14 Top tips - what every first-time renovator should know

When planning your first home renovation, it can be very tempting to skip ahead to the exciting stage of choosing new paint colours and fixtures and fittings but, before enthusiasm gets the better of you, make sure you have done your homework and have a clear idea of your end goal.

And now, with more time on our hands than most know what to do with, it’s the perfect time to get down to research and planning.

Chris Cilliers, CEO and Co-Principal for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in the Winelands says that many novices who take on the challenge don’t realise that their very first steps are likely to set the course for the entire project and can have far-reaching consequences way down the line.

“Having a clear idea of your desired final results will enable contractors to immediately advise about the possibility of achieving them and guide you if you need to consider alternatives.

“It will also enable you to establish a more accurate budget and timeline – and stick to them.”

She offers the following tips for formulating a clear plan and circumventing as many pitfalls as possible:

  • Look up the ceiling value for your neighbourhood: To determine your return on investment and to avoid overcapitalising, check how what price similar properties in the neighbourhood have recently sold for on websites like Property24;
  • Work out a budget: After doing your homework, try to work out as precise a budget as possible and include a contingency fund for any unexpected costs—and expect to use it. Also allow for incidental costs like eating out while the kitchen is inhabitable or even a hotel room for a night or two;
  • Plan Ahead: You need to carefully consider factors such as your family’s space requirements and cooking and ablution facilities which may need to be moved around. It is crucial to have a concise schedule of works so that you can plan accordingly, especially for the times when you may not have water or power;
  • Create a Retreat: Living on-site and witnessing the transformation of your home is exciting but it will be intrusive and at times it will even be unbearable so it’s important that there is one space that feels like a respite from the dust and debris of the building site. Even just one room that can be kept clean, tidy and cosy will make all the difference;
  • On Site Storage: You will not only have to store your own belongings but also the tools and building materials. If you don’t have a suitable outbuilding, consider constructing shed or hiring a shipping container;
  • Select the right professionals: Any good contractor will have no problem providing references and copies of liability insurance. Remember, there are more important attributes than mere creative talent to consider, including reliability, the ability to assess a situation quickly to find solutions and finish as close to the quoted and agreed upon deadline and budget. Also important is to find out how many other projects the company is currently working on because if they are juggling numerous clients, the chances of running over deadline are almost certain;
  • Ensure you have the right insurance: Advise your home insurer of the works to be carried out and find out if you need to amend your current home insurance or take out any temporary policies like site insurance for the duration of the project. And just because your contractor has public liability insurance, it does not mean you are covered.

“It’s inevitable that a renovation project will be a rollercoaster ride of excitement, optimism, stress, and angst,” says Cilliers, “but there are a number of common mistakes that novices make that can cause considerable angst or could even scupper the project altogether.

“However, most of them can be easily avoided if one is prepared and aware of the potential minefields.”

The most common errors are:

  • Underestimating costs: It’s fair to say that most projects will inevitably cost more and take longer than you expect, so prudent add 20% to your total projected budget if you can afford to do so. If you happen to come in under budget then you will be able to afford those little extras;
  • Expecting everything to go according to plan: This is especially true when working on older buildings which can yield any number of unforeseen problems. And there is always factors like weather, human error and myriad other issues that can so always expect the unexpected and be as prepared as possible;
  • Making too many changes along the way: Even the smallest changes cost money so try to not make unnecessary plan changes along the way. And always check with your contractor or designer about the potential implications and costs of making changes before you make any decisions;
  • Working on too many rooms at once: Working haphazardly in different rooms will leave you feeling unsettled and it's easy to become discouraged when nothing is completed and seems to be going on forever;
  • Not setting up a timeline: Work out a realistic timeline with your contractor and make a corresponding list of materials that need to be bought in time for each stage. Running around buying items while work is delayed is both costly and frustrating. And, if possible, don’t time renovations to be completed near big holidays like Easter or Christmas nor for a big event like a 50th birthday party.  That’s a sure way to set yourself up for disappointment;
  • Not familiarising yourself with the local city council’s building regulations: Many alterations will require city council approval and they have become stricter in recent years. If you are merely making cosmetic changes like kitchen cupboards or flooring surfaces, replacing bathroom fixtures or adding a few new cupboards then approval is not necessary but all structural changes – including breaking through a wall to create open plan flow – can only commence once the plans are approved. And don’t forget that homes older than 60 years may be subject to the special restrictions applicable to historical homes.
  • Not knowing measurements: Keep a list of all key measurements so that you don’t buy the wrong sizes or lengths of any materials that need to be cut and it’s also important when shopping for new furniture as you could end up with a sofa that barely leaves room for a side table.

Cilliers has a final word of caution: “Beware the dangers of DYI because, whilst all the reality shows on television make renovating look easy, and even fun, the results of a poorly executed renovation are far from impressive.

“Make sure you understand the amount of work that needs to be done and the amount of time you will have to dedicate to the project. With a little forethought, planning and research it’s possible to add substantial value to your property.

“At the end of the day – and despite the inconvenience - it can be a very rewarding experience with several positive spin-offs: you will save money, you can oversee the process and keep things moving and you will also learn a host of new skills.”

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