9 Remodelling Lessons I Wish I Had Known Earlier
1. Have a plan, Fran
Every renovation, no matter how large or small, must start with a well thought out plan.
We bought our house with every intention of renovating.
We lived here for 2 years before we started the work, and moved out in 2013, to have the work done. We sought the advice of professionals with hours and hours of architect meetings and contractor meetings, many drawing revisions before we’d decided on the layout and what we wanted to achieve.
While we did a great planning job, in retrospect, we probably should have realised that trying to do the entire project at once was a major undertaking (which I cover in #4 below).
Lesson: No matter how big or small your reno dream is, you need to plan it out thoroughly beforehand. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
2. Keep an Eye on the timeline
Even just a basic timeline of tasks will give you a focus for completion.
The one thing I would definitely do differently if I were to do it all again, is take control of the entire project. We had everything happening at once and contractors working alongside contractors.
As a designer (and someone who likes to be organised), I would have preferred to be in control of the project planning. When we undertook this renovation, I was HEAVILY pregnant. We had ⅔ of the project planning done for us which meant I never had a true grasp of the project.
The more you give to others, the less control you have over the work being done, the time allotted to the project, the escalating costs.
Lesson: If you hand the project over, you'll never be in control.
3. Plan the schemes early on
There is so much waiting time at the beginning of a project (waiting for planning / drawings / progression), that it really is the best time to do the designs and choose the materials and finishes.
You’ll see that as your project progresses, so do the decisions and you end up being asked million questions on the hour, every hour and no time to think properly.
I blame it on pregnancy brain, but I chose three bathroom schemes (every element in every room) on the same day I was 7.5 months pregnant because the deadline for delivery and install had come out of nowhere (to my pregnant mind).... And to be frank, at that moment in time, the very last thing I cared about was bathrooms.
My on-the-fly selections have resulted in one bathroom that I sorta, kinda hate (so annoying when you’ve paid big money for something you don’t exactly love).
Lesson: Plan your rooms when you are in the proper headspace, at the beginning of your project.
4. seriously consider your finances
Truth bomb: Honestly if I knew what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it.
Because we were insulating the internal walls to make everything warmer (there was no insulation as our home was built in 1902), our first job was to strip everything back to the brick.
So on the very first week, my home lost hundreds of thousands of pounds in value, the kitchen was gone and it was technically unmortgageable.
I knew this was going to happen, what I didn't know at that point was, the problems we would face would mean we'd need to remortgage. Tricky!
You just have to keep going until it’s done, even if you don’t want to or can’t, and this is where the stress can lie. There is literally no going back, you have to keep spending money.
If you do need to get additional funds, banks are reluctant to lend. Because your home isn’t finished this affects the valuation. And the valuation is not relative to its actual unfinished value, it’s the 6 week fire sale value which, in an unfinished state, is about 60% of the value.
Lesson: If funds are tight, get super serious with your calculations and savings pot or you could end up in a very tricky position.
5. Have an emergency fund
I know I've touched on funding above, but here's a little about the reasoning. You’ll of course be told to have at least 20% to cover the unexpected.
I would honestly say to get as much as possible saved for the unforeseen and the unexpected.
And if it’s an old property or a large renovation, I simply don’t think 20% is anywhere near enough. Honestly, if you are very tight on your contingency pot, then maybe a large scale renovation is to be avoided if you value your sanity.
Along with our renovation came so many unexpected problems:
- Protected wildlife that ended up costing thousands and resulted in a new bridge design that had to be redesigned and constructed in a hugely more expensive way.
- The planners getting pernickety on the brick design, so our lovely standard metric 30p brick ended up being a costly imperial £1 a brick (that's quite an extra cost when you need 20,000 of them).
- Oil-contaminated land that needed specialist treatment and back filling with wagon after wagon of concrete; a necessary change in roof design meant a 4-month stop on site whilst we waited for a new bat license (yes a bat license).
- The main contractor we'd hired having taken on a fixed price basis development in a neighbouring village) going bust.
- The reason the builder went bust was due to a local labour rate increasing 50%, which of course increased our own labour bill by 50%.
All of this was over and above the normal supply delays, errors and mistakes that are inevitable part of the process.
None of the above could have been planned for prior to the works commencing, it's the unknown. 20% really didn't even make a dent.
Lesson: Have an emergency fund… and a good one at that.
6. The mess WILL last longer than expected
You know what they say… good things are worth waiting for! When you’re remodeling, everything takes FOR. EV. ER.
When we first began redoing our home, we actually moved out for a period of time, then moved back in when the reno was 80% complete, with very little funds to get the 20% completed.
That meant living in a building site for well over two years whilst we saved and recovered. The day we moved back in, we had no heating, no windows in the kitchen… And an 8 week old baby.
(I know what you’re thinking. “What were you thinking!?”) Yep. Clearly didn’t think it through.
Lesson: Be prepared for the mess to last longer than expected. A LOT longer.
7. You Can Do more than you think
We started with all the professionals doing all the jobs, and realised that with all the problems, our budget was going to run out. We decided to move back in with an 8 week old baby!
If I had to do it again, I would do so much more myself. I’d have so much more confidence in my ability than I did the first time.
You can learn how to do so much now. Our renovation was over 5 years ago when you couldn’t really watch how-to videos or find online instructions from the pros, not as easily as you can now.
After we'd moved back in, What was worth its weight in gold was having a few friends we could ask. Knowing what I know now, whilst there are some jobs that would need professionals, there are many that grit, determination, a little skill and a lot of strength will get you through.
Actually, they're some of my fondest memories, the trial and error, the lessons learnt, they're the happy moments when you're creating your home.
Lesson: Don't be scared to attempt things for yourself, have a little confidence (and hopefully some qualified friends that can help)
8. Life doesn’t stop for renovations and things are going to get messy!
Construction is loud, workmen are invasive (I guess if you want them to get the job done, they have to be in your space getting the job done!).
So if you are someone who values privacy or who expects every day life to carry on as normal, think again.
Your home will get very, very dirty. People will be coming and going which means mess and chaos.
Lesson: Carefully think about your personality type and what level of mess and chaos you can cope with, it needs to be high!
9. Function over Fabulousness (looks aren’t everything)
With so many great design options available in home decor and so many inspiring pins on Pinterest, in home magazines and online, it’s hard to resist that fabulous velvet sofa fabric or white carpet that you’ll never keep clean.
Trends come and go. Sometimes it’s just smarter to make timeless design choices. I made a few mistakes in choosing fabulousness over function.
Flooring is a particular bug bear in this house. It looks gorgeous, but I have to have specialist cleaners and finishes applied to maintain it. The kitchen flooring is limestone, but the low profile grouting makes it impossible to clean. Not the wisest choice, perhaps.
So remember to really think about the look and finish you want and ask yourself if it’s going to be a headache to maintain, and whether you think that the sacrifice is worth it.
Lesson: You may be living with your decisions for years, so be sure to choose wisely (she says, as she reaches for the specialty floor polish and scrubbing brush).
While the thought of renovating your home can be an exciting one, just be aware that if you have a tricky time with your build, some wounds are going to need healing.
When we moved back into our home in 2015, it had been so stressful and traumatic that I didn’t feel the way I thought I would. We were moving back into a home I didn’t recognise. All of the happy memories I’d had from living here before the build, had been erased. I expected to fall in love with it immediately, but I really didn’t. Not right away.
It took a few years for me to start falling in love with it again, and only when we started building new memories as a family did our old house become our new HOME.