Notes and Lessons from our Fast-Track Home Renovation Project

Friday, 23 March 2018

 Downstairs loo/ cloakroom transformation

I must admit that as much as we've loved seeing our flat transformed into a family home, we were not looking for a project. Our stress limits were already being tested (with trying sell our house down south, trying to get our heads round the super-competitive property market in Edinburgh, the bonkers closed bids and offers over system in Scotland, juggling parenthood, work and other family challenges) to want any additional hassle whatsoever. But the universe had other plans. Here is how we turned an unliveable period property to a family home in 6 weeks.

1. Do your research:  Looking at 63 properties, some of which were beautifully decorated had given us plenty of food for thought. We had a massive pile of brochures from these viewings which we held on to for a wee while for ideas (despite some of them being a little bit upsetting as we didn't win). Pinterest can provide plenty of inspiration too. I found that talking to friends and colleagues gave me insights I would not have otherwise had. We decided to procure a number of different trades (up to 10 at any point) individually and project manage it ourselves.

2. Budgeting and contingency: We had a detailed spreadsheet right from the start of our home search as we needed to know exactly how much we could 'offer over' on each property without completely losing the plot. The 'offers over' bit what you need fund out of your own savings (as the bank will only fund based on the home report/valuation) which meant less funds for any renovation. Add a 15-20% contingency as things always crop up that you do not anticipate. Also researching interest free options for things such as kitchens and bathrooms as this can be a godsend should your contingency be exceeded.

3. Test the market: There are a number of sites online (My Builder for example) that will help us with initial estimates for the type of work you need done. Get quotes based on actual visits and measurements and get a few if you can. Husband and I disagreed a little in our approach. My view was that you benchmark your costs and if you get a good tradesmen (verified) who comes under that and under your budget, its a goer (opportunity costs and all that). Husband wanted three quotes for everything. We ended up with a mix of the two which worked out reasonably well.

4. Tackle planning and consents first: Making a detailed assessment of all planning and warrant requirements made a huge difference to our overall programme. We live in a conservation area so there were limits to what we could do to the exterior of the property, the front and back gardens etc. We were also changing room layouts, uses and making plumbing alterations - all of which required building warrants. The literature on all of the above can sometimes be confusing/conflicting so speaking to the relevant people in the council (and getting written confirmation) was key.

5. An ambitious programme: I have lived and breathed programmes for a lot of my career so this was the easy bit. I believe in front-loading the programme and doing as much as possible early on. This compensates for unforeseen circumstances and other risks that tend to arise on every project. Having as much detail as possible - how each task links with another is also essential. The critical path of our programme was the building warrants and supply times for the kitchen so closely managing this was invaluable. There may be a couple if people in the Council's Planning department that may have just wanted to see the back of me. Zoning the property and having a phased completion plan was also instrumental in managing the various trades (keeping them constantly busy) and moving the programme.

6. Contracts and monitoring: The first bit is self-explanatory but not all trades will 'guarantee' their work so even stick to an agreed plan. In the absence of a formal contract, have very clear and recorded written communication (emails or letters) with drawings. I cannot emphasise this enough as this was also critical to some managing some 'difficult discussions' where the trades did not follow the specification. Regular site visits and keeping the spirits up on site is also helpful. You need them and they need you. Having a 'commissioning period' post completion - especially for bathrooms, kitchen, plumbing and electrics is essential in order to avoid nasty surprises.

7. Final thoughts: I know it drove my husband nuts but I insisted on a daily (or as frequently as possible) de-briefs (reflections) on progress. I led the programme development and he led the on-site monitoring (but not exclusively) but we did not always communicate as well as we should have. These de-briefs were sometimes shouting matches but they stood us in very good stead so I would recommend them. 

Have you been through a renovation too? Any other insights to share? Ann xx


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