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With years of Interior design experience in South Africa behind me, my husband and I decided to take the big risk of buying an auction property we came across online during lockdown. I had just given birth to my second child Matthew and with 2 kids at home during lockdown it wasn't the easiest for me to travel an hour with kids in tow to view this property. I very bravely sent my husband along to do the viewing on our behalf with a list of crucial things to look out for. 

We were coming into the UK property market with a weak exchange rate of 22 South African rands to 1 Pound and therefore in order to get into the property market here as soon as possible we had no other choice but to look for a good deal and a 'fixer-upper'. 

After my husband ,Chris' viewing we decided to take the risk and put in our offer and within a day it was accepted. Yes , I had STILL not physically seen the house. I only saw the house for the very first time once it has transferred into our name and we received the keys. 

In the interim , while waiting for the exchange of contracts, I started the designing process and have since learnt a few handy tips that I am hoping will come in handy with you when embarking on your very own Reno. 


1. Try and ensure that your rear extension doesn't exceed 15sqm 

If you can keep your extension within these perimeters you can save on architectural fees and planning application fees with your local council. We decided on doing a 15sqm single story rear extension to create a larger kitchen/diner that opens up with bifold doors onto the large garden exterior. By doing this we only had to provide basic plan drawings of what we intended to do (a lot cheaper than signed off architectural drawings) as well as let building control know of our plans (minimal fee) so that they can inspect the work as we go. 


2. Make sure you check the sewer / drainage plans prior to starting 

This is where we have had some delays and added costs on our Reno. Our terraced house was built in the 1920's and the online sewer plans are being updated constantly as they are still discovering new lines. Our plan was a difficult one to gain access to in the beginning. Only once we begun to clear up the rear of the property for the foundation groundwork, did we uncover the main sewer line runs under the new extension we are planning to build. We have therefore had to apply for a Build Over application via Southern water in order for them to allow us to do this (all Protocol - and at another fee I might add)


3. Get everything planned out before you start 

It is vitally important to have a plan before you start your Reno. Take the designs and drawings you have and break down EVERY aspect of it in order to cost it accurately. I used EstiMac to compile my costing , however Microsoft Excell works just as well. Having a foresight of budget is so important as somehow in Renos costs arise and you need to be able to stay ontop of it all, otherwise it can most definately run away from you. 


4. Try and do as much of the work you can yourselves

We have spent many an evening watching Youtube videos of 'How to plaster' and 'How to remove wallpaper' . We have learnt so much by doing this and Chris' DIY skills are now top shelf. I may start to hire him out for a fee soon. By doing the menial tasks yourself you can save a ton. I have had to really get used to the difference in labour costs here in the UK as opposed to South Africa. In SA we always hire someone to do simple jobs, whereas over here In the UK, Labour is so costly that its worth figuring it out yourself and just getting on and doing it. You will surprise yourself with what you can actually achieve, 


5. Find yourself a trustworthy trade team to do the hard stuff

There will definately be aspects of your Reno that you cannot tackle alone and that's when its time to call in the professionals. Ensure that they put everything in writing as unforeseen costs always arise during Renos (eg: new boiler to be installed, new electrics - as these can only be seen once areas are inspected closely and opened up). Get all costs from your planning breakdown accounted for and ensure everything is transparent the entire way through. Communication is everything. 


6. Spend on the important stuff 

Kitchens and bathrooms add value to any home. Ensure that these areas look good , however they don't have to cost you a fortune. We looked at DIY Kitchens as well as Wren Kitchens. They supply their kitchens flat pack at affordable prices but once installed they look like gold. We opted to go for Wren kitchens for the cabinetry and sourced our stone tops from an independent supplier. We also decided to source our own appliances instead of going with Wrens options as we shopped around and found more cost effective options. 


7. Spend time shopping around , and make sure you check their reviews 

Do your homework and look at a variety of suppliers for all aspects of your Reno. I think I contacted 10 different suppliers for quotes on bifold doors. This will give you an idea of what the norm is and then you can look at their reviews and make your decision that way. A very happy customer will generally review, so make sure you opt for a supplier that has done a good job in the past 


8. Shop second hand 

I have found the most amazing deals on Ebay and Facebook marketplace. I have spent many a night scrolling these sites to find shutters for our windows as well as a fireplace mantle and some furniture pieces. This can save you hundreds of Pounds and the best part is that it prevents wastage (one mans junk is another mans treasure). 


9. Have a contingency plan 

With a Reno , you will ALWAYS have unexpected costs that arise, A new build is much easier to cost fully , however with a Reno (especially an old home) you will always come across things that need updating that you didn't necessarily plan for. In our case it was a new boiler system, skimming all walls again (as it had numerous layers of wallpaper that we removed, leaving the walls uneven) as well as our Build over application to Southern water. 


10. Take time to enjoy the process. A Reno takes time 

This has been my biggest learning hurdle. I am so used to having a design fulfilled instantly. I am learning to enjoy the process, especially doing it together as a family. My kids get to watch us 'Fix' up our family home and hopefully this teaches them a thing or two along the way. 


Good luck with your Reno. 

I hope these few tips were useful. 


1 comment

  • Been following your progress on reckless Reno and I can’t wait to see the end result !!!! Xxx

    Olivia Jones

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