Almost a fifth of people in the UK have renovated their homes this year, taking advantage of the extra time spent at home during the various lockdowns.
The figures, from price comparison website Confused, suggest the kitchen is the most popular room to overhaul, with the average spend coming in at around £5,200. This is followed by renovating the conservatory at an average cost of £3,550, with upgrading the bathroom at a typical spend of £3,340 coming in at third place.
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Taking on a renovation project can also be a good way for first-time buyers to get onto the property ladder, reducing the upfront purchase price and potentially providing a way to add value if selling on.
But first-time buyers should be prepared for hard graft to bring costs down, or face hefty costs that are likely to run over budget if they rely on professionals to do all the work.
Sarah Macklin, a 26-year-old copywriter based on the Wirral, Merseyside, spent £20,000 renovating her first home with her husband Jay, also 26.
She explains the process and how the pair saved thousands by doing most of the work themselves.
I’m a copywriter for a digital marketing agency based in Chester and my husband, Jay, is an engineer.
We bought our first home in January 2017, then aged 22, a three-bed semi-detached based just outside Chester.
It was the ideal place for us as it’s located near two major motorways, 20 minutes from each of our parents’, and the house prices were far lower than anything we could have got in Chester.
We paid £145,000, having brought the price down from a list price of £155,000. We raised a 10 per cent deposit, having saved money by going out less, selling our car and using Help to Buy Isas to benefit from the government bonus.
We didn’t live in the house for six months as it needed a complete overhaul. It had no kitchen or plumbing and the whole place needed rewiring. We were fortunate we were able to live rent-free separately in each of our parents’ houses while the work was being done.
We did most of the work ourselves, fitting in the renovation around our full-time jobs. There was a lot of late nights and working in the dark.
Jay even rebuilt the banister and skirting, fitting new handrails and spindles, after we were quoted £1,200 to have it done by a professional. He was also able to do some of the electrical rewiring himself after learning the skills from a family friend.
A qualified electrician then signed off the work when completed.
In hindsight, we didn’t realise how much work needed doing and we should have paid a lower price for the property. We weren’t expecting the whole house to need rewiring and it wasn’t until we got the keys that we realised there was a soil pipe from the bathroom to kitchen that was leaking and had rotted all the kitchen units.
The kitchen was the first room we got started on. It was in terrible condition, being about 40 years old and damaged from the leaking pipe. Everything was removed in about two days by Jay and my dad.
We bought a kitchen on eBay for £850, which Jay installed and came complete with range cooker, built-in fridge and freezer, a Belfast sink and granite worktops. It would have cost about £20,000 brand new. It was hard to make a kitchen that was custom-made for someone else’s home fit into ours, but we managed it.
Due to the leaking pipe, we also needed to rip up the bathroom floorboards and ended up fitting a new suite, which wasn’t a cost we were expecting to pay so soon. We bought the parts in the Wickes sale, spending around £1,500 compared to the usual price of £4,500.
We didn’t keep a proper count of our total spend, but it was around £10,000 for the renovations indoors and a further £10,000 for work done outside the property. This included repaving the driveway and doing up the garden, taking out brick walls, installing decking and overall removing 100 tonnes of debris.
Second time round
We sold the house for £186,000, so made a profit of about £20,000 after costs.
We now live in a four-bed detached house just outside Chester, using the equity from the house to upgrade. The stamp duty holiday came in a few weeks before completion, luckily, saving us almost £7,000 in tax.
I wouldn’t say we were put off doing another renovation, but we didn’t want to do so much work this time round. We wanted something that was a bit dated, but not falling apart or about to catch fire from dodgy electrics or riddled with damp.
We are making gradual changes, such as painting walls, adding fitted wardrobes and changing the kitchen tiles.
At some point we would like to add a single storey extension to the back to create a big family and kitchen area, but this won’t be for a few years and will be done by professionals. We are also gradually working on the garden, which is a jungle that needs a huge amount of work to get it neat and tidy again.
My advice to other first-time buyers considering renovation as a way to get on the property ladder would be: buy a house that needs plenty of work doing but make sure you get the most expensive survey when purchasing to ensure there’s no nasty hidden or expensive surprises.
Sarah Macklin blogs about renovation and interiors at dreamofhome.co.uk
Home renovation tips
Do you need planning permission?
Small improvements will not need planning permission, but major building work may need approval from the local authority. In England and Wales, the Government’s online Planning Portal is where guidance can be found and applications should be entered. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own schemes. Redesigning the interior of a home without increasing the overall footprint of the property will typically not require planning permission, although Building Regulations approval may be needed.
Notify your home insurer
Before undertaking any major building work, it’s worth telling your insurer. This is especially important for any work that will affect the structure or layout of the property, including rewiring or major plumbing upgrades. Price comparison website Gocompare says your insurer will want to know: How long the work will take to complete, the cost, whether you’ll be moving out while work is completed, your builder’s details and whether they have public liability insurance. Homeowners may also want to consider accidental damage cover. This can cover you for any accidents that could happen such as damages to fixed appliances in your home or spillages on your carpet.
Be aware of Covid guidance
Although England is currently in the middle of a national lockdown, work can still be carried out in homes across the UK. However, many tradespeople are giving quotes over video calls. When work is carried out, homeowners are advised to clean and disinfect surfaces and door handles around the working area regularly and tradespeople are being encouraged to wear face masks.
Get a building survey
Building surveys are advised for people looking to buy a home in need of lots of work. It is the most comprehensive of surveys available and will provide a detailed evaluation of a property’s condition and construction. Surveyors will identify defects, the urgency of repair, and could provide estimated timings and costs of doing the work. They will not look under floorboards or behind walls but they should give their opinion on the potential for hidden defects in this area. The cost ranges from about £600 to £2,000, depending on the size and location of the home.
Protect your money
You’ll want to be sure your money is protected if the work isn’t delivered or the trader goes bust. If the total cost of the project is between £100 and £30,000, the consumer group Which? Advises paying for part of it by credit card so your money is protected under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. Many traders will ask for a deposit upfront, but don’t pay the full amount until the work has been completed and you are happy with the result.
Expect to go over budget
Homeowners typically go over budget because there are hidden costs and problems that only come to light when work starts, or because the work hasn’t priced correctly in the first place. “Be sure to have an adequate contingency in place or access to a financial safety cushion of least 15 per cent of total build costs. All too often, your contractor discovers an underlying issue during the improvement work that also requires fixing,” says Jason Tema, director of Clearview Developments, which specialises in renovations. Often VAT is added on top of work, which can catch people out. Get three quotes for major work you plan to have done in your home, but be wary of accepting quotes that seem too cheap to be true.
Source trustworthy tradesmen
Online reviews can be a good way to narrow down potential candidates, while trade associations, comparison websites and local councils can provide a list of approved traders. Useful starting places include TrustMark, the Government’s trader scheme, Rated People and Checkatrade. The latter two operate as a directory of vetted and recommended tradespeople.