5 steps to keeping your home renovation costs under control

They say money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy you a lovely home! The real question is:  how much money do you need to create that dream home? 

“How much will my home renovation project cost?” is one of the most common things I’m asked. Sadly, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can help you to understand the process, the associated costs and how to budget for your project. Understanding all of this will give you the best chance of getting it right without running out of funds. 

Create a budget from the start

This might sound obvious, but it’s a really straightforward way to keep your costs under control during a project. Map out everything that you’ll need to pay for, then check how much you can realistically afford to spend on the renovation. Don’t forget to hold a healthy contingency fund as well – you can always blow it on a fancy sofa, if it’s left at the end (although it rarely is).

There are plenty of costs outside of the building work itself which are often overlooked but really can mount up. These can include consultants’ fees, applications, and surveys, which all come in the months leading up to your building work.

Don’t forget to factor in VAT – this is a killer 20% at present, so it’s important to understand how this will impact your building work. At the time of writing, extension projects are subject to 20% VAT, whilst new builds are VAT free.

Once the building work is finished, you’ll also need to have funds left over for things like kitchens, flooring and furniture. It’s these finishing touches that feel far away at the start, but which you’ll want to include to finish the job. 

Get an accurate quote for your building work

Now that your budget is ready and your design work is underway, you’ll no doubt want to find out what the building work will cost. 

The best and surest way is to complete the design process, technical drawings and tender documents completely before approaching any builders. This means you’ll have a comprehensive set of information for them to price against. If you pick a well-matched set of builders to price the project then the quotes should come in at a fairly similar level. So, now you know the cost

But, what if the quotes come in and they’re a lot higher than you’re expecting? You’ve spent months, maybe years, to get to this point – to not be able to afford your project would be heartbreaking. 

That’s why getting some early stage cost input can be super important to ensure that you avoid this situation. 

Make the effort with early-stage cost input

Early-stage cost input can be a really useful way to start getting a rough idea of what the build cost will be.

The main downside with attempting to price too soon is that you won’t have finalised everything at this stage so there will be assumptions made. However,  if you can encourage a handful of builders to give you some feedback that’s still a useful starting point, just ensure you understand what is excluded.

They will likely be giving you an indication for the shell of the building, not necessarily the glazing, finishes, landscaping etc. And remember, material and labour prices change, treat this as a rough estimate. 

With your ballpark figure in mind, it’s important to understand that your specification choices later on down the line will impact the overall project cost. Do you choose the £10,000 windows or do you prefer the look of the £20,000 windows? You get my drift.

Square meter rates have their place but only as a VERY broad guide. Other alternatives for early-stage cost planning, and for cost control throughout the whole project, include appointing a quantity surveyor. And whilst this isn’t commonplace on smaller projects, it’s certainly something to consider if your project is particularly complex. 

Value Engineering aka Cost Cutting

Sometimes, in spite of your best laid plans and intentions, your quotes will come in above your budget. If this does happen, don’t panic! Working with your architect and builder you can look for opportunities to make savings. 

Begin by reflecting on your priorities. Do you need a finished space ready to move into? In which case could you scale back on the size and complexity. Or would you be happier to complete the shell, undertaking the painting and finish as you go? If the skinny frame glazing is a must have, could you fit a cheaper kitchen? 

Sometimes you can’t have it all, so it’s worth thinking about what’s most important. The earlier you can make these decisions, the better equipped you will be to make that dream a reality, even if things start to go south. 

Understand your payment schedule

The majority of applications, surveys, and consultants fees are due upon submission of applications or as different stages or services are completed. The building work comes with a similar distribution of costs. It’s not uncommon to pay deposits on bespoke items with long lead times – stairs, doors, windows. 

When it comes to paying your builder it usually goes one of two ways: stage payments or regular valuations. 

Stage payments mean that you pay a pre-agreed amount once certain milestones are reached. For example, when the roof work or the plastering is complete. These are agreed up front, so it’s important to make sure that the milestones are things you understand. Agreeing a milestone of “works complete up to DPC” is all very well, unless you don’t know what the DPC is. My advice is to opt for jargon-free milestones.

Alternatively you can manage your payments on a valuations basis. With your architect or quantity surveyor onboard through the build, they can manage this process for you, inspecting the works and agreeing the builder’s valuation and amount due on a monthly or fortnightly basis.

