Renovations? Where to start - 7 steps checklist

Planning a major renovation or extension? Not sure where to start? If it’s anything like some of the one’s featured here you are going to need a Site Plan but before that there are a few other things you should do. Here are our suggestions, listed in order, so that if followed should lead to a successful result.

If substantial alterations or even the possibility of an extension, or house raise to build under are envisaged then a little careful thought and time spent considering the issues will pay dividends in spades later. By moving forward in this way, you will be identifying your issues and matching them with possible solutions, given the confines of your existing house and possibilities outside the existing walls but within your property boundaries.

Renovations can be a lot more expensive than many people realise so some careful planning before you engage a professional is a sensible thing to do because it’s your home and your family after all who will be living there. Jumping in too quickly may be a mistake so, if possible, live in your house for a while before making any plans to overhaul it. Doing this will inform your choices when you make your plans to change things.

Okay, now that you’re ready to start……

Renovations - where to start checklist
Major renovations like this need careful planning & a Site Plan

1. Make a wish list

Make a list of what you would like. Get your ideas on paper. Though, when compiling this list do so giving strong consideration of your real needs’ in terms of space, light, recreation, and storage needs, thinking why your current space does not satisfy you, and how this new space will. What’s really driving you to make these changes? How big should it be? Does it need light or access to outside? Maybe a deck or garden terrace. Does it need storage? e.g., Kids toys, entertainment equipment etc.

Other things like who will be using it, at what time of day are worthwhile considerations along with noise generated or the need for peace and quiet and privacy. Try to find images that create the look and feel of what you are after creating a mood board or folder. You can create separate boards for each space / room you are creating and then go about collecting image ideas.


2. Do an audit

Make a list of what is existing room by room. A simple layout plan of the house will assist with this task and will be useful a little later when talking with 3rd parties. This is easier than what you might think and will involve measuring the actual space / dimensions and how they are currently being used and accessed. Could some rooms be used differently? Could some rooms have a dual purpose? Could dividing walls be demolished to make larger spaces, or existing large spaces be divided to make a more efficient use of space e.g. creating an en-suite bathroom, or walk in robe.

Also, in this process it will help to identify any potential problems such existence of Asbestos or dodgy past unapproved works / structural issues. The more you know – the more prepared you’ll be. So, take a good look around. Climb into the ceiling, lift carpets, knock on your walls to see if the plaster is loose (it’ll sound hollow), check your windows, look at your brickwork and foundations. Are there any cracks that seem worrying? Have you found white ants?

You may not know what to do or how to tackle any problems at this point but that doesn’t matter. Knowing that you may have a problem that needs solving is the first step.


3. Money and budgeting.

At this early stage it’s too early to concern yourself with what things actually cost, that will come soon enough. Now is the time to work out your budget and the maximum amount that you can afford including your savings and borrowing capacity. This doesn’t mean that you will need to spend the maximum but it’s useful to know before you go committing yourself to further expenditure. It’s important that you don’t over commit. One other thing that you will likely need to budget for if conducting a major renovation is the cost of accommodating yourselves whilst the renovation is underway. A reliable timeline is useful to accurately calculate this.

It’s not a bad idea to keep a little up your sleeve in case there’s a cost blow out or your circumstances change so you can finish your project rather than get stranded part way through. For this, if you think you will be borrowing money, talk to you bank or mortgage broker. We suggest both.


renovations where to start checklist
This 'Queenslander' was totally transformed

4. Start initial ‘no obligation’ discussions with professionals.

There’s no end of advice available when undertaking work on your home. Everyone around you will have an opinion and you’ll find a huge volume of inspiration from a variety of sources. You're now at the point where, if you have decided that you will move forward with things, you would be well advised to order a Site Plan so that when you do speak with professionals they will immediately grasp & understand your project. It will also show you in a very good light as someone to be taken seriously. It'll shine a light on potential problems as well as opportunities and each professional that you do speak with will be considering the same information. You'll be able to talk to the designer or builder about your needs and about the property with factual information viz: the budget, the property & your needs - all of which helps control the design process avoiding going down some crazy rabbit hole that’s never going to work.


