The most common renovating mistakes, and how to avoid them

Sandy Smith

"It's amazing how many renovators don't realise how dirty, messy and intrusive into their lives it's going to be..." 

Home makeover shows make doing up properties look easy, but one mistake can easily spell disaster. How can you avoid making basic renovating mistakes?

Don’t blow the budget
Going over budget is probably the most common mistake when it comes to residential renovators says Bernadette Janson, director of the School of Renovating, in Sydney. “Most mistakes are due to a lack of experience and understanding of the process.”
Prepare a budget before you start work and put aside sufficient contingency funds to cover unexpected expenses, for example, discovering asbestos, says Janson.
Jennifer Williams from Creative Style Interior Design in Sydney advises discussing the budget with the architect, designer and builder before renovating to modify the scope of the work if necessary.
“This is better than running out of money half way through. Many of my clients have champagne tastes on what is closer to a beer budget in terms of what they’re prepared to spend — even the wealthy ones.

Be prepared
Before starting your renovation, do your research, says Williams. “Look in magazines, get on Pinterest, go and look at display homes for ideas. Keep notes and save images, either as a hard copy or digitally.
“If the renovator has given little or no thought to what they want to achieve in terms of look and feel, they may end up with the architect’s, designer’s or builder’s vision that bears no resemblance to theirs.”

Choose the right professionals
Get in a professional from the beginning, says Williams. This will save you from making mistakes from both a design, style and wasted money and time perspective, she says.
“Ask what professionals need to be involved and where will you find the right one for you,” she says. Recommendations from family and friends will only get you so far. Ask yourself whether your friend’s building standards are the same as yours. Go and look at the work done by the architect, designer and builder. Is it up to your expectations? The right professional will be different for each renovator, based on not only their budget but on the quality of finish they expect, she says.
Don’t make major changes to the layout without engaging an architect. “I’m all for renovating cost-effectively but doing structural renovations without professional design is a big mistake.” says Janson. 
“Too often you see renovated homes where the layout lets them down; ranging from a floor plan that just doesn’t feel right to downright botchy jobs where there are bedrooms and bathrooms off living rooms, poor living-to-bedroom ratio and worse still, bedrooms that are thoroughfares. A good architect can manipulate the space and light to create a home that is beautiful in both form and function.”

Shop around
Country musician Adam Brand has renovated properties in Sydney,The Central Coast, Coffs Harbour, Gold Coast and Townsville. He says a big mistake for people like himself who are trying to stick to a budget and be very hands on, is not shopping around. “Many people get carried away with having to have everything now,” says Brand. “It’s amazing the difference between quotes and prices. I was getting carport roller door quotes and they ranged from 4 to 8k. Double the price for basically the same thing.”
Move out
“If I had a dollar for every person who decided to live on site and then regretted that decision everyday thereafter, I’d be rich,” says Williams. “It’s amazing how many renovators don’t realise how dirty, messy and intrusive into their lives it’s going to be. If it’s a big renovation involving most of the home, I strongly recommend they move out, even if it’s squatting with some poor family member.”

Don’t overcapitalise
Going over the top with high spec features and finishes can add up to over-capitalising, says Janson. “A good example was Strelein House in Surry Hills listed with a hefty price tag, which may have been reasonable given the quality of the renovation, but failed to find a buyer.”
A swimming pool is another dubious spend, says Janson. “Pools rarely add value, contrary to what the swimming pool industry would tell you. People either love them or hate them and most won’t pay more for swimming pool.”

Don’t renovate to your individual taste
Don’t choose permanent finishes like tiles and glass in colours and designs that are highly individual and date, says Janson. “If you absolutely have your heart set on a suspended glass bath tub, an infinity pool or gold-plated taps, you should understand that you are highly unlikely to recoup the capital outlay when you sell the property. Luxury features are just that, a luxury.”

Don’t risk your health
“In recent years renovating has taken over from mining and manufacturing as the leading cause of asbestos-related disease” warns Janson. “Many DIY renovators are unknowingly exposing themselves and their families to the deadly fibres. Some people can recognise that products like fibro wall sheeting may contain asbestos but it is also found in a lot of lesser known products like vinyl floor tiles, the backing on old carpets, black tacky glue and the list goes on. So before you rip, sand, cut, crush, drill or demolish anything yourself, do your research to know what your dealing with