Do-ups without the drama

New Zealanders are a nation of fixer-uppers. It’s almost a national pastime to buy a run-down house – preferably at a knock down price – with a view to fixing it up and improving it. Whole legions of zealous young couples troop through dark, decrepit old villas every weekend with visions of restoring them to their former glory. Sometimes their motivation is to on-sell the house and make a capital gain, but more often it is simply to buy an affordable home and make it more comfortable for themselves. 

Renovating is a great way of creating a home that works well for your family; it can also increase the value of your asset and be creatively satisfying. Renovation, regardless of the scale, is a project and you need to make a commitment to it. Like most things about home buying, renovating can quickly turn into a costly headache if you don’t approach it correctly. The trick is to walk the tightrope of maximising the value whilst minimising the stress. 

How much can you afford to spend on renovations and how can you best spend it? You might be better off doing one room, properly, at a time, than spreading yourself and your cash too thin over many rooms. Also, it’s better to finish one room or project, than to have many projects crawling along simultaneously for all eternity. At least then you can retreat to that completely renovated room with a glass of wine and congratulate yourself on your, albeit, partial success. 

The first law of any building project is that it will run over-budget. Unfortunately, it’s easier to acknowledge the truth of this when it’s other people’s building projects, rather than our own. Renovating is a Pandora’s Box of potential problems and unknowns. What will you come up against? Removing the weatherboards from the back wall might reveal rotten framing that you never knew existed. Taking up the carpet uncovers floorboards that don’t match like you thought they would. It’s quite different from building from scratch, where there are far fewer surprises. 

Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that a renovation that suits your lifestyle and your taste will automatically be attractive to every potential buyer when it’s time to sell the house. Think carefully about the likely appeal of any alterations. By all means rage against beige, but that orange kitchen and replica Sistine Chapel ceiling aren’t necessarily going to push everyone’s buttons. 

Remember, finally, pride comes before a fall. It can be very difficult to be financially rational when it comes to renovations. Our homes have huge emotional significance for us, and, for some, renovating even puts their Kiwi machismo on the line, all of which mean it is easy to become carried away and to keep throwing time and money at an endless DIY project. 

This is an extract from The Streetwise Home Buyer. The full chapter covers much more and you can download it below for free.
  • Don’t overcapitalise
  • Planning the jigsaw
  • Staying in theme
  • Making the most of what you’ve got
  • Plans and people
  • Getting consent
  • Bye, bye DIY
  • To sell or extend?