However you move forward, agree what method you will use before you start work. Ensure that the contract sum is known and agreed in advance, as well as how any retention clauses will work. You might typically hold 2.5% or 5% of the builder’s money back for 6 or 12  months, but don’t spend it in the meantime.

For help sourcing a building contract that’s suitable for domestic projects, which will set out these provisions in detail, I recommend the following resources:

https://www.ribabooks.com/homeowner-contracts
https://www.ribabooks.com/RIBA-Domestic-Building-Contract-2018_9781859468692

Ready to start planning your renovation?

There’s a lot to think about before embarking on a building project – sometimes it can be hard to know where to start!

If you’d like some more support in preparing for your build, I’ve developed a toolkit to get you From Brief to Budget to Build, which includes a budget planner, for more information on these resources click here.

Extending an Edwardian Semi

A sizeable semi-detached property, this Edwardian Semi was built for a different way of living. This family of five came to me to help them reconfigure their home for the 21st century.

Setting the Brief

Fed up of squeezing round the low level island for family meals, amidst the clothes washing, it was time for a change. Their requirements were for a large kitchen/dining space for five to cook and eat together, it should be somewhere to entertain. And also a flexible space for working from home, a library, making lego, stuff with glue! They wanted huge doors and windows with character and for the extension to feel solid and part of the original house (not a glass box on the back).

Notwithstanding a 180ft garden, the rear of the house was North facing and they were particularly fond of the South facing courtyard to the side of their house. They already liked to hang out there, despite the “awful concrete garage, we could do without”. We set to work to make this space an integral part of the design. It was to become “a sunny outdoor courtyard for eating alfresco and working outside in the summer” (British weather permitting).

The ground floor had the original kitchen set in middle of the house between large reception rooms to front and rear. It needed a new layout to reconfigure their home for today’s way of living.

Transformation

Extending to the rear and to the side of the house, we created a double aspect kitchen, capturing sunlight from the south side and connecting to the much loved side courtyard, all the better with garage now gone. The old kitchen became the utility room and study, which also opens to this space.

The doors and windows, taller than standard height, have an old steel frame appearance but are actually aluminium frames which are thermally better performing. These were sourced by the client from IQ glass and are a real focal point of the space from both inside and out.

The exposed brickwork within the kitchen retains some character of the original property within the new space and is a beautiful contrast to the otherwise gallery like white space.

Finishing the kitchen just a day before their wedding, a no doubt busy last few weeks, but a wonderful space for an informal reception and a great excuse to invite guests and entertain.

This project completed Summer 2019 and was built by A. Pearce Builders.

Products and Suppliers: Kitchen – Howdens, Pendant Lights – IKEA, Roof lights – Velux, Doors and Windows – IQ Glass.

1930’s Home Extension in a 2020 Lockdown Situation

Completed during the COVID lockdown, a few compromises were required to maintain momentum, but they got there in the end. As a client with project management skills in their own field, I wasn’t involved throughout the build, so I visited them back in September to see how it had all turned out.

“Actually having you visit makes us a bit reflective. It’s sometimes hard to appreciate the end result when you’ve lived through it but looking back it’s quite the transformation actually.”

Motivation

With a tight kitchen and an under used separate dining room, the initial motivation for this project was to create a larger open plan kitchen dining space. The addition of a seating area, ground floor loo and utility room, brings this three bed 1930’s home up to speed with a more contemporary way of living.

Conscious that we were chopping and changing the original layout, we chose to push all the beams up into the ceiling void, with the benefit being that the new spaces flow from the old house right into the extension without interruption.

When you think that the whole of the kitchen used to be in what is now the utility room and ground floor loo, it’s amazing to see the difference. The new kitchen is spacious and bright, with the dining table serving unexpected dual purpose as a work from home space as the world of work continues to evolve beyond the initial project brief.

A challenging journey

Whilst the spring lockdown stopped the building work initially, it soon resumed with the construction industry carrying on as near to normal as possible. However, temporary closure of builders merchants, and paused manufacturing of some key elements, did impact the project:

“We had to change the doors and windows from aluminum to PVC because during the lockdown we couldn’t get them supplied from the people we wanted to. It was a decision we made because we didn’t want our build to take another two months.”

