A renovation is an exciting and challenging time and most homeowners experience at least one drama along the path to their dream house. Dramas are one thing, but nightmares? They can be avoided if you keep the extra costs, time delays and your anxiety and frustrations in check. This guide will help you become familiar with some of the pitfalls of the process. Just remember to have fun while you're at it!
Factor in all costs1 To avoid a panic attack and unexpected debt, it pays to be aware of all the potentially mountainous costs before you sign on with a builder. For a medium-size renovation you might expect to spend more than $18,000 for architect's fees (this covers the design, plans and their tendering for a builder), $5000 for council and/or building certifier fees and another $5000 on specialist reports if required by council (such as a hazardous material inspection, a structural engineering report and a surveyor's report). We notched up about $30,000 in fees in the renovation of our small cottage in Sydney's inner west.
For the first six months of the renovation, the only stressful moment was handing over the builder's progress payments. Then we decided to make some design alterations and that's when it got tricky. Many builders are happy to make small changes but baulk at major alterations. In any case, architects and builders charge a premium for alterations and builders add extra days onto the contract's time schedule. Our changes increased the builder's fee from $214,000 to $238,000. We also hired an electrician ($4000), a joiner ($35,000), and a painter ($10,000), and with the shower screens and mirrors ($4000), benchtops ($4000), light fittings, appliances and tiles ($18,000), our building costs came to $313,000.
Plan ahead2 If you are planning a major renovation that includes re-routing plumbing and installing electrical wiring, you'll probably have to relocate at some point so it's a good idea to have this organised well in advance. Check with your neighbours to see if someone is going on holiday - they may take pity on you and let you stay in their house. Ask everyone you know if they want a house sitter or advertise with a house-sitters' organisation such as www.aussiehousesitters.com.au. We had to rent, adding about $32,000 to our budget, which was a big shock.
Consider DIY carefully3 Take responsibility for some of the work, if you can. In theory this should save you buckets, but it often doesn't, especially if you are going to tackle jobs like joinery, tiling or building a deck. Fitting these jobs into a busy life may mean your part of the renovation takes longer than the builder's and while many builders are happy working in tandem with clients if they have proven skills, some aren't. Remember that all states require owner-builders to obtain a permit for their work and, if the work you are going to carry out is worth more than $12,000, some states require you to complete a course or obtain a certificate of consent, all of which are extra expenses.
A clear vision4 Clarify with your architect as early as possible what architectural features you like. Ask them to show you pictures, drawings or samples of architectural elements that they suggest.
Do your homework5 Research the cost difference between product options (for instance, timber windows versus aluminium) so you can make informed choices. And remember your builder has more buying power than you because they order in bulk.
Decide on the details6 Take the time early on to sort out the details and you won't make hasty decisions about lighting, light switches, power points, doors, door handles and skirting profiles. I agonised over our lighting, especially the 'colour temperature' of the new energy-saving lights now mandatory in new buildings, and I still didn't get it right. Paint sample boards in the colours you're considering and look at them under different coloured lights, and install lots of power points!
Think about finishes7 When choosing fixtures and fittings, be aware that too many high-shine finishes can create reflection, ambient noise and echo. Our old house had carpet, tiles and timber benches. We upped the glamour stakes by installing glossy dark timber floors, stone benches and lots of glass and we ended up with a lot of noise that, thankfully, was tempered with several thick wool rugs.
Check in8 Make unscheduled visits to your site, whether your builder is there or not. I once wandered on site and found that a leaking pipe had flooded part of our house and that rain had irreversibly damaged a timber mantelpiece because chimney pots weren't replaced after the new roof was installed.
Rubbish is a reality9 It's not entirely your builder's responsibly for managing all the tradies' rubbish; you are still responsible for putting out bins for collection. Builders prefer to take rubbish if they can fill a skip: anything less is ignored. Some tradies, such as plumbers, will take old clay pipes, ducting and rubble, but they charge a minimum of $120 (the cost of a small skip). We were left with our old 20-metre-high TV antennae, pipes, kitchen sink, a heap of sand and timber offcuts...
Keep up-to-date insurance10 Make sure your builder works with a Housing Industry of Australia contract or equivalent, and that their insurance is up to date. Also, remember to amend your home's building and contents insurance while you're renovating but maintain your policy for any part of the house that is remaining. Contact your insurer once you have moved back in to update the policy.
Above all: be patientThere will be times when your site is perplexingly vacant. The sun will be shining and you will wonder why no one is fixing the roof, painting the walls or tiling the bathroom. The builder will tell you this is normal; he has other jobs to attend to. No, you are not his only client. This can be frustrating, but it's just one of the vagaries of renovating. Your new, improved home will take shape and, once the dust has settled, you'll discover it was all truly worth it.
Architect: Maddalena Vienna, Vienna Design; (02) 9233 4566. Builder: Jonathan Hayes, Tailored Construction Group; (02) 9676 3516.