Renovation Mistakes – The Dirty Dozen

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renovation mistakes
Renovation can be a big messy job

Renovation mistakes are very prevalent these days with all the TV renovation shows that make it look so easy. In truth it’s not. The Government home builder grant has encouraged even more people to have a go. Unfortunately to qualify for that a renovation needs to be substantial to pass the lower limit.

We see a lot of renovation mistakes made by enthusiastic homeowners that often lead to tears, lost money and frustration. Sometimes it even leads to broken relationships.

Following are the most common renovation mistakes we come across – we call them the “dirty dozen”.



1 Working on too many rooms at once

For anyone on a budget, most of us it’s best to focus on one area at a time. Doing a little here and there in multiple rooms will only leave you feeling unsettled and frustrated. If you’re new to renovating we’d suggest choosing an easy space to renovate such as a bedroom or living area. Kitchens and bathrooms are a lot more involved and demand more skills. When the budget allows, move on to the next space.

2 Not understanding the correct order of works

This is one of the most common renovation mistakes we see. If you’ve decided to project manage a major renovation yourself, it’s vital to know the correct order in which things need to be done. Especially if it’s just a bathroom or a kitchen. You need to know which materials must be onsite, when, and at which stage the various trades are required. Labour hire is a big expense in any renovation. The last thing you want is tradies standing around with nothing to do because the tiles haven’t arrived or a crucial piece of work that needs to be completed first hasn’t been.

3 Assuming by doing it yourself will save you money

Many renovations can be a lot more challenging than you might imagine. This is possibly the most prevalent of renovation mistakes or misconceptions. Unless you’re an expert handyman or tradie, it’s likely that any of the more challenging projects, will take you two to three times longer than professional tradesmen. Things such as sanding and polishing floors, installing a kitchen or building a deck. They probably won’t look half as good either when finished. What’s more you will not have anyone to blame except yourself. Not only that, you’ll also have to fork out for hire equipment, specialty tools and equipment. To make matters worse, an amateur job will likely devalue your property’s value.

renovation mistakes
Imagine trying to live in this mess

4 Living in the house during renovations:

Whilst it’s not necessary for every project moving out will minimize inconveniences and speed up work. Yes, the cost of alternate accommodation can add significantly to the budget. However any cost savings made by staying can easily be eaten up by lost efficiency. The type of your project can immediately answer the stay-or-go question. If your roof is coming off or the house is being raised there’s no question; go! For major renovations like the ones featured here there is also no question – move out!

Do you really want to up dressed showered and fed before 7 am each day? How will you do that if the kitchen or bathroom is out of action? Go next door? It’s no secret that construction work is messy and disruptive in any home. It can stir up old toxins, generate dust, and render key parts of your home unusable for days on end. You will always get in the way of the progress, too. So, the best possible option to minimize inconveniences and speed up work is to move out during most renovations.

5 Lack of a detailed ‘Spec’

Spec stands for ‘specification list’ which is a list of fixtures & fittings that you want included in the proposed works. This is also one of the most common renovation mistakes we see. This leads to utter confusion and a wide variety of different price quotes. That’s because contractors tend to either choose the fittings that they frequently use or don’t include an item at all. Worse still there is often a variance in the size of items that, whilst maybe only small, can make a BIG difference. It will lead to substantial cost differences. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve seen granite bench tops discarded due to poor specification of sink or cook-top size. You need to get everyone on the same page. And before we forget, if your renovation is substantial, a fantastic tool to use prior to starting design to get everyone on the same page is a Site Plan

6 Blindness to the ‘Big Picture’

Bright shiny objects like the latest cooking appliance or bathroom fitting can cause blindness, but renovation is about much more. Remember, you’ve got to build a solid envelope if you want your house to hold up. There’s little point in putting in a nice new polished floor if the roof is going to leak. Gutters, roofs, plumbing and old wiring may sound boring when there are the latest kitchen appliances or bathroom fittings to obsess over but if you ignore them you will do so at your peril.

renovation mistakes
This Reno went smoothly – they started with a Site Plan & Professional Designer

7 Starting without a design plan – consider hiring a professional.

Spend time before your reno begins to design the space so that it really works best for you and your family. Time and again we see clients changing the layout mid-way through the renovation, often with costly results and time delays. This happens because of a lack of proper planning and design. Renovations cost a lot of money so get the best design and floor plan to suit your family’s needs. Designers can offer fantastic ideas that you may not have thought of. This is always best done before you start renovating to avoid any costly variations. And, for goodness sake, if and when you do appoint someone, designer, builder or contractor, get it in writing! Use a compliant contract – available from QBCC.

8 Having an unrealistic budget – Underestimating costs

There’s often a disparity between a client’s budget and their brief. People frequently pluck budget figures from out of the air. Often, they base their figures on mass-produced project homes they’ve seen advertised or visited. These figures are unrealistic when compared with the homes on display. Display home almost always contains features that are not part of the advertised ‘from’ build price. Regardless, renovation costs are frequently higher than ‘new build’ costs. This is why we’ll often suggest considering extending your home. Read more about uncovering Renovation costs here.