“We had some unexpected challenges with the kitchen installation but the end result is great. The flooring came from an online supplier because we couldn’t visit any showrooms at the time.” Having lived through every minute of the project, being at home throughout the build, my clients were somewhat relieved when it all came together at the end, after several months of washing up in the bath.

Transformation

Despite the challenges along the way, the finished extension is a real transformation from how the house used to be: “We’re really pleased with how it’s turned out, we basically live in the extension now”. The original front room which was retained can double as a spare room for guests in the future, and for now, provides a space for some privacy away from the open plan rear of the house.

We talked about some of the smaller things that make a big difference to how the house functions now and I was pleased to see that these design elements had been retained and not omitted in lieu of cost savings. Both daylight and artificial light being important considerations:

“Having the roof light in the utility room makes such a huge difference for what is essentially an indoor room, we now have daylight and ventilation here, we chose to opt for the roof light with electrical operation, which has been really good on some hot days.”

“We really like having our lights on different circuits so that we can create different moods”

Overcoming the cramped feel of a “kitchen made for one”, the new space is generous and somewhere to be enjoyed together, and eventually with family and with friends.

Building work completed summer 2020 by Steve Tyler and Sons Builders.

Products and Suppliers: Pendant lights – John Lewis, Kitchen – Wren.

Where’s the Fish Tank?

“Where’s the fish tank?” I asked. It was one of the things I remembered from the old dining room. I suddenly realised that we hadn’t planned a spot for it in the new extension. Sadly, (although somewhat to my relief) the fish had not survived the building work. I felt somehow thankful that they did not need a space for the tank, but also guilt at my relief! I made a mental note to add ‘fish tank’ to my project checklist, it would be there along with cat flap, and the myriad of other things that need to be considered. I would not want to forget the fish tank again.

Not to downplay the loss of a pet(s), but the sadness was quickly replaced with a sense of pride from visiting the finished home (and envy – I wanted to move in!). I entered into the new extension on a sunny Monday morning after the school run – it was bright, spacious, beautifully furnished by my client – with great eye for detail.

Catalyst: A Bigger Bedroom

When I met my clients back in 2018, the original brief had been to create a larger third bedroom for their son – to extend above the existing dining room extension. Their 1960’s home had good sized rooms, albeit the third bedroom being on the smaller side. Once the process began, the realisation dawned that if you’re going to do building work, you’ll probably only want to do it once. With that, the scope expanded to extend the ground floor and renovate the kitchen as well, they wanted a space to entertain especially for family at Christmas.

Before it all began

Journey: Some Twists and Turns

With a revised brief for a larger project we set off on a journey which had its twists and turns. A hundred year old oak tree in the front garden and the house having been previously underpinned due to subsidence added some complexity to an otherwise straightforward project; the structural engineer designed for piled foundations. The need for a specialist piling contractor alongside a general builder made for additional coordination.

Result: A Space to Entertain

Obstacles overcome, the outcome is lovely, a space for the family to enjoy and to entertain. The only downside being that COVID has limited their potential for visitors, but this will no doubt be a great entertaining space when the time comes.

The ‘slide and fold’ doors across the width of the space, adding elegance with their slim frames. The internal bi-fold doors between lounge and dining bring flexibility for open plan or closed off living. The roof lights enhance the dining space, bringing light from above. Upstairs, in the two-storey part of the extension, the enlarged third bedroom had been commandeered as the master, with a walk through dressing area adding some glamour.

“The house is finished and we love it!” That’s the feedback I love to hear. And whilst the end result is very much the point of hiring an architect, it’s good to have positive feedback on the journey to get there as well:

Carly was sympathetic to our needs, very organised, has great communication skills and went above and beyond when working with contractors. She made the whole process as seamless as possible and we stayed on budget throughout. We are extremely pleased with the service she provided and are really pleased with our 2-storey extension.

Building Work completed early 2020 by Duncan Crawford.

Products and Suppliers: Kitchen – Howdens, Worktop – Rocktops, Kitchen Flooring – Amtico, Pendant Lights – Koltrane Lighting , Bedroom Flooring – Quick Step LVT, Rooflights – Velux, Slide and Fold Doors – Sunseeker Doors, Internal Bi-fold Doors – Todd Doors.

