1. Where should investors or home owners focus their renovation budget, to maximise return on investment?
Always look for the highly visible changes where people can readily see the improvement. Things like extensive plumbing, rewiring, restumping or replacing a faulty roof might be important remedial work, but they’re largely hidden so you won’t see much return on your investment. Concentrate on the areas that buyers typically love: an updated kitchen and bathroom, fresh paint throughout, new light fittings – including some feature lights here and there, maybe a deck that provides indoor/outdoor living, and a splash of wow factor, like a wallpapered feature wall or some smart shelving. And make sure you have a neat front façade. You want to create an overall mood that draws buyers in and makes them fall in love with your place.
2. You have been involved in 50 of your own personal renovation projects. What are some key lessons learnt along the way?
There are many things I would never do again, but most of my earlier mistakes just came down to being too green and too trusting. Paying in full for jobs upfront is a big no-no. You’ve basically surrendered all your power, so when things start to go wrong or you’re not happy with the final finish, you’ve got little to hold over them. For bigger jobs, paying a deposit and, depending on its size, instalments along the way, is a better approach. And always put everything in writing in a detailed contract. Then it’s all about doing your due diligence checks and selecting the right property to buy. I bought my first property on a main road – never again. That’s a big “buyer objection”.
3. What are some key points to consider when weighing up options of renovating or extending a home?
It all comes down to the numbers and the kind of profit you’re after. My saying is: for every dollar you spend you want at least a two dollar return. For a cosmetic renovation, I recommend you cap your renovation costs at 10% of the value of the property. Adding an extra bedroom can add anything from around $30,000 to $150,000 to the value of your home, depending on its location and value. Sometimes it’s just a matter of rejigging the internal layout, so that’s a nobrainer. Older houses have that typically boxy layout, with all the bedrooms out the back so there’s no connection with the kitchen/living spaces at the rear. Everybody loves the seamless indoor/outdoor connection, so if you can do a rear extension that incorporates a flowing kitchen/living/dining space spilling to the outside, for the right price, then it’s a great valueadd. Ditto if you get potential water views by adding a second storey. Or can find a practical way to create offstreet parking in an area where parking is a premium. Just be sure when you buy a property that the council planning laws that apply to your area or street permit the plans you have in mind.
4. Key questions to ask a builder or tradie if they are renovating for you?
You always want to check their credentials, make sure they have the proper insurances in place, and confirm they are properly licensed for the job they’re doing (in NSW, the website is https://www.service.nsw.gov.au/transaction/checkbuilderortradespersonslicence) . For an important job, ask to speak to the last client they worked for. If there were no issues, they should be happy to pass the contact on. I would ask about whether the tradie or builder finished the work in the agreed time frame, what the quality of work was like and how you found their communication skills throughout the project.
5. Where are some places to source great materials or fittings that add value to a home?
I find great deals online: places like eBay, Gumtree, the Trading Post, Renovation D and Grays Online. You just have to be quite specific about what you want and make sure you’ve checked all your measurements precisely.
6. For DIY projects, do you need to have lots of renovation experience to get the best results?
Experience helps with most things, but doesn’t always make you a pro. For example, painting is something most DIYers can safely tackle without getting into too much trouble. But it’s the meticulous ones who get the best results. For more complicated things like building a deck or putting down a floating floor, then experience and knowledge definitely count for a lot.
7. How many quotes should you typically source for a tradesperson?
I always say a minimum of three, but for big jobs, I’d suggest the more the better. You’ll get a much clearer picture of what the true cost is. The lowest one should ring alarm bells, and the highest might be trying it on or simply providing an inflated quote because they really don’t want the job.
8. It is often said that bathrooms and kitchens have big impacts on sale value. From your experience, would you say this is correct? If so, why do people love kitchens and bathrooms so much?
Bathrooms and kitchens sell a place, for a variety of reasons. A kitchen, for example, is the engine room of the home and the central social hub. People use modern kitchens, with ample bench space or an island bench, for homework or tinkering on their laptop, or sitting and chatting with the chef. And these days, they’re often the centrepiece of an openplan living/dining space, so their finishes and colour scheme are integral to the overall look. And who doesn’t love a smart, renovated bathroom? The best ones are far more than just wash rooms; they’re resortstyle sanctuaries, with his and hers vanities, and big luxurious baths and lots of storage.
9. If a budget doesn’t cover a wish list, how can you compromise?
You have to prioritise and work out what it going to deliver the biggest bang for the buck. Don’t compromise on quality of work; just scale back your plans. In lowbudget properties, you can easily get away with a smart laminate benchtop rather than stone. And maybe a laminate floor can offer the feel you’re after without the price tag of timber floating floors. If you trawl sites like Gumtree and GraysOnline, you can often pick up your wishlist items at a fraction of the price you’d pay full retail for. You just have to b e prepared to put in the time and research to find the bargains.
10. From your wealth of experience, for newbies to home renovations, is there any other advice you can offer?
If you’re in this business to make money from renovating, you have to be super disciplined with your budget. Once you start going over, you’re eating into your profit potential. It’s important to buy your rough diamond for the right price to start with. If you pay over the odds, it’s really hard to claw back that money in the renovation process, as your margins are already pretty tight. And think carefully about what you choose to DIY vs getting a pro in to do. Often they’ll take a fraction of the time you’ll take to muddle through, and you may have to buy/hire specialist tools to do the job, so at the end of the day, how much money have you really saved?