How to turn your home renovation into a royal nightmare - 25 biggest and most costly mistakes you can make when planning a refurb
Turning a regular project into a disaster isn’t at all difficult. Most people could probably admit to making at least half a dozen of the mistakes listed below. Yeah, worry not! It could be worse. Here is a comprehensive list of everything that could be putting you on the path to failure. Read on and find out how you can avoid turning your next renovation project into a renovation nightmare
Lack of clarity on the project brief. It’s super common that homeowners are really unclear as to the aim of the project and what they are trying to achieve. It’s also quite common that only half of the total vision is written down on paper. A good example is spending 30 minutes with a builder talking about your kitchen extension plan and at the point he is by the door putting his shoes back on you mention ‘oh and by the way, I also want to rewire the whole house, re-do the bathrooms and have a spare bedroom in the loft’.
Setting an unrealistic budget. We are all people. I understand that not everyone is in the Construction industry on a daily basis and not everyone knows the exact prices off the top of their head. There is also market variance so it's absolutely fair enough. But let’s just have some common sense. I don’t need to study Chanel’s pricing list to know that if I walk in with £100 in my pocket, I won’t be able to buy much. Let’s remember that builders, architects and engineers are also human beings, have studied for many years at different levels of degrees, have a family to feed, employees and a whole other bunch of overheads to worry about. If you set yourself a budget, make it realistic.
Having absolutely no knowledge (and desire to gain any) about the rules in the industry. It’s a straight road to disaster. I’m not saying you need to complete a degree in construction but when the statistics show that almost 44% of construction projects end in dispute, 90% of projects go overtime and over budget (almost 70% of which by at least 10% increase) relying purely on luck doesn’t seem a super reasonable strategy to me.
Having no financial / project consultant involved. Of course, you can run the tender yourself. Of course, you can compare returns yourself and decide for yourself. It’s your decision. But be prepared to make mistakes that will cost you in the longer run. Not everything comes to the bottom-line figure. Understanding what is needed and what is included is often more important than the bottom line figure.
Pretending to understand a design scheme. It's normal that not everyone in the world understands blueprint and construction drawings. Not everyone understands that there are different types of drawings, showing different things and fulfilling different purposes. But, it's your project, your house and you will live with the outcomes of it. Make sure you are clear what it is you are getting. If you don’t understand, say it.
Having absolutely no safety cushion. In contract language it’s called a contingency. Renovating existing properties don’t always go to plan. It’s a fact. Something gets discovered in the opening up of works, something changes, something becomes unavailable on the way. If you start a renovation project with £30k in the bank expecting to pay £30k then you haven’t got enough money. Be prepared and have a 5-10% contingency cushion.
Expecting everything to go according to plan. I have already mentioned that in renovation this doesn’t happen. It may be a fairly small issue or a large mind-blowing problem. It’s just something to be expected. Hence rather than planning your move in date for the completion date, depending on the works, have a week or two as a safety plan. If I’m wrong and you are the lucky person to have programmed everything to a day, you can always spend this time snagging, cleaning and preparing your building for occupation.
Going for the lowest bid. There are loads of different opinions on the best way to tender for a project and choosing a contractor. The golden rule is, obtain 4-5 quotes. You are meant to reject the lowest and the highest one and negotiate in the middle. I would say that there is a lot of ‘buts’ here however on a general advice level there is a high probability that rejecting the lowest bid will put you in a better position.
Not doing your due diligence. This happens over and over again. It’s the easiest way to reject suspicious builders from your work. Have you checked the Builder/Company doing your renovation project? Have you checked that they are registered with Companies House? Have you checked what their status is? If anything has come up have you asked them about this? It's quite normal in the industry to request 3 years of full accounts to date. This helps you understand what level of finance the company operates on and what kind of cash they have in the bank. Do you want a completed project or to be on the list of creditors for a building company that's just gone bust with your money in their bank account?
Not asking for references. Many builders try get around this by explaining that the work is low value, their previous clients don’t want to talk to others and it’s not really fair to interfere in their privacy. I disagree. Often, you as a client, invest life savings into your house renovation. It’s down to the builder to convince you he is the one that will provide a decent service to you, not you running after him, pushing money into his pocket and begging ‘do my work’. When I used to work for a construction company there was no problem in getting references from other clients, architects or even the building inspector! There is always someone who can share an opinion with you and if there isn’t then it’s a red light.
Starting too soon. Let’s make it clear: the planning set of drawings is not enough for construction. If you want to make a start on your renovation project you should have a clear picture in your head of what you want to have at the end. If you are starting the work still thinking about room layouts, then it’s far too early. In the ideal world you should have everything decided and chosen when starting the project. In reality if you have 60-70% of finishes decided it’s probably safe to start your project. The contra argument I get a lot is that ‘my builder said it's ok’. Of course, he will say that! He probably needs a project now to keep his team busy and the minute your decision making will start delaying him or requiring project changes he will start charging you so it’s the ka-ching moment for him.
Relying on the builder to know it all. The builder is there to provide you with the service agreed in your contract. He may or may not feel comfortable sharing his thoughts on other elements of the project. The builder is not there to advise you on build ups, building regulations, planning requirements, design trends or consequences of your decisions. A classic example is levelling. Architectural or interior designer drawings show everything perfect, square, aligned. The reality is hardly ever like that. If you are changing floor finishes, installing new doors, new joinery etc it does not necessarily mean it’s down to your builder to raise the fact that your design intent may not be met due to floors/walls/ceilings not being levelled.
