Are you planning to renovate your house? Or would you like to renovate your house but are too scared or don’t know where to start? Or are you in the middle of renovations but feel like you’re missing a trick?
Well you are in luck: here is Lisa’s 100% honest take on what she wished someone had told her before undertaking a top-to-bottom renovation of an East London Victorian home. It is written by Lisa herself and is exactly the kind of post Lisa would have loved to read before starting on her renovation journey.
From Lisa: I can hands up say that we bit off more than we could chew, especially when we had so much else going on in our lives. Would I do it again? I am not sure.
I don’t think I would do the same again, at least not at the same pace and over winter. That was a bad idea! And I definitely wouldn’t move into a half-finished house with a 1 year old. I don’t think I had fully realised what we were doing until we were doing it. But having said that, we now have a beautiful house in a great area, and this was the only way we could afford to do it.
So, if you are in the same position, then roll up your sleeves and clear your diary as much as possible as you will need to be on site as much as possible.
1. Take care choosing your architect.
For a project like ours we needed an architect. I wasn’t really concerned about the design as it was pretty standard what we wanted, so I wasn’t too worried about who we chose. Stupid! We went with a recommendation from our builder, a decision I think we all regretted – our builder included.
He was more of a structural engineer. He was a one-man band so cheaper but harder to get in touch with as he was always so busy. He also made mistakes that we had to correct later on the plans. We were lucky that one of Matt’s friend is an architect (not the kind of architect we needed but he still could help) and he made the necessary changes. So my advice is to go with a friend’s recommendation or choose someone with lots of good reviews.
2. Take even greater care choosing your builder.
This is possibly the hardest decision as this will impact everything. Overall, we were happy in the end with our builder. He had good reviews, an impressive website and Instagram account – yep, a builder that ‘grams! And most importantly I trusted him. But he had a very different style of working to the way I work: not particularly organised, often late and would promise the moon and the stars in an unrealistic timeframe. But he was also incredibly hard working, as were his team, and he really cared about the project. I also completely trusted he wasn’t going to screw us over. And all of this was more important than time keeping in the end!
My advice to you when selecting a builder would be to ask how they work, what happens when things run over, what hurdles have they had to overcome in previous projects etc. A bit like you would in an interview for a job. It isn’t necessarily the answers they give but the way they answer. You can also ask to see previous houses they have worked on. Our builder had multiple projects on at any one time, so he wasn’t actually the one working on the job. He was driving between jobs and project managing and trying to remember every detail each client wanted which wasn’t always possible. This was sometimes quite frustrating as I liked to have an update every day as to what was happening and I couldn’t always get that. Also, sometimes he couldn’t get to the house for a few days so the project would stall. That said we have also had experience of a builder at our old flat who was on site every day but him and his team would leave at 2pm without fail and it was frustrating as there was no one we could complain to! So, maybe finding the right builder is always a challenge but I would say ask all the questions you can, make sure they have good reviews and go with your gut!
3. Be one-step ahead of the materials game.
I would regularly get calls from the builder saying: ‘Is the shower here?’, ‘Have you ordered the tiles, the tiler is coming tomorrow’ etc. I guess because he was focusing on the now and the project that day, there wasn’t much forward planning on his part. My advice would be to make sure that you agree a schedule with your builder so you know when you need to have the relevant elements on site. Just make sure to keep this updated as you go along as things inevitably run over. For example, I was so ‘organised’ I had stuff sitting in the house that wasn’t needed for months and it just got in the way!
4. Sweat the small stuff.
First, make sure you check what is included in the quote in terms of smaller items. For example, a room would normally include a certain amount of electricity points and usually with standard plastic fittings. But if you want fancier fittings or more sockets then make sure to budget for this up front. I think we ended up spending hundreds of pounds on things we weren’t expecting to such as switch covers, hinges and door handles!
Second, make sure you ask for a monthly email of any extras that have been added to your bill. We were stung at the end by extras that were more than double what we expected. The charges were completely fair as we had changed or added bits, but we weren’t always made aware that these changes would be an additional cost. I think asking for a monthly email from your builder, with an update on where you are at is a good idea.
5. Don’t forget about the electricity plans.
Who knew this was so important? I am still not sure if an architect usually does this – ours was hopeless so he didn’t! So instead we had a rather ad-hoc meeting with the electrician where I thought I had thought of everything but turns out I hadn’t! Wish I had time to think through this a bit better as now there are some annoying sockets in places.
6. Try not to move in until the hallways are finished!
Now this is to do with whether things run over, whether you have enough money to rent somewhere else or a place to stay so, like us, you may not have a choice. But I thought it would be fine that the hallways weren’t finished as the main rooms that we use most were. But actually with a 1 year old, that proved really tricky as you need the hallways to get to each room and they weren’t safe for her to walk around in. Plus we then walked all the dust and dirt into the rooms that were finished which drove me mad.
7. Forgive yourself.
And finally, don’t beat yourself up about mistakes you will make. You will make mistakes. Your house won’t be perfect but you don’t know that until you live it in – so how could you know? I think the pressure for everything to be perfect and just right got to me, so be kinder to yourself – you will enjoy the process a lot more that way.
Good luck and I hope my hard-earned lessons will help you on your way!