Before we begin, if you’re new here, you can read all about our full 1930s house renovation. We’ve renovated and decorated 2 properties now, and continue to support thousands of renovators daily through our renovation resources, online renovation courses and online community. If you’re wondering what to look for when buying a fixer upper, you’re in the right place.
A quick backstory…
Neil and I sold our small one bedroom flat for roughly the same price we bought our 3 bed 1930s semi detached outside the city - where we live now.
The house stood out on the market.
It has an established garden and 3 good sized bedrooms, but a HUGE amount of work was required to update it.
Everything from electrics to plumbing to a full central heating system fit – the property wasn’t even connected to gas – plus we remodelled the galley kitchen to become an open plan kitchen diner. It was dusty work.
Over the years, working with renovators both 1-on-1 and through our online course, we’ve learned fast about what it takes to successfully complete a renovation. We continue to share our knowledge and experience in our products, our free guides and here on this website – to help first time renovators get it right first time!
Would we do this specific project all again? In a heartbeat... Now here are the things we wish we knew which we advise you to watch out for.
6 things we wish we knew before starting a home renovation. Watch out for these…
We wish we knew… just how challenging it would be living in a property while renovating it
When we bought the house our plan was to move all of our belongings into one room and the loft, then decorate room by room. We didn't have the luxury of moving somewhere else temporarily while the work happened. If you’re planning to do the same, keep in mind that having nowhere to sit and chill, having boxes up to your ears and zero dust free space to cook and clean is tough.
Nails protruding from the floorboards, layers of dust you try to clean night after night so you can chill in a ‘clean’ house, tools everywhere you turn... It’s not glamorous. There were times when I was working from home and the breaker drills were UNBEARABLE.
However, we adopted some strategies to deal with the upheaval.
Decorate at least 1 room to a good standard so it’s liveable
We chose to begin renovating the living room and the smaller guest bedroom, so that we could sleep and get dressed, and relax in comfort. Locking off these rooms helped us remain sane for the next few years. Lots of renovators in our community choose to decorate the bathroom first, for comfort.
Use a room that’s low on your priority list as your storage room
Our master bedroom served as a large storage room where we stacked cardboard boxes filled with our possessions after the move. It protected a lot of items from getting moved about and damaged by the renovation.
Lay floor boards in your loft for further storage space
When you’re renovating a property that you’re living in, you need as much space as possible since you start playing Jenga with your belongings! One of the first jobs we recommend renovators do is to lay insulation and a loft floor if there isn’t one already. It provides lots more space to store your stuff safely.
Investing in protective gear
Get yourself plenty of health and safety gear (ear plugs, hard hats etc). Neil learnt the hard way and permanently damaged his hearing when using a breaker drill whilst wearing some ill-fitting ear plugs. Invest in good kit.
2. We wish we knew… that an architect isn't always necessary
You might be thinking “do I need an architect?”. Architects are essential in ambitious renovations, and it is stating the obvious that they come with a wealth of experience. However if your budget is a little tighter and you’re doing a more modest build, such as knocking down 1 internal wall, you could make a big saving not hiring an architect and opt for an alternative solution.
We initially hired an architect which cost us about 5% of the overall cost to renovate our house. It was a very interesting process, but in hindsight, it wasn’t essential and we could have hired an architect technician and structural engineer to draft the drawings and take calculations for the load bearing walls we were knocking down.
Architects can sometimes offer a project management service too, however thankfully when we were right in the thick of the house renovation I was working part time and able to manage it. For projects over £200,000, I would say that a project manager would be beneficial to ensure the smooth runnings of everything on site.
But for a lot of renovators, especially those doing a renovation for the first or second time, with a smaller budget, you can absolutely manage your project very effectively, and that’s where our website resources, renovation course and free renovation guide can really support you. We work with students to determine the best layout and design for their lifestyles and properties – so worth taking a look if you want to be sure you’ve thought about all options.
3. We wish we knew… the importance of establishing a clear layout early on
Without an awful lot of thought, we brought an architect on board to understand what we could do with the house, both from a structural and a layout point of view. But actually, architects specialise in structural, not necessarily layouts – largely it’s up to you or an interior designer to understand the flow of a home and what your requirements are internally.
We wish we knew this before. The importance of establishing a clear layout early on, means you’ll hire the right help, save money and save time on the back and forth.
We didn’t know whether we wanted an extension or not. We didn’t know whether we wanted to knock down a wall to create an open plan kitchen diner or not.
Appointing an architect to help us make that decision was a mistake, because only we could make the call.
When it came to costs, we were floored by the total cost of the extension route and that was that, decision made. But overall our advice to you is this:
Get clarity on what you want to achieve in your home as early as possible (keeping close to your budgets and what’s possible in the space you have)
Explore all options and the costs associated with them– by asking difficult questions such as “What if we didn’t do that extension? How could we use the space we currently have?” “What if we kept that kitchen fairly small? How could we optimise it?”
Don’t be afraid to work with the space you have – we chose a more modest renovation, knocking down a wall instead of building an extension, which saved us a huge amount of money and we wouldn’t change what we did for the world.
4. We wish we knew… that living in a house while you're renovating has it’s pros and cons
When you renovate a house, you quickly learn that there are benefits to being able to live somewhere else, especially while contractors are in.
If the property is vacant, contractors can be left to do their job without having to move furniture, boxes or work around you trying to cook a meal around them. Nor would it be essential for them to clear up after every working day which are extra hours you’re spending on labour. We weren’t able to, but if you do have the opportunity and the finances to live elsewhere temporarily, consider it wisely.
On the other hand there is one big upside to being in the property whilst it is being renovated because it improves communications hugely between you and your contractor. Questions like “how high do you want this light fitting?”, “which way do you want this door hung?”, “how long do you want this shelf to be?” are questions you’ll be able to answer straight away.
If you need more tips like this, you should take a look at our free Survivor’s Guide to Renovating which shares some more unexpected truths about renovating, and how to manage it.
5. We wish we knew… how hard it would be to budget. Lucky we quickly found a solution
The biggest fears our renovation community have is around costs spiralling. Specifically, overspending and not having enough contingency in place if unforeseen work was to pop up.
A renovation will fail if you don’t forecast costs well and set up a way to manage your budget.
Neil is a whizz with financial tracking and all things spreadsheets. Well before we bought the property he got us researching costs involved and itemising a predicted overall project spend, then added a contingency, which determined our budget.
I am adamant that if we didn’t take this approach, we would have spent double the cost on our renovation. This is why we place such a huge focus on helping renovators get their budgets set up as early as they can.
It’s imperative to have a clear view of projected costs, and a way to track what is being paid out, starting now.
Take a look at our How to Renovate a House Online Course to establish accurate costs and budget management – as well as a deep dive in how to nail your layout, design, planning, shopping and help with sourcing contractors step by step.
6. We wish we knew… how incredible the feeling is when it’s all complete!
It would have saved a couple of tantrums and a lot of late nights worrying. But the end goal makes the dust, sweat and tears all worth it. Keep your end goal at the forefront of your mind, always. It will carry you and the rest of your household through when times get tough.
Our overall advice to you? In any way you can keep your spirits up but most importantly stay organised - that is what our website is all about so we look forward to assisting you throughout your renovation!
I hope this post helps you and if you're about to embark on a similar home renovation project, be sure to get our free Survivor’s Guide to Renovating and be sure to look out for our online renovation course openings!
Thanks for reading,
Fi + Neil xx
WHAT WE WISH WE KNEW ABOUT RENOVATING BEFORE WE STARTED
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