We’ve all seen shows such as Grand Designs, Ugly House to Lovely House and Kirstie and Phil’s Love It or List It and perhaps you, like me, come away with all these grand ideas about how you can transform your house into the dream home.
And you absolutely can.
Here are a few of my top-tips on how to create the home of your dreams on time and on budget.
Decide what you want
It’s easy to get carried away with the big designs we see on TV. However, everybody’s lifestyle and budget is unique and if you are going to go to the effort of creating a bespoke space for you, it’s a good idea to really spend time thinking about what YOU want. Think about what works (and more importantly, what doesn’t) in your current home. How does your house work for your family? Are there areas in the home that don’t get used? Does the space flow well from one room to another?
And don’t forget to future-proof.
It’s easy to think about what you need right now, but what about in 5 or 10 years time? How will the space work with babies and toddlers, or once they become teenagers, and again, when they have moved out? Do you have pets and if so, how could your space work better to accommodate them?
Decide your budget
Once you know what you want, have a think about your budget. If this is new territory for you, you may find you don’t actually know what things cost! Don’t worry. Many building firms are happy to come out and discuss your requirements free of charge before any plans have been drawn up. They can give you a ball park figure of what it may cost, before firming up with a full quote once the designs have been produced. This allows you to know if you can afford what you want, before you have actually spent any money on design fees.
Engage an architect
You don’t necessarily need a big architects firm to produce a bespoke design for your project. There are many local architects who have the skills to create a design that suits your needs but don’t come with such a huge price tag. Try to find somebody who has a fixed fee rather than an hourly rate so that you can keep track of your budget.
Don’t be afraid to push back on designs if the first plans don’t quite deliver what you were expecting. Getting the design right at this stage, gives you a much better chance of staying within budget later. The biggest cause of project costs spiralling is if a client changes their mind half way through a build. That, and ground costs – but we shall come onto that later.
If possible, draw out the new floor-plan in chalk on the floor, so you can get a feel for the size of the extension and where it will sit within your plot. And think about light. Where does the sun rise and set? Are there areas in the house that currently feel gloomy? Natural light is a great asset to any home and when used properly can transform the feel of a space. Light plays a large part in decorating and styling choices too so make sure you really think this through.
Find a suitable builder
I’m a huge fan of going local when it comes to having work done on your home. Not only does it boost your local economy but it is also much easier to build a relationship through regular contact. Plus I believe contractors are less likely to do a bad job on their own doorstep!
Get recommendations from people you know have had work done, or scout the area for projects currently being built and if you like the look of the quality, get the contact details from the side of the van!
Always try to get quotes from at least three different builders, including an idea of scope of work so you know exactly what is being covered within the price. And don’t be shy to ask if you can see examples of previous work to back up your decision.
Draw up a contract
Having a contract in place with your builder protects both you and the builder. It defines details such as start and end dates, cost of the build, builders insurance and payment installations so that everybody knows what to expect from the start. It can also help with the cost of your own buildings insurance for the duration of the build. If your chosen contractor doesn’t have a contract format, you can easily purchase standard forms of contract for construction from the Joint Contracts Tribunal (JCT) for a small fee, which you complete together with your builder in advance of the work taking place.
Make sure you have suitable buildings insurance
Many home insurers don’t cover your property if you are embarking upon a lengthy project so ring up in advance of the work taking place to ensure you have the correct cover. If your insurance provider can’t cover the work, you will be able to cancel your cover with no cancelation fee and find insurance elsewhere. There are specialist companies that provide insurance for difficult properties and properties under renovation. Companies such as Home Protect and Towergate will consider properties undergoing lengthy building projects (among others) – caution your contents is often not covered for theft during the build process.
To move out or live through it?
The decision to move out of your property during the build process or remain living in the property and put up with the chaos is a difficult one. Have a think about what you can put up with as a family and how you will cope with the stress, mess and disruption.
Moving out can add additional rental costs to your budget unless you have relatives close by (and even then the strain of living in someone else’s home may prove too much to bare!) If you chose to move out, I would recommend having a regular presence on site to ensure the build is progressing on schedule and you are happy with the decisions being made and the quality of the work as it progresses.
If you chose to remain in the property, be firm with your building contractors in regards to what facilities you need to remain in place. Washing machine, kitchen facilities (or a decent alternative), bathroom facilities etc.
Personally, I feel the benefits of being on-site to oversee the work far outweigh the discomfort and upheaval – although I warn you – by month 4 you will be feeling pretty fed up and praying it will soon end! All the better for adding that bit of extra pressure on your builders to stay on schedule!
Plan ahead of the builders
When it comes to making decisions about final finishes, make sure you have thought ahead so you have the information ready when asked. There’s nothing worse than feeling rushed to provide information about where you want plug sockets or radiators and the initial first-fix cabling and plumbing can happen a lot earlier than you think!
Really think about what you use, and what you think you may use in the future. Do you want wall-mounted TV’s? If so, sockets and the areal can be sited higher in the wall to hide cables. Where do you think you will want to plug in temporary items such as the vacuum cleaner or iron? Where will you want phone chargers? Do you want USB chargers in the sockets to reduce the number of plugs? Where will you want to put lamps, sound systems, your internet base station etc? There’s nothing worse than having to cut into brand new plaster to add extra cables if you have forgotten something!
All of these decisions, made early, make it easier for you builders to keep your project on schedule. And really future proofing your house, allows you to create a space which will continue to work well for you for years to come.
Consider your interior design early
Although decorating and room styling comes at the very end of a project, for really great interior design, creating a space with great flow and functionality is key. Thinking about furniture placement early on in the build process allows you to make the right decisions in regards to positioning of sockets, radiators etc and also floor choices and door options (do you want glass or solid doors? Which direction should they open or do you want a pocket door style that slides into a cavity wall?).
You may also want to think about where furniture will fit in the room if you are reusing existing items. The position of a radiator could totally spoil your vision of where the wardrobe was going to go for example!
Stay on budget
Coming back to those Grand Designs inspirations, we have all seen these spectacular projects go spectacularly over budget! Here are some ways to try to avoid that from happening to you:
Dig a pilot hole – ground works is always the great unknown when getting initial costings from builders. Ask you builder to dig a pilot hole – or more than one – around where the foundations will be dug. Most quotes allow for a standard 1 meter depth foundation so if yours need to be deeper, due to the condition of your site, better to know in advance and budget for it.
Avoid changing your mind half way through – every change in the design of a build has the risk of adding cost. You may need to go back through planning to request a change which comes with a charge or the builders may need to rework an area they had already completed – this again comes with a price tag. Really spend time at the planning stage to ensure you have thought of everything before you get started. That being said, don’t feel you can’t change your mind if you really have made a mistake – window sizes, shapes etc can all be easily adjusted – just do it early on so walls don’t have to be taken down and rebuilt and communicate with you builder and architect.
Finally – try to enjoy the process
It’s not every day we get to create our dream home so try to have fun and enjoy it. Invite yourself round to friends and family for dinner, prepare and freeze meals in advance that can be heated in the microwave so as to avoid relying too heavily on take-aways if your kitchen is compromised, laugh when you really feel like crying and remind yourself it’s not forever!
It won’t be long until you love your home again.
I wish you the best of luck.
Eleanor Jane (currently 5 months into a 6 month build!)