9 Going for the lowest quotes

When it comes to renovation mistakes this is a beauty! Good professional help is worth spending good money on right from the start. That means on design as well as construction. Be willing to pay for good building professionals and be wary of the ones who are cheap and available right away. Quotes can vary greatly between service providers, builders and tradesmen. It pays to double check what each one is offering in terms of experience, qualifications and especially the overall scope of works.

If you need to cut costs consider using different materials and fixtures. You’d be surprised how little difference there is sometimes between a tile that costs $25/m2 & one that costs $65. If you’re using 120 m2 of them that’s a $5,000 difference.

Similarly there can be huge price differences between kitchen and bathroom appliances. If the budget is low, retaining and recycling as much as you can and will save you serious money. Rather than ripping out a  good but dated kitchen, just change the handles, cupboard and drawer fronts for a fraction of the cost of a new kitchen. Just replacing the bench top is another idea. Your updated cabinetry will look brand new.

If the budget is threadbare another thought to consider is going with cheap light fittings initially. They’re often easy to replace later when you can afford the expensive ones you really wanted.

10 Under estimating time required and the stress involved – lack of a realistic timeline.

This results from a lack of pre-planning. Thoroughly research, plan, and budget your renovation before any work starts. Too many people get carried away with the idea of renovating yet put little or no effort into pre-planning. Know and understand your expenses before you start as well as the fittings you want used. If you are proposing to supply some fittings or materials yourself make sure you have them ready when needed.

The last thing you want is to feel under the gun to make an important fixture selection you’ll regret later, especially if it’s a sore point that leads to arguments. We’ve seen many couples get into heated arguments over things like this on a regular basis. You might be surprised how different your styles, ideas, and approaches are so best to sort these things out early. If this is one of your renovation mistakes it’ll be one you’ll live to regret.

What’s more, whilst new construction is more controlled, work on older buildings can yield a lot of unforeseen events, so things don’t always go to plan. There’s little point stressing over it – just add a contingency to both the time allowed and your budget. A good blog by one of our affiliate Surveyors on starting a major renovation can be found here.

11 Making too many changes along the way

Making changes along the way is a result of too little planning and a lack of understanding of the spaces being changed up front. Changes that seem simple to you may require a lot of work behind the scenes, and lead to unexpected expense and delays. Moving an appliance may require moving wiring or plumbing or both as well. Bringing those trades back to the job-site could delay the next trade such as plasterers who then commit to another job leading to further delays along the line. Making changes almost always has a domino effect with other aspects of the project.

renovation mistakes
Using competent professionals like these people did leads to good quality finishes

12 Hiring the wrong professional too quickly

Take some time when considering which professional to hire. Just because someone is a good designer doesn’t mean she’ll be a good fit for you. You should be asking a lot of questions including asking for some references and contact details of recent past clients. These people will have experienced the person at his or her current level of achievement and staffing. By asking lots of questions you’ll get a much better feeling for design, layout and sizes.

Don’t pretend to understand if you don’t. Many people aren’t good at reading plans or understanding spatial layouts. Some modern design software helps with this but don’t be too shy to ask to tape out a space  as it often works out better than any sketch or design app for understanding how things will fit.

The prospective designer should also be asking a lot of questions of you too! Things like your needs, desires, and the way you live as well as your budget [in detail] and you need to be honest and forthright with the answers. It’s very important to get a full understanding of the budget before you get too far into the process, falling in love with the first concepts or worse, detailed design.


Did we say a dozen? Yes – a Baker’s dozen it is

13 Attempting to Project Manage yourself.

Renovations generally involve multiple trades that need to be coordinated at the correct time to ensure that a renovation is done properly and in the most cost-effective way. It takes a lot of planning and tight scheduling to ensure a bathroom renovation is done correctly. Project managers are trained to coordinate renovation projects on your behalf, to ensure they run on time and stay on budget. They work in conjunction with the builder or trades persons contracted to do the renovation and will keep you well informed throughout the entire process.

And it doesn’t stop there either! Because those contractors often have a relationship with the Project Manager, they know they’re likely to suffer if they don’t do the job properly and in a timely manner. Good luck for you to get trades people back when you need them if they are required elsewhere by a Project manager or builder who they get regular work from.

Project Managers bring advantages:

As Project Managers, we are well placed to figure out how much it will likely cost. We are like a bridge between various building design professionals, Council regulations and building trades. In the early stages, the figures are loose estimates but as the detail gets laid over the design, costs are firmed up when a full tender can take place. It is a process, and it’s important to remember that everything is malleable – if costs are higher than you can afford, we can reduce your scope and do a redesign. Having someone take over the responsibility will likely save you money in the end and a heck of a lot of stress.


And here’s something else to give some thought to

Replacing windows

Think long and hard before you replace your windows. Once done it can be expensive and it’s one of the renovation mistakes people wish they had thought twice about. If your windows are original to the house and it’s a character house, and they are in half-decent shape, they can and should be restored.

Also you could consider buying similar ones from the demolition yard but be sure to restore before installation. Modern windows can look out of place in a character home. Forty years ago a business in Brisbane called ‘The Window Exchange Service’ did a roaring trade installing aluminium sliders on the front veranda’s of ‘Queenslanders’. We’ve all seen the results. What’s more, windows usually have hidden structural elements alongside and above them which will also need work.

Read more here about how we can help you. 

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