We suggest that now is the time, after some considered research, to speak with several Designers and Builders. At this early stage it’s also worth speaking with a competent Project Manager who will have a much better independent grip and broader view on the variety of issues you will likely face. Continue with this process until you feel confident you have found people you can work with, and who are demonstrably competent and trustworthy. It’s highly likely that some of your initial ideas may change in this process but don’t lose sight of your budget.


5. Set Your Priorities:

At this point you’ll need to consider whether or not your budget is likely to be sufficient to carry out your renovation. If not, maybe there are some things you could do yourself to reduce costs. Beware though as there are jobs that you won’t be able or allowed to do yourself. There are certificates and compliance paperwork that you’ll not only need to gain building approval but also if you ever want to sell your house again, and allow you to have for your own peace of mind. Inevitably there will be things that you have to carry out sooner rather than later, so you will need to set some priorities. If you have any big problems, you’ll probably have to sort them out before you can do anything else. It’s also a good idea to consider the order that projects will have to be carried out in.


6. Detailed Planning – appointing Professionals:

This is where many people face the dilemma of choosing between a Designer or a Builder first. We would suggest a Designer, though don’t forget considering a Project Manager. If you haven't already commission a Site Plan do so now before you start. It will form the basis of all design from all consultants from the outset and save you money in the long run. You’ll very likely need one to get your Council approvals anyway, so it makes sense to do that sooner rather than later to get the most use and it won’t cost you any more money. Read more about why Site Plans are so important here.


Choosing an architect or designer will help you flesh out some of your ideas and give you some choices for the style and feel of your new home sympathetic to some of your own ideas. It’s during this process that you’ll find out in greater detail what can be achieved with your budget. A designer or architect will also help in finding solutions to meet any specific needs or requirements. That’s not to suggest that builders can’t do that but, generally speaking, designers are better equipped at this stage than most builders are. Also, by appointing the designer you will own and control the plans rather than the builder, thus enabling you to get several competing building quotes.


7. Dotting the ‘I’s & crossing the ‘T’s – getting the nitty gritty right:

You’ve no doubt heard the words “the devil is in the detail”? Never was this truer than when you find yourself at this stage. Always ask for references. We recommend contacting the previous three clients of anyone you plan to hire. These people will have experienced the person at his or her current level of capability and staffing. This goes for anyone including us. These days with the prevalence of the internet Google Reviews are well worth studying as well as other review sites.

Just because someone is a good designer doesn’t mean he or she will be a good fit for you. If he or she doesn’t ask you a lot of questions about your needs, desires, and the way you live, maybe you should look for someone else. Listening skills and curiosity are valuable qualities to look for.

Getting quotes

When it comes time to get some quotes, make sure you provide enough information to your building consultant so that they understand what you want done. It is also essential that you make sure that the same work is being covered in all quotes that you ask for and receive. This is where a Site Plan will help. Always get quotes in writing so you can make an accurate comparison. Remember, the cheapest quote is not always the best. Before engaging a consultant or contractor, it is important to use a compliant written contract. Most of the consultants and contractors you engage will be required to have a licence. The Queensland Building & Construction Commission [QBCC] is where to look to check if they are indeed licenced and where you will find a wealth of other useful information as well as some standard contracts you could be well advised to use.

Renovation Mistakes: One of our clients is a project manager with a lot of experience in renovations & they have published an informative article called "The Dirty Dozen Renovation Mistakes" based on their experience fixing these things. To learn from the mistakes of others click this link

renovations where to start checklist
Carports near boundaries need a survey

Please note: All properties featured here had survey work undertaken by Site Surveys. This article includes links to 3rd party providers whose work we are familiar with and while we testify to the quality of the services they provide we do not accept any responsibility for same. Furthermore, we have not been asked to provide links or recommendations and have not been paid for doing so.

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