In April of last year, I started on one of the most exciting projects of my career to date: the renovation and extension of my own home. Putting myself in my clients’ shoes was an eye-opening experience. Although I’ve been designing homes for over 15 years being the ‘client’ gave me an entirely fresh perspective and I learnt some valuable insights that have changed what I say to anyone looking for architects advice.
Get some impartial advice.
The whole house extension project started with me wanting a more spacious utility room so I could fit in a bigger fridge. The boys were eating me out of house and home, and it was impossible to fit everything in our combined fridge freeze.
After a brief look at the space, the builder I’d asked to take a look shook his head and said: ‘why don’t you extend the house?’ He was right; we’d reached a point where we could really do with the extra space and a bigger fridge wasn’t going to improve things in the long run.
Small home improvement projects are okay but not if they are only a stop-gap solution. I often meet people who want to add a room or convert part of their home, but the underlying issue with the house is much more significant.
Investing in an attic conversion when the layout of the rest of the home is not working is not the best way to spend your budget. We all tend to favour going for the quick win over the more disruptive solution, so getting some impartial advice is vital to ensure you make the right decision.
I’m usually the one dishing out the advice, but when it came to my own home, even I needed a second opinion.
Wait until you have the money to do everything you want.
When we first bought our house we could have done work straight away but our circumstances were very different (a three-year-old son and another on the way), and our budget was far too small to achieve everything that we wanted to do, so we waited. It was the best decision we could have made.
In the past, I have tried to find solutions for clients to help them phase the whole house renovation work so their budget can be spread out. However now, where at all possible, I advise my clients to wait. This often means I talk myself out of a job but if they can move in and make the house livable until they have the money to do everything at once then this is by far the best decision. Not only will they get better value for money and only go through the build process once but they will also have the added benefit of time, which might mean their plans change leading to a better job in the future.
The build is an unstoppable process and this feeling that once you start there is no turning back is probably the most unsettling of all. Be as organised as you can be so your contractor will have a program of works which can guide you to when critical decisions need to be made.
My advice, however, is to have all of your decisions made before the house renovation works start. This is something I’ve always told my clients but my experience of going through the process myself has confirmed it’s probably the best single piece of advice I could give anyone taking on a home improvement project.
Once the build starts you’ll feel under pressure, there will be distractions and emotions to deal with, so you won’t be at your best when it comes to making decisions. Having the decisions made before anyone asked you to make them will significantly lessen the stress and make the process much more bearable. You might even enjoy it.
Build a contingency into your timescale.
Build some breathing space into your timescale. The build process is an unpredictable one and even the most organised amongst us can come up against issues that push the finish date out.
Our home improvement project took 7.5 months, which was pretty good. We had hoped to be ready in seven, but some things took longer than planned and so we pushed our move date out to accommodate this.
Waiting the extra couple of weeks for the builder to be finished entirely was worth it. Had we moved in two weeks earlier everyone would have been trying to finish around us and what took two weeks would have dragged out to four, or even six weeks.
It’s never a good idea to move in before the work is complete. Giving the contractor a deadline to work to is essential but make sure it’s realistic and if things cause the project to overrun you should make allowances and adjust your plans accordingly.
Keep your eye on the prize.
A home renovation is a complicated process. There are so many moving parts and people involved that there are bound to be hiccups along the way. Try to anticipate where issues might arise and be flexible. Things will go wrong, but try to keep an open mind and focus on the solution. Be as organised as you can be and stick to your decisions.
Home renovations and home extensions are emotionally exhausting, so my final piece of advice is to stay focused on the end result because I can promise you it will be worth it.
See the full transformation watch the three-part video series HERE.