10 Common Mistakes Families make when Extending their Homes and How to Avoid them

As I started to write this I thought I’d struggle to come up with ten, but it was frighteningly easy to identify where things can go wrong if you let them…

1. Considering an extension in isolation

I’m a firm believer in the importance of your whole home working together, that the layout and flow through the spaces allows for your family to live without inconvenience. As someone who lives with their fridge in the garage (what were the previous owners thinking!) I can tell you that designing to overcome the functionality issues is always a priority over fancy finishes. Fear not – relocating the fridge is high on my agenda for my own renovation!

2. Stretching your budget too thin

Don’t be over ambitious, if you want to get to the end and still be able to furnish your home then set a budget and work within it. Remember you will have other costs on top of the build – professional fees, applications etc so budget some of your cash for that too.

3. Rushing the design process

It’s really important that you invest the time in getting your brief and proposals right. Communication is important, if you don’t understand something mention it early on. Can’t visualise it? Ask for a 3d sketch. It’s easy for architects to forget that house plans can seem like a foreign language to the lay person. Imagine trying to read a set of instructions in Greek, you’d likely need a translator, and if the translation didn’t make any sense you’d ask for it to be rephrased. Don’t hurry on confused, seek clarity.

4. Trying to outwit the tenders to save money

If you get 3 or 4 quotes that are all within a few thousand quid, then whether you like it or not – that is likely the cost of doing the work. Proceeding with an anomalously low tender in order to make savings is usually a misguided decision. You may well find the difference creeping back into the project via “extras”, especially if you don’t heed point 6.

5. Opting for a contractor who can start right now

With a few exceptions which we’ll come onto, any contractor worth his salt will be booked up. There’s a reason for this, they’re busy because they come recommended and they’re good at what they do. The exception? Perhaps they’ve had a job fall through, but still be wary and as always seek references. Aligning your ideal timescale with a contractor’s availability is not an easy feat but being realistic with your expectation of how soon you’re going to be able to get cracking will help.

6. Opting to manage your own build to save money on professional services

Now, it doesn’t always end in tears if you go it alone but keeping your architect involved throughout the build will undoubtedly save you a lot of time and hassle. Especially when it comes to figuring out monies due, whether adequate progress is being made, if it’s being built correctly, and it will protect your investment in design, see point 7. In my experience the outcomes are nearly always improved and relationships less strained.

7. Being persuaded to make design changes during the build

I cannot say this loud enough – don’t make changes on site without fully considering the implications – you’ve invested time and love in the design process, don’t spoil it now! I once had a builder tell a client that the property wasn’t deserving of the sleek product we had specified. It was something we had researched in detail along with the client to really bring a wow factor, not gold plated (that option was written off, rightly so!) but it was special and not beyond affordable. Subsequently they convinced the client to select something cheaper and no doubt easier to procure or install. Stick to your guns – don’t sit back at the end looking at your clunky version of what could have been.

8. Starting on site before you have all of your approvals in place

Not just your Planning Permission but your Building Regulations approval too. It’s far easier to change things on paper than in real life. Ensure that the details (especially any that relate to regulations) are figured out before you start, otherwise you’ll risk the time delays and cost uplift of rectifying it when it’s eventually picked up by the Building Control Inspector. You might also need a Party Wall Award or a Build Over Agreement, among other things. Starting your build without your paperwork in place is a sure fire way to elevate the heart rate once you realise that your work could be stopped whilst you sort things out.

9. Thinking your home insurance will cover it

It’s important to establish who is insuring what – be that your existing building, contents, the “works” etc. Depending on your chosen Building Contract (don’t proceed without one), you might even need a Joint Names insurance policy. Check, and double check, with your insurers that between you and your builders everything is covered. Insurance is a complex matter so be sure to seek specialist advice. You’d not be the first to think it’ll all be ok – only to find yourself rushing around in a mad panic after a fire/flood has destroyed your building work – to discover no one can make a claim. These things do happen, don’t take the risk.

10. Doing your own decorating

Ok, I was scraping the barrel for a point 10. but there is some truth in this one too. Whilst you don’t need to be Caravaggio to wield a roller, you do need some proficiency if you want it to look any good. I’ve seen many a pristine plastered wall marred by badly applied paint running into blobby drips. In the grand scheme of things decorating isn’t costly, so leave it to someone who is actually good at it!

If you’re just beginning to think about an extension project why not join my facebook group Easy Project Planning for your Family Home Extension where you can find out more.