With climbing the housing ladder increasingly difficult, many now choose to buy and renovate an old or unloved property to create the home of their dreams. In fact, research by Rightmove suggests that over 90% of homebuyers would consider buying a property that needs renovating. The experience can be an extremely rewarding one, but it’s easy to make mistakes and find challenges overwhelming.

#1 Choose the Right Property

Savvy developers will rarely “buy blind”, instead opting to commission a preliminary survey to flag up hidden dangers such as structural defects, botched repairs, access issues and risk of flooding. If the building is particularly old, it may be listed, which will limit any changes you can make and leave you liable for any past illegal works.  A building survey, undertaken by a Chartered Building Surveyor will provide information on the property’s construction and any defects found, as well as the cost to rectify them.

Unless you are an experienced developer, it is wise to avoid any property built to substandard quality (such as cheap Vicotrian terraces or properties with single brick rear additions) or of non-standard construction. The latter is usually built from materials that do not conform to ‘standard’ definition - i.e. anything made from brick or stone walls with a roof made of slate or tile.

Avoid anything that needs expensive structural work, as it is likely to drain your budget, and concentrate instead on properties that require a more decorative makeover. It is also worth commissioning a measured survey to provide you with accurate floor plans and elevation on which to base any future design alterations.

#2 Get up to speed with rules and regulations

When buying a property, it is important to get up to speed with the latest legal requirements to avoid any nasty surprises later in the project. Pay close attention to:

  • Planning permission requirements

  • Building regulations

  • Party wall considerations

  • Restrictive covenants, wayleaves or easements that may affect land use

Failure to submit proper applications or observe restrictions in place can put you in danger of being non-compliant and may require you to undo alterations or face injunctions.

#3 Keep a tight grip on the purse strings

Impulse buys and last minute design changes can wreak havoc with your budget, so before any building work begins, it is important to factor in all the details. Be sure to include light switches, sockets, radiators, door handles, taps, and basins, so that even the smallest costs are accounted for. Avoid any unnecessary works, keep the design simple, and investigate the cost of repairing original features rather than buying and fitting replacements.

Don’t get carried away with the final visual results. Be sure to prioritise key works required to protect the building itself such as leaking roofs, damp problems, decaying timber and subsidence. Stinting on these areas could spell disaster and devalue the property.

#4 Make do and mend

Repairing and refurbishing original features such as doors and windows is often cheaper than replacing and will enhance the property’s period character. In many cases, the original timbers and construction were better quality than anything you could buy today. 

Solutions such as secondary glazing can offer the best of both worlds, insulating and soundproofing without the need for modern replacements. Avoid any so-called miracle cures, as some of these can be damaging to older properties and create more problems than they claim to fix.

#5 Don’t underestimate

It is always better to order too much than not enough, as any surplus can be sold off or returned as needed. Most contractors will allow up to 20% for breakage in delivery and on site, and reclaimed materials may have an even higher wastage factor.

Renovation will always cost more than you expect, so leave a 10-20% contingency to cover any hidden or forgotten costs that may be unearthed as the project progresses. If possible, confirm costs in advance with reference to any drawings and specifications.

If you have estimated costs based on other projects you have viewed, remember to factor in fixtures and fittings, how much work they did themselves, labour costs, (which can vary depending on location), and equipment hire. If you need help preparing a budget, get a builder’s estimate. This will give a rough idea of what your renovation might cost and will help you to list all the tasks and materials required to complete the project.

#6 Choose the right people

It is always advisable to procure several quotes for any work you need. If a price seems cheap, there’s usually a good reason and it may be cheaper in the long run to go with a mid-range quote rather than risk work being badly performed or left unfinished due to incorrect sums.

Renovation can be a nightmare if contractors do a bad job, so do ask for references and make time to speak to previous clients. Make sure that you are confident that the contractors understand the job, have undertaken similar work and know what you are trying to achieve.

#7 Choose the right materials

You have probably heard the phrase, “buy cheap, buy twice”. It’s a good idea to keep in mind when choosing materials for your renovation. Anything obviously cheap will detract from the value of your property, while structural materials such as timber and concrete will have to be of the correct class to meet building regulations. Be wary of buying online from social media sellers, blurry product photos, or from overseas, as the products may not meet UK standards.

