Renovating a rundown property: where to start

Renovating a property can be hugely exciting and, if the project runs smoothly, ultimately rewarding. But don’t be under any illusions – it’s a massive task to take on and it will feel overwhelming at times. Done properly, you’ll end up with a beautiful new home which has increased in value too, giving you a return on your investment and hopefully a chunk more on top.

Still, that’s the end result and might seem a long way off when you’ve just bought a rundown property – perhaps at a bargain price at an auction – and are gazing at a house in a state of disrepair, looking rather sorry for itself. Here are a few tips as to where to start with your renovation project:

You really should have had a clear vision in mind (ideally down on paper) before you bought the property – if not, the first step after purchasing it is to finalise the design. This guide from Homebuilding & Renovating states it well: ‘The very best thing to do is to take a long, hard look at the house and its grounds and work out which are its best bits, the features that drew you to the house in the first place (such as its views, large garden, characterful beams or original fireplaces and windows) and which are the worst.’

Don’t rush this part of the process. Take the time to work out what you really want and what will draw the very best from the property. You may not be able to do this yourself; you might need to appoint a designer and be prepared to go back and forth making revisions until you’re happy with it.

You’ll also need to hire an architect to formally assess the project, the condition of the property, and draw up plans. Ideal Home has a great checklist to help you to find the most suitable architect for your renovation project. An architect can assist with any structural changes that need making – although he may advise inspection and evaluation from a structural engineer if you want to remove internal walls and load-bearing walls. Depending on the renovation and work you intend to carry out, you might need planning permission or to obtain Building Regulations approval. The architect can manage this process on your behalf. The Royal Institute of British Architects – RIBA – can help you to search for architects in your region.

Of course, you’ll need a good builder to take on the project. It’s vital that you select the right person or company for the job. Getting recommendations from friends and family is a great way to start – do you know anyone who has had similar work done recently? If so, ask to visit their property and view what was done. Discuss any issues that came up, how they were resolved, how long the project took, and so on.

Don’t go with the first builder you speak to. Set up meetings with at least three or four builders, get quotes in from all of them and compare costs. Price shouldn’t be the only factor in your decision. Have they handled such projects before? Can they show you examples of previous work? If one builder’s quote is significantly cheaper than all the others’ you may feel suspicious and have a right to feel that way – look back through it and see what is and isn’t included. Ask for more detail if you need.

Discuss availability, too. If one builder is booked up for the next six months that’s perhaps a good sign – they’re in demand and busy. If another says they can start immediately, be wary.

Make your choice, agree start dates, share design and architect plans, and discuss a payment structure. If the project isn’t due to start for several months, stay in touch with any updates.

A final one before the work starts – don’t overlook the smaller details. When the property is legally yours, you are responsible for its maintenance and protection. Even if you’re planning to stay elsewhere while the work is being done, you must have insurance in place – look up RAC Home and Contents insurance for quotes – and you must inform the insurers of your circumstances.


Good luck!

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