You’ve decided to renovate your home. Congratulations! You’re embarking on a wonderful and exciting adventure. There’s just one problem.
Where do you start?
Many homeowners fumble through the planning because they’re so excited to get started. Thing is, a good, solid plan will keep your project on time and budget.
Without a plan, a home renovation can morph into a monster that can eat time, money and sanity!
Don’t let that happen to you.
Avoid some of the common pitfalls and give your project the best chance of success with our five not-always-obvious tips for planning your renovation.
Step 2: Design & Plan - Put your dreams on paper
Now it’s time for the fun part - planning and designing your ideal home.
Yes, we’re doing this even before we’ve hired a contractor!
“Avoid designing as you go with builders on-site,” advises Emily Smith an architecture enthusiast and deputy editor at Build It. “This project is a major investment, possibly eating into your hard-earned life savings, so it’s really important to take your time to get the plans pinned down in advance.” (Source: Build It)
You’ll want to be working on this step about three to six months before your renovation starts.
During this time, you’ll be designing your final look, getting cost estimates from contractors and even building a timeline for your renovation.
Everything that goes into a really great design plan
Hire your designer or architect, grab your mood boards, paint swatches, and all those other inspirational items, and work with them to put those big dreams on paper.
Remember, honesty is the best policy.
Your designer wants to create your perfect design plans. They can’t do that if you don’t tell them exactly what you want.
They also can’t do that if you don’t ask them for clarification on things you don’t fully understand.
To help you visualize your design’s layout and space, take some painters tape to a large open space and mark everything out on the ground. You’ll be able to walk around and get a sense of how it all flows.
A good renovation plan should clearly state the end goal for the project. So, what goes into a good renovation plan?
Here are a few things you should include. Ask your designer or architect if they think anything else should go into your plan, too.
- Outline of work to be completed.
- Blueprints/sketches of the finished project.
- All measurements - doors widths, furniture, etc.
- List of needs & wants for your project.
- Project steps divided into DIY steps and steps that will require a professional.
“Being organised and pulling together detailed drawings and specifications that your contractors and trades work from will put you in the best position to achieve your dream home on time and on budget,” says Smith.
5 Tips for finding the right contractor for your project
Once you’ve got your design drafting, you’ll probably start thinking about who will take these plans and make them a reality.
DIY is always an option of course! However, for larger and/or more specialized projects, you’d be better off hiring a tradesperson or construction company. They have the expertise to get the job done right, the first time.
So, it’s time to reach out to building contractors and/or tradespeople. Finding the right company and people to work in your space is very important.
“You have to feel comfortable and confident in the skills of everyone working on your site,” expert renovator Michael Holmes told Lindsay Davis. (Source: Real Homes)
Question is, how do you know if a contractor is the “right” one?
These five tips will make sure you’ve asked all the right questions.
- Always get quotes from at least three different contractors/companies (if not more).
- Ask each contractor the difference in price if they complete the whole job or if you manage it
- Ask for references from previous clients
- Check the contractors’ references.
- Consider the following about each contractor:
- Years of experience: contractors who’ve been in the business for a long time are usually a safer option than newer contractors. (Except when it comes to Renovation Planner, of course! We’ve only just started, but we’re brilliant at what we do.)
- Contractors license: they should have this plus other certifications required.
- Certificate of insurance: this is to cover workers safety as well as the materials they purchase on your behalf.
- Payment schedule: reputable contractors won’t ask you to pay the full price upfront. Discuss payment terms before construction begins.
“Don’t just go for the lowest price,” warns Pollard. “Ask the professionals to explain their quotes, which will give you more idea of what they’re offering and the reasons behind it.”
There are no dumb questions - so ask every question that pops into your mind. It’s your money and you should know where it’s going.
Step 3: Budget & Paperwork - It may be boring, but it’s absolutely necessary
No one likes paperwork. We know that. Unfortunately, when it comes to planning a renovation, the project budget is an important step that you really shouldn’t skip.
Remember, this is all to make your dream home become a reality!
By now, you’ll probably have received, at the very least, three different quotes on the work you want to be done. You’ll use these to come up with your budget and get a better sense of what permits you’ll need to get started.
