Fallen in love with a dump? You need to read this

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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.

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