Robin Stenson has worked in property for more than 20 years and offers this invaluable advice for anyone planning a renovation project on their own home. Embarking on a renovation project is not for the faint-hearted but a bit of planning will go a long way in making it as stress-free as possible and eliminate any unexpected financial surprises. Whatever the scale of your project, from simply installing a new bathroom to renovating the whole building, there are several questions that you should answer at the very start to keep house renovation costs to a minimum, from ensuring you have planning permission to making sure everything is done safely.

Do you have planning permission?

Before you embark on any project, make sure you have looked into whether you need planning permission or not. Planning rules have been relaxed in recent years but do check with your local council as they have the power to order any unauthorised developments to be removed at significant cost to yourself.

Who’s in charge?

Will you manage the renovation yourself or appoint someone to oversee it on your behalf? This is the one decision that will hinge on the size of your project. If you are just putting in a new bathroom then it’s probably unnecessary but if your project is to involve multiple rooms, major building work or several tradespeople, an experienced project manager could save you money in the long run and ensure your work is completed on time, especially if you can’t be on-site all the time.

What’s the plan?

Something required on any project is a schedule for all the work. Depending on your job, there will be certain tasks that can’t be started before previous work is completed. For example, no interior work can be started before a roof is watertight and bathroom or kitchen units can’t go in before all plasterwork is completed. Therefore it’s imperative that your tradesmen know how their work fits into the renovation as a whole. You don’t want to end up with people on site who can’t do any work, so you’re literally paying something for nothing.

Who’s doing the work?

Choosing your tradesmen is a task in itself. Conventional wisdom is to obtain three quotes for each piece of work and pick the best. While this holds true, price should not be the only barometer of quality. Ask to see evidence of previous work undertaken or details of satisfied customers who might be able to give you a reference. Also beware of anyone who offers to start immediately – a good tradesman should be a busy tradesman.

What if it goes wrong?

Once you have your tradesmen or team of tradesmen in place, make sure a budget and a realistic timescale are agreed and that contracts are signed to that effect. However, even with the finest builders in the land, some problems will be unavoidable so build in a contingency fund to cover any unexpected hiccups. Look to set aside around 10 per cent of the total budget for smaller jobs, going up to 20 or 30 per cent for larger renovations, especially if you’re working on a period property. After all, what are the signs of subsidence in a house, for example? You may well not have noticed any but such problems are often only discovered when you embark on other work so you need to be prepared for unexpected expenses and build this into your budget.

How do I do it safely?

Finally, any renovation work has to be done safely so beware of cutting corners to save a few pounds. This means everything from ensuring any load-bearing walls that are removed are replaced with suitable supports, making sure anyone installing gas appliances has the correct certification and also that health and safety regulations are respected on site. A failure to take into account any of these could lead to paying out more money for corrective work or even fines if laws are broken.

With a proper plan, a realistic budget and an understanding that not everything will go smoothly, your house renovation costs shouldn’t spiral out of control – on budget and on time is a realistic proposition if you’re well-prepared and well-informed.


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