We’ll do our best to make this easy and quick, so you can get back to the fun parts of a home renovation.
How to make a home renovation budget
There’s a lot that goes into a project budget. The most important thing though is how much you can afford to spend.
That will be your “maximum spend” number. You won’t want your actual budget to exceed that number. In fact, it’d be best if your budget is lower!
Want to make a rough estimate of how much your renovation will cost, as it looks right now? Here’s what you do.
Take a piece of paper and each estimate you’ve received, then...
- Write the estimate at the top.
- Price out all required materials, including new furniture & interior decor items. Add that to the estimate.
- Will you need to move out during the renovations? If so, add the cost of the rent.
- Will you be in charge of waste disposal? Add that as well.
- Will you be doing any of the demolition work?
- How much do the permits and legal fees cost? Make sure to account for those in your budget.
- Include an estimate for furniture, kitchen cabinets and other fixtures and fittings.
- Take the sum of 1 to 5 and add 20 per cent for unexpected costs.
- Add it all together. There’s your expected cost.
If the expected cost is higher than your “maximum spend”, you’ll need to review your design plan, consult your designer/architect and see what can be changed to reduce the cost of your renovation plan.
“No matter how prepared you are when pricing up the elements of your major home improvement venture, it’s absolutely crucial to have money put aside in case something unexpected crops up – which it almost always does,” advises Smith. (Source: Build It)
She suggests 15% of the total budget should be added. Other sources say between 10% and 20%. We suggest you add 20% - if you don’t need all of it, you can spend it on additional touches you weren’t able to include at first!
Don’t forget about your interior finishes and furniture!
Spend money on things you touch every day - door hardware, doors, tap, appliances, cabinets, etc. Invest in those items now and they’ll last a lot longer. These will add to the cost of your renovation and leaving enough room in the budget will mean you can get what you want instead of having to settle for something cheaper.
Finally, your budget should include costs for permits and building materials, if they’re not included in the estimates you received.
Contracts, permits and paperwork, oh my!
Now that the maths portion of the project is done, it’s time to hire your contractor. This will involve signing forms and ironing out the details of their responsibilities and yours.
When you hire your contractor, you’ll most likely set a rough start date for your renovations. Exciting!
But wait. The paperwork isn’t done yet.
Now, you can apply for any and all permits you’ll need.
“Councils vary when it comes to the types of extensions and conversions they allow,” explained Pollard. “You can find information about planning regulations in your area by doing a search on your local authority website, which you can find through Planning Portal.”
You should also make sure you have the appropriate home insurance coverage and documentation.
“Home contents or buildings insurance may not cover for extensive building work,” cautioned Davis. “If you carry out alterations without addressing this, you might find your policy is voided and claiming against it is impossible should anything go wrong. The best thing to do is to take out specialist renovations insurance. The level required will depend on the works carried out.”
Refer to your notes from speaking with the experts for this part. If you’ve done your research right, this part won’t take long at all and you’ll be able to hop onto the next, much more exciting step!
Step 4: Finalize & Schedule - Getting everything ready for your start date
This is where everything starts to move quickly.
In the two to three month leading up to when your renovation truly starts in earnest, you’ll finish up your designs, add some dates to your plans and collect all the necessary paperwork.
Time to put the polish on those design plans
You and your designer (or architect) have worked hard to create the perfect renovation designs. Now you need to make sure they’re actually doable.
It’s time to show them to your contractor.
Contractors look at plans and designs from a building-process perspective rather than as a final product. They might see issues that designers might not consider. If there are issues, now is the best time to fix them.
Iron out the kinks with your designer and, once the plans are final, take them to your local planners for approval, if needed.
Map out a timeline and milestones to keep you on track
Let’s face it. We all work better when we have due dates. Whether it’s for little, one-off work projects or big whole-home renovations, mapping out a timeline can be the difference between “done” and “drawn out for years”.
Let’s make sure your renovation gets completed. And in a timely manner.
Making a schedule is the best way to do this. Renovation schedules break down the large project into smaller parts. These parts are assigned reasonable “due dates” so that everyone is always on the same page and working towards the same goal.