Trying to save on professional fees. My favourite one. I always explain it like saving on having a cleaner. Of course, you can spend time cleaning your house, mopping floors and cleaning toilets but how is this a saving to you? Its avoidance of spending money but not saving. How much is your good mood worth? How much is the time you could be spending with your family worth? There is a certain level of management in every project that needs to be done. You can take it all on your head but be honest with yourself it’s not necessarily a saving. Plus, your lack of experience may lead you to spend more money to rectify the mistakes you've made on the way.
Compromising on the wrong things. I’ve already mentioned that often, please spend their life savings on renovation projects. When they see the quotes coming back, they get pushed into this mentality that ‘we need to do it, let's find savings’. Again, a classic example is renovating a flat to achieve a more spacious layout. Once the quotes are presented the client decides to leave the existing layout but still refresh everything else, change the bathroom and the kitchen. Of course, it can be done but the question is why? What is more important, the finishes or the spacious layout?
Focusing on a detail and losing the bigger picture. Happens a lot. Many homeowners focus on one little element and lose sight of the bigger picture. Trying to save money on one little element and then losing much more on everything else. An example might be spending weeks deciding on the colour of power sockets but not paying enough attention to quantity and positions of where they are going. You may choose the best plates but end up re opening walls and adding sockets or moving them at a later stage.
Inappropriate contracting. Without going into details on different types of contracting it hardly ever happens that people treat contracting seriously to start with. I love the questions ‘where can I get a FREE builders contract template please’. The answer is simple – everywhere. The question I ask is ‘why do you need a contract then?’ I’ve never seen or heard that someone is looking for free house insurance. Not everything can be planned or predicted and bad things happen. The contract is your insurance in case your builder has bad intentions, if you have a fall out during the works, if he dies or anything else happens. It also provides a basic level of clarity on what to do if any of the unpredicted happens. Standard forms of contract are called this way because they have been around for decades, have been tried and tested and proven to work. No need to re-invent the wheel. The cost of a standard contract starts at £30. Considering the investment you are making in your project it seems like nothing. Do yourself a favour and don’t look for ‘free’ stuff.
Lack of understanding of the contract or construction language. No one was born speaking fluent construction. There are words that any contract or construction professional speaks every day, but you may not have a clue what they mean. Valuation, retention, contingency etc. Don’t just assume it’s not important. Ask the question and understand the answer.
Making changes to an ongoing scheme. Everyone can change their mind. It's understandable that looking for a kitchen splashback you just found these amazing bathroom tiles that you have to have. That’s fine (if the bathroom tiles have not yet been ordered, delivered or, worst, fitted). Have in mind that it may have an impact on some of the works already done. But if you just found these tiles and because of that you want to change the whole colour scheme of tiles in the entire building including the colour of kitchen cabinets then you might have a bigger problem.
Lack of efficient communication. In my opinion this is the most important item on this list. Renovation is exciting. It’s a great process to be in. The fact that you just found this amazing wallpaper online that you have shown to your builder and 6 neighbours is not necessarily communicating the information that you want this wallpaper on a feature wall in your bedroom. Make sure you are super clear in communicating the message you have in mind. No one can read your mind and guess the intentions you have. Bonus points for communicating in a written form. We are all people and forget things. If you can communicate in a written form so that whoever you communicate to can come back to it, that's great practice.
Buying materials for a builder to install. I understand that people do that thinking they save money. In fact, the result 9 times out of 10 is exactly opposite. It’s convenient for your builder because his cash flow is safe, he doesn’t need to invest any money into this. You on the other hand are exposing yourself to all the risks. Once the item is ordered (whatever it is) most likely will need confirmation. What is your expertise to confirm this is correct? Any delivery damages, shortage, mistakes come back on your head. When you have a builder supplying and fitting whatever it is, we are talking about here it’s down to him to consider and deal with everything to deliver the outcome to you.
Ignoring Rules and Regulations. I can’t say that it's ok to ‘chance’ renovation works and hope for the best, but it happens. There is a high chance that sooner or later this will come back to you though. If you plan on selling your property at some point or even when you don’t. The regulations haven’t been set to make everyone’s life more difficult but because we know they work. Ignoring them is one of those risks that will come back to bite you when you don’t expect it.
Paying a big deposit. I’m absolutely against huge deposit payments prior to the works starting. If your builder has absolutely zero flexibility in that sense and you don’t want to change builder, simply agree that payment will be made on the day of commencement of the works. This way at least you know that someone turned up as promised, the tools arrived etc. Make sure you are secure rather than banking someone £10k and waving goodbye on their Bahamas trip.
Leaving the builders to make decisions. It even sounds like you’re asking for trouble. It’s your house, your money, your building work and only you know what the outcome is you desire. If you leave the decision to builders, most likely it will end up having to be re done, cost you twice and the builders will absolutely hate you for it.
Paying cash. The first principle is that if you pay your builder cash to avoid taxation liability be aware that in the letter of law this makes your contract invalid. You can’t benefit from breaking the law and avoiding taxation and at the same time rely on the same law to secure you if something goes wrong. Cash is of course a legally accepted form of payment but the problem is its untraceable. A bank transfer or card payment is shown in your bank statement. There is a record of it. If you hand over someone a suitcase full of cash, the next day they might deny it and leave you without any proof of payment.
Taxation rules Be aware what taxation rules you fall into. Your builder is not necessarily your accountant and may not be aware of all the things. If you decide to claim your Vat through your company expenses you may discover that you, as a business, are liable to deduct CIS from your builder as well. If you fall into rules of reduced VAT make sure you double check with specialists at what values. Don’t leave it for your builder to deal with hoping for the best.
I hope these will help you understand what sort of nightmares we can help to prevent. Of course if you’ve read this and decide that you still want to do it yourself, maybe print this blog off and use it as a checklist. But if you’ve come to the conclusion that you don’t want to be your own project manager, and why would you it sounds like a fucking nightmare, you can book a complimentary call with me to talk about the services I offer.