RENOVATION: WHAT I’VE LEARNT SO FAR

I put my hands up and admit that I am not living in a building site with a portable kitchen in the bedroom or getting my hands dirty sanding floors or painting walls. This time round we budgeted to have a team of builders do our project for us, mainly because we couldn’t get the time off work but also because we would have just done a really really bad job, and we didn’t want that. But a renovation is a renovation and we are definitely living through it in our own way. It’s been an experience so far, mainly exciting but also stressful at times. I wanted to share my learnings for any of you that are about to start a renovation or thinking of doing up a do-er up-er anytime soon.

It’s not worth falling out over. A renovation can be a testing time for couples and it’s no surprise with all the decision making and problem solving, it can all of a sudden highlight bad habits you didn’t even know existed. My bad habit? That I’m an absolute perfectionist and Rich’s downfall is that he’s not particularly assertive, which means I have to take on a lot of the confrontational conversations (he’ll kill me for saying that). We’ve definitely had a few quite feisty arguments along the way but what we keep reminding ourselves is that it’s an exciting time and it’s not something that should put a strain on our relationship. A bit like when we were wedding planning; we enjoy the experience, we remember to stay on the same team, we make up quickly, we appreciate what we have and we remind ourselves that it’ll be totally worth it.

Don’t be put off from planning too early. I remember back in February Rich and I started looking into bathroom designs and speaking to different designers and so many friends told us that with our building work starting in May it was way too early and that we hadn’t even started the extension yet. The detail of a bathroom felt so far away, but I was adamant that I wanted to get going with it both for budgeting reasons and to get ahead. To be honest, it was one of the best things I did. Not only did our Ripples Bathroom design take time to get right with back and forth conversations and mood boards, but when it came to starting on the bathroom we were totally ready and knew exactly what we were having with all the tiles and fittings delivered and waiting. I’ve heard stories of friends having to decide on a bathroom in a week and I just know for me that I would find that too rushed and stressful. We were the same with almost everything, we planned the kitchen, the paint colours we wanted and the light fixtures – there’s no harm in forward planning.

There’s a photo for everything.  For almost every element of a renovation whether it’s new wardrobes, shelves, bathroom tiles or back doors it helps to be able to show your vision. I started saving photos on my phone last Christmas with our work starting in May so I had references to show bathroom designers, kitchen designers, joiners.. and well, you get the idea. Don’t assume anyone’s a mind reader, the more specific you can be and the more photos you have to show the better.

They’re right about the money thing. We had so many people tell us, “oh the renovation won’t take a few months even if the builders have said it will, trust me it’ll be a year” and they were wrong (but thanks for the sleepless nights). But they also all said “when it gets near the end of the project and you think you’ve stayed in budget, there will be a load of extra costs and you just start throwing money at things” and they weren’t lying. Luckily we have managed to stay within our budget (top tip: always add a 20% contingency) but there have definitely been some extra costs we weren’t expecting. Nothing dramatic actually went wrong but it just happens. For example, we decided tiles weren’t right for the kitchen and went for micro-concrete instead (twice the price), we had to put a new fence up at the back of the garden, we’ve had to buy 1400 brown top screws for the decking (that’s not an exaggeration), extra coving we didn’t know we’d need, new radiators, turfing the garden (because it’s easier to do it now whilst the house is a mess)… I mean the list could go on.

Don’t go on holiday. I understand why people would want to go away during a renovation and we are so so lucky to not be living in the house whilst the work is going on, but I really do think it’s important to be on hand throughout the whole process. I’ve been going to the house daily, if not twice a day and the only time I felt it wasn’t necessary is during the ripping out stage right at the start. There have been a handful of moments where if I hadn’t of spotted it earlier enough it would have been done wrong and had to be redone, so I think it’s better to be on hand to check everything as it happens. I try not to be overbearing, but there’s a lot for the project manager to remember (and they usually have a few projects on) so it’s helpful for you to be on top of things too.

Good builders make all the difference. It seems obvious but picking the right builders is key to a smooth project. I know how tempting it is right at the beginning to just go with the cheapest quote, and of course sometimes you don’t have a choice, but if you do it’s important to think about more than just the quote. We spent months researching different builders, all of which we got off recommendations either from close friends or via friends of friends. We got five recommendations and then chose three to meet up with. When we met them we used it as an opportunity to chat to them, get a feel for their personalities, we discussed their ideas for the house and their thoughts on our plans and then we gave them an itemised list of what we wanted in exchange for a quote. Out of the three we met, one guy made quite a rude comment about us wanting to change the fireplace and it left a sour taste in our mouths, another guy was from quite a large corporate company and we felt he wouldn’t be flexible if we wanted changes throughout the project and then the final guy came back with not the cheapest quote, or the most expensive but we felt we would get on with him well and he came highly recommended from a close friend. We’ve been so happy, they’ve been fast but thorough. You just have to go with your gut. If you can’t get any personal recommendations try walking around your local area to to meet builders who are working on similar properties to yours.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or opinions. This is probably the one thing that Rich and I have taken the longest to agree on because I’m the sort of person who loves to get thoughts and opinions from people I trust, whereas he sees it as an insult that we can’t just decide alone. Often we can, but sometimes having someone else with different life experience will help us see it from another perspective and that’s how we’ve come to some pretty good decisions so far. My siblings will see things from a parent’s point of view, my friends help me think less “internet” about stuff and my followers on Instagram, you guys, will often give recommendations or alternative suggestions that we’ve never heard before. I think if you’re strong minded you can take the opinions and thoughts and decide yourself what to do with them, but overall I think it’s made our project the best it can be. Being open-minded to new ideas and having the flexibility to change things will only improve the renovation. I will say though that although last minute changes are ok, once a decision has been make you have to stick with it and even if it’s not perfect, make peace with it and move on. It’s not worth sweating the small stuff.

 

I’m sure I can think of loads more and maybe once the project is done I’ll do a follow up post but for now I hope that’s helped some of you! There will be another home renovation vlog coming this Sunday, so keep a look out on my YouTube channel for that.

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