Before you make a schedule yourself, check to see if your contractor or project manager has already made one. If they have, excellent! If not, read on to find out how you can create a schedule of your very own.
Either way, sit down with your contractor to:
- Discuss the project steps
- Find out the order in which they should be completed, and if any can happen at the same time.
- Determine how long each part of the project will take.
- Set deadlines for your decisions and approvals.
- List what needs to be purchased and who is responsible for purchasing them.
- Outline when materials need to be delivered to the construction site.
- Assign a start or end date for your renovation (whichever you know for sure at that time).
- Delegate tasks, if needed.
Now you’re ready to make your schedule.
If you’re making the schedule yourself, write down all the project’s steps and other deadlines discussed in your meeting with the contractor.
Then you can either use the start date or use the end date to set your milestone dates.
For the first approach, put your start date at the top and add milestones for each part of the project working forward in time.
For the other approach, put the end date at the bottom and add milestones for each part of the project working backwards in time.
Finally, you should add time for the following:
- Time to clean out the project area.
- Any holidays your contractors may take off.
- A few days’ worth of wiggle room for unexpected issues.
It really is that simple.
Don’t forget to show the final schedule to your contractors and team members before you finalize it! They’ll be able to let you know if the timeline is realistic.
Step 5: Last Checks - Renovation day is nigh!
You’re almost ready to start your renovations! Not sure about you, but we’re usually pretty excited in the few weeks leading up to our project start date.
Like children on Christmas morning!
Before you get too caught up in your dreams of a lovely, finished home, there are a few more things you can do to keep your project moving smoothly.
The project binder: an easy way to keep everyone up-to-date
There will be a lot of people going in and out of your space for the duration of your revocation. As is the case when several people work on one thing, there’s bound to be information falling through the proverbial cracks.
How can you prevent that from happening?
With a project binder!
A project binder stays on-site for the duration of the renovation. It contains every detail about the renovation so that anyone can refer to it whenever they need it.
Ready to make your own?
Here’s what you should include in your building work project binder:
- Plans, designs and specs about the renovation.
- Instructions for what to do with the rubbish (if you’re managing the waste disposal).
- Rules about the surrounding spaces, neighbours’ gardens and walkways - do your neighbour’s prize roses grow up against your fences? Are there any pets that might wander in unexpectedly? Note those here.
- Open spaces for the workers to use; for example, where can they park? Take their break? Use the facilities? Buy or heat up their lunch?
- Contact information for all relevant people involved in the renovation.
- A complete schedule of the project.
- A notepad so people can write updates and leave notes in the binder, if necessary.
Before you start printing, talk to your contractor. They may already have one made. If that’s the case, ask if you can review it to add any missing information, like the neighbourhood rules or contact information.
“You need to make sure you cater for the needs of your builders working on your house,” advised Davis. “The key to a healthy relationship with your builders is having a separation between their building site and your ‘home’, so keep welfare facilities apart if you can.”
Be a good neighbour. Tell them what’s about to happen.
Have you ever been woken up unexpectedly by loud, obnoxious banging outside your window?
Yeah, it’s not fun, is it?
Don’t do this to your neighbours.
A few weeks before work starts on your home, take an afternoon to go door to door to speak to your neighbours. Let them know that there will be work done on your home, how long it should take, and how they can contact you if there are any problems during the renovations.
“Living next door to a building site can be almost as stressful as living in one,” wrote Davis. “Remember that you have a vested interest in the work being carried out that your neighbours do not, so being considerate and transparent when tackling your home renovation will take the edge of any inconveniences.”
Davis also suggests introducing your team to your neighbours, as many people are anxious when lots of strangers appear in their street.
It’s a lovely gesture that they will appreciate, and it may make them less likely to complain about the noise later on.
Time to Renovate!
That’s it! You’re done planning. Now it’s day one of the long-awaited renovation and you get to watch all your planning come to fruition.
With your solid plan in place, your renovation will be less stressful. You’ll also have a much better idea of what, exactly, is involved. This means you can watch it progress with an educated eye, and make decisions on the fly when needed.
That being said, a lot can happen during a renovation.
But we'll cover tips for what to do during a renovation in a future article.
So get out there and make the best renovation plans you can.