#8  Do things in the right order

Renovations can often look worse before they look better, but it is important to pay attention to the hierarchy of works:

  1. Stop decay in its tracks by keeping out the elements.

  2. Stabilise the building so that the site is safe to work on.

  3. Strip back and salvage anything that can be reused.

  4. Undertake major structural work such as floors, walls, roofs and extensions.

  5. Make the building weathertight by installing exterior doors and windows.

  6. First fix - building internal walls, placing floorboards, door linings, window reveals, plumbing and electrics.

  7. Re-plaster or repair plaster.

  8. Second fix - Lay floors, hang doors, fix skirting and architrave, box in services, install bathroom, kitchen, and heating, as well as finishing painting and decorating.

#9 Make the right changes for the property and locality

Each street has its own ceiling price that limits how much buyers are willing to pay for a property, regardless of its features. For this reason, it is important to make sure that any changes you make or fixtures and fittings you choose are in line with the expectations of potential buyers. While using cheap materials on a historic property in a sought after street would be a false economy, so would spending unnecessary time and money extending and renovating a house with no guarantee of making your money back at sale.

Be wary of removing or changing period features that can destroy a property’s character (and value), unless of course, they are beyond repair and  you need to seek out sympathetic replacements. It may even be wise to look at adding features that have already been removed, thereby restoring the property to its former glory. Aim to observe the techniques and materials originally used, as many are not only decorative but also have a practical purpose. 

#10 Don’t take on too much yourself

Doing some of the work yourself can help you to control costs, but try not to undertake anything that someone else has more time and skills to complete. You could end up slowing down the project or worse, end up having to pay someone else to finish the job or correct mistakes. It can also be easy to get so preoccupied with DIY that you end up losing sight of the bigger picture, leaving the project to manage itself.

Before committing to DIY tasks, you will need to establish how time critical the project is, whether you’re capable of doing the work, how much time you have to give and whether it makes more sense to earn money in your job so that you can pay a professional to do it.

#11 Pay attention to design

Poor design - or no design at all - can cause increased costs, wasted time and substandard results, whereas good design can transform a property and its value, seeing the project run smoothly from start to finish.

Maximise the worth of your planning applications and potential space, while avoiding over-complicating your design. Keep your brief and objectives in mind, paying attention to every detail to make sure there are no delays, errors or unnecessary costs.

#12 Listen to your builders

Many people have been discouraged by tales of cowboy builders doing a bad job, but most builders want to do a good job and can be a source of valuable information during your project. They may know a simpler, less expensive solution to areas of the renovation, and will have contact with local suppliers who may be able to supply materials more cheaply and easily.

#13 Make the right energy-saving measures

The energy saved by installing double glazing takes between 15 and 20 years to pay itself back. Unless you’re planning on staying in your property beyond that time, instead focus your budget on those energy saving measures that have a shorter payback time. These include draft exclusion, boiler upgrades, loft and cavity wall insulation, and energy-efficient light bulbs. Your local authority may offer grants to help with some of these measures, so do your homework before you make a decision.

#14 Pay the right amount of tax

It is important to ensure that you are not paying too much tax. You should not be charged VAT if your contractor is not VAT registered, and some work may be largely zero-rated or have VAT relief available, particularly if the property has been empty for a number of years. If this is the case, contractors charge a reduced rate on eligible labour and materials, and you can claim this back, together with any standard-rated VAT you have paid on materials (VAT Notice 708).

#15 Make the best use of space

Extensions can be an unnecessary expense if you haven’t first considered how to make the best of your existing space. Converting attic or loft spaces, garages, and cellars can offer a great return on investment, particularly for older properties where space is an issue. You might like to consider:

  • Using a space-efficient staircase

  • Creating mezzanine levels

  • Carefully positioned mirrors

  • Changing door directions or using sliders

  • Space-efficient and dual purpose furniture

  • Room dividers

  • Open plan layouts

  • Better storage solutions

Over the past 40 years, we have helped hundreds of clients with custom sliding door solutions for their renovation projects. If you have a unique or unusual space you would like assistance with transforming, please do get in touch at or by calling 01423 50 20 40. We like a challenge, and would love to help you make your house dreams come true.