into the living room, so be clear from the outset on exactly what you want – and stick to it.
15. Maintain a clear vision
Experienced renovators know that changes to the design once work has started, especially structural, will cost money. While changes can be unavoidable, try to iron out any issues before construction begins. With a clear idea of how you want your home to look from the very start, you should remain confident that it will be exactly how you envisaged it.
16. Watch it all come together with pride
After months of planning, making decisions, debating design choices, weighing up costs, possibly moving out of your home, and keeping track of progress, you’ll soon realise all the effort and time spent was worth it as your dream home or room begins to take shape.
Remember, if it seems like those last stages take an age (mostly because you’re dying to move in and use the new space), keep thinking about how great it will feel when you can finally put your feet up and relax at the end of your successful renovation project.