Fallen in love with a dump? You need to read this
Turning the worst house on the best street into the finest digs on the block is a dream of so many DIY renovators. Unfortunately though, those images we drool over on lifestyle television, design magazines and Instagram only tell one very pretty side of what can be a quite a messy story.
While some savvy renovators have transformed dilapidated dumps and walked away with serious cash or moved into their ultimate dream home, experts say the road from rags to riches can be a complex one.
If you’ve fallen for a dump, here’s our list do’s and don’ts for a dream dwelling.
Do give yourself a reality check
“You can build something that looks like you saw it on Grand Designs, but it’s got to work properly — and it’s got to last,” says Peter Georgiev, director with Archicentre Australia.
He says uninitiated renovators can get spurred on by reality TV shows without realising what goes on behind the scenes.
“They’re there to entertain but as far as providing information, there’s a lot that gets left out,” Peter says. “They can give people a false sense of confidence that anyone can do it. There’s nothing really mentioned about process because the process is boring and doesn’t make for good TV,” he says.
Stavros Vasiliou of Resibuild has brought several inner-city dumps back to life and agrees that renovation television can send people down the wrong path.
“Shows like The Block can get people who have no skills whatsoever, but there are lots of experts in the background,” he says.
“If you’re going to go off and do this yourself, you do need to know what you’re doing, or find someone who does.”
Call in your A team
Unless your family is full of tradies you’re going to have to bring in the professionals. First on the list of help at hand should be the architect, says Peter.
“If you’ve got a sniff of a dump on the market, then invest in an architect for that initial walk-through,” he says.
“That in itself can give you direction on whether you just walk away and look for another place,” Peter says.
“Get as much information as you can at the front end so when you come to building the thing, you’re building to a pattern.”
Santos Sulfaro of Richardson & Wrench Leichhardt manages renovation projects for clients looking to sell and says the right team is essential.
“Using respected professionals will help you avoid common pitfalls and save you money in the long run. Ongoing communication and building relationships are crucial to a great end result,” he says.
Santos says this can help you develop an accurate budget, choose the best products and materials and manage the overall execution of the project.
Keep on learning
Despite Stavros’s experience renovating several extreme “dumps” he says he’s still picking up skills on the job.
“If you go into these things thinking you know it all then that’s when you can find yourself in trouble,” he says. “If you think you don’t know something, put your hand up rather than having a crack at it then realising you’ve done it wrong. Then it ends up costing you a pile of money later to rectify.”
YouTube and Bunnings workshops can be a wealth of information.
“Sometimes they can be pretty good and you’re only going to learn by doing stuff on the job,” Stavros says. “Even I go on YouTube to look some stuff up, particularly if I haven’t used a product before.
“I won’t knock it but you wouldn’t want to do it all the time.”
Seek council approval
A major renovation project usually involves council approval. Key to this is meeting the requirements of your local Development Control Plan.
“What does it easily, or not so easily, allow you to do?,” asks Peter Georgiev from Archicentre. “Is there a heritage overlay? Is it subject to flooding? All these things could spoil the party for someone who thinks that it’s just a dump they can do a number on.”
He says an architect familiar with your area is often best placed to navigate your project through the development guidelines.
“It’s the stuff they deal with every single day,” he says.
Don’t dig a money pit
“Deciding how much you can spend is probably the most important decision,” Santos from Richardson & Wrench Leichhardt says.
He says for renovators who have resale value in mind, don’t spend more than you can recoup from your sale price.
“Going over the top with high spec features and finishes can add up to overcapitalising,” he says.
Stavros from Resibuild adds that an extra cash buffer is vital when a project encounters hiccups that can delay the process.
“Don’t forget all the (hidden) costs involved with a development,” he says. “They include all your stamp duty and all the sort of stuff that goes with it, like holding costs and DAs. The job I’m on right now took me a year to get through council.
“People get bitten when they spend a lot more than they thought they would because they thought they could do more themselves.”
Be fooled by the renovator’s delight
It’s easy to get caught up in the romance of transforming a dump into a beautiful home but you need to keep a cool head.
“Unless you’re doing a renovation where you just pull down a wall here, paint there and put in a new kitchen, it can become a much bigger job,” says Stavros. “Once you get into more structural work you really need to know what you’re doing — and you need to be able to pay for it.” Rectification works can eat into the budget. “I’ve had to spend a lot of money underpinning neighbours’ walls, doing things you’ll never see,” he says.
“People think they can do amazing things because they think they’ve got a blank canvas — but that costs money.”
Unless you’ve renovated before, he says it might be better to start on an outdated but otherwise structurally sound home.
“In that case you can still live in it,” he says. “If you live in a house for a while, it gives you a chance to understand how it works. If you’re there for a year you can see the different seasons, see how the sun orientates and redesign the house accordingly,” he says.