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How To Start Your House Renovation – The 5 things to do FIRST

Are you thinking of renovating or extending your home but don’t know where to start?

Or perhaps you are looking at purchasing a new property and you’re not sure whether you will be able to turn it into your dream home? 

Envisaging the fantastic possibilities is exciting. But, even if you have built before, working out where to start with a house renovation can be daunting.

To help you on your way, these are the 5 important things that we recommend you do first.

1:  Check whether there are any restrictions on development

This is a very important threshold question.  A regulatory restriction on changing the look of, or extending, the property can turn house renovation plans on their head.  It is better to know whether there are any regulatory restrictions from the outset, so you don’t end up wasting time and money on a project that will not be permitted.

Key things to check are:

Are there any planning restrictions? For example, is the property subject to heritage protection? Height restrictions? Set back requirements?  Is the property in a flood zone?

Visit your local Council offices and talk to one of the Council planners about what you can and can’t do under the relevant planning scheme.  We also recommend that you talk to an officer from the Council’s building department, as in some cases there are building restrictions that you need to be aware of.  For example, we recently completed a renovation where the owner was not aware that there was a set back restriction under the building regulations – which the Council’s planning department had (unhelpfully) failed to mention because it was dealt with by the building department.

Are there any restrictions on the property’s title?

Check the property’s title to check whether any restrictions on development have been registered on it.  For example, a restrictive covenant that places restrictions on building material or on the size of the floor plan.  Also, check for easements that might affect the size and layout of an extension.

If you are planning a ground floor extension, are any relevant reports available?

Check whether any preliminary reports, such as soil tests and contour surveys, have already been prepared.  The results from these reports can have a significant effect on the design and cost of a ground floor extension.  For example, if the property is on poor quality soil, the foundations may need to go deeper than normal.

Also, check the position of the existing services such as water, sewerage, power and drainage.  Services can be very difficult or expensive to move.  The best option may be to design around them.  The most important thing is to be aware of this from the outset so you don’t waste time and money on a design that needs to be changed when the position of the existing services is identified.  If you don’t already have this information, you can request it through the Dial Before You Dig website.  Or your builder should be able to obtain that information for you.

2:  Work Out Your Budget

Before you speak to a builder about your house renovation, you need to know your budget.  You need to know what you can afford and come to a number or small range that is your building and design cost limit.

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Next, be honest with your builder. Don’t stretch your budget or keep your cards close to your chest. A builder needs to know your budget so they can build you the house you want.  A builder will build to your budget, which is why you need it finalised before you speak to them.

If you tell them your budget is lower than it really is, your new home is not going to meet your expectations.  Whereas if you stretched it a little to get the nicer fixtures and fittings and there are any unexpected costs, then you may find yourself in a bit of difficulty.  Or even worse, you have a budget and then find out the bank will only give you half that!

Builders know what they can and can’t do within a fixed budget, they do this every day so the best way to get the most out of your budget is to be honest with them. Tell them what you want and what you have.  Then they can tell you what is achievable, what is the best compromise and how you can get the best home possible for the budget you have.

Remember, they build every day, they know how much things cost and what they can and can’t do, so if you are honest from the start then everybody is on the same page.

3:  Think about what’s most important for you and your lifestyle

Why are you renovating and what do you want to achieve?  Do you need more space?  Do you want to improve the comfort and reduce the running costs of your home?  What changes will enhance your lifestyle, make the home more functional and comfortable for you and easier and more enjoyable to live in?  Are you planning to live in your renovated home long term?

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Unfortunately, it is very likely that you will need to make compromises – budget and/or physical or regulatory constraints may limit what is achievable.  Make a list of your ‘must haves’ and ‘nice to haves’ so you are ready and can focus on what is most important to you for your house renovation.

4:  Review the property market

Even if you are intending to live in your new home for the foreseeable future, we recommend that everyone who is contemplating a house renovation considers whether the value that the renovation is likely to add to the property will outweigh the cost (ie. will you be over-capitalising?).

Talk to an estate agent about the current value of your home, and the value of similar properties in your neighbourhood, both renovated and un-renovated.  Find out the median sale price in your neighbourhood and investigate whether there is a ceiling sale value for your type of home in your area.

Check out the properties that are on the market in your area and see what is in demand and what isn’t.  There are certain rooms and features that will bring more value to your home than others.  For example, buyers may favour open plan living and new kitchens and bathrooms and be less enthusiastic about a theatre room.  In some areas, homes with high energy efficiency ratings (and lower energy bills) are becoming increasingly popular.

If you’ve done your homework, you will have a good idea whether your particular renovation is likely to be an investment that adds value to your property or an expense focused primarily on improving your lifestyle.  There’s no right or wrong answer, we just think it’s better to know so you can make informed decisions.

5: Talk to a Builder

It makes perfect sense to think that once you have decided that you are ready to get started on your renovation, you would go and get a design before you approach a builder.

In fact, too often we have seen this lead to wasted time and money and terrible disappointment.  If a builder is not involved during the design phase, home owners are often shocked when they take their dream design to a builder and find out what it actually costs to build it.  This leads to them either throwing their plans out altogether, thinking that building or renovating a home is too expensive, or having to pay for the works to be redesigned.

The way to avoid this scenario is to include a builder right from the start.  You should always choose your builder first!

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This makes the entire process easier.  You will have already given the builder your budget so they will know what you can actually do.  A builder is building houses every day, they know what they can and can’t build within a certain budget and what is possible given your existing home and block of land.

Builders may have an architect they regularly work with or can recommend.  Or, if you have your mind set on a specific architect, once a builder is involved, they can work together to make sure that the design meets your standards AND budget.

Your builder should be an integral member of your design team.  They should attend meetings with you and the designer/architect, prepare preliminary estimates of build costs for the various design options, advise on cost effective construction methods and then prepare a comprehensive proposal & quote that can form the basis of a fixed price building contract for your house renovation.

But don’t forget that registered builders are professionals – don’t expect to get the benefit of their expertise for free.  They have developed and honed their expertise through years of training and experience, their advice is extremely valuable and can save you tens of thousands of dollars down the track.  So don’t be surprised if they charge for providing their advice (in the same way that other professionals charge for their services).

The most important thing is to make sure you choose the right builder for you and your house renovation, and involve them from the very beginning.

There are more handy tips on things you should know before starting your renovation in our FREE guide – 7 Things You Must Know Before Designing a New HomeDownload it now to learn how to save time and money and ensure that you are on track to your perfect home.

The Key Things to Know Before Designing Your New Home

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Sue Davidson

The highlight of Sue's job at Gaia Construction is handing over beautifully crafted homes to excited clients. In her spare time, Sue is passionate about the environment & the outdoors, enjoying time hiking, sailing, walking her dog Lulu and travelling around Australia with her husband Jeremy & Lulu in their small campervan.
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