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Buying a home

Expert tips for buying and renovating an old house

17 December 2021

Buying and renovating an old house can be a great way to get into the property market affordably. But it’s not always easy to keep your budget and scope in check, especially if it’s your first time.

To help get you off on the right foot, Leigh Wallis, International Managing Director of renovation company Smith and Sons, provides some tips on how to buy a cheap house and fix it up without breaking the bank.

Balance your return on investment

If you’re planning on flipping your home or looking to move in the next few years, Leigh recommends focusing on rooms that could offer the best return on your renovation investment.

“A modern kitchen make all the difference to the overall impression of a property. Bathrooms are another important space that can offer return on investment.

“In kitchens, walls can be moved to open up the room, butler’s pantries offer convenience and hide mess, and skylights are a great idea to bring natural light to the space.

“Having two bathrooms instead of one may increase your home’s value, as it’s now becoming an expectation rather than a luxury.”

Don’t assume you’ll always come out on top, though. Leigh points out it’s easy to get carried away when focusing on rooms that offer good ROI.

“It’s important to have a clear budget set out from the beginning and always work to a fixed price.

“A lot goes into a kitchen renovation, so be careful not to over-invest in the one room. It’s also easy to overcapitalise on bathrooms due to the vast array of components.”

Create a shared vision if you’re renovating with someone else

Communicating goals with a partner can help simplify decisions and ensure everyone’s on the same page during renovations.

“While renovating can be incredibly rewarding, any period of upheaval can cause some level of stress,” Leigh says.

“During times like this you need to be transparent about your needs, wants and priorities and what you want to spend on achieving them.”

Bumps down the road can be smoothed out from the start by working together to share goals and objectives.

“It can be helpful making a bullet point list of what you each expect to achieve from the renovation to see how well your lists align.

“You could even collect images on something like Pinterest or make a physical mood board to clearly demonstrate what both of you like and work from there.”

Create your home renovation plan and stick to it

Don’t rule out renovation possibilities that may at first seem out of your budget.

“Establish exactly why you’re renovating from the beginning. It’s much easier to start big and trim back to within budget from the beginning, than regret what could have been halfway through renovations.”

“Once you’ve determined your budget, nail down exactly what you’ll get for it with your builder.”

In Leigh’s experience, taking your time when planning can save you money and could even speed up renovations later.  

“Don’t be tempted to stretch that budget too far after the renovation commences, otherwise you’ll have to deal with the costs of changing your mind.”

“If you really want that extra living space, float the idea at the outset before the plumbing goes in.”

Don’t rely on the cheapest quotes you find

When you’re fixing up a house with no money, squeezing the most out of your budget is a must. But pushing this too far may not always be in your best interest.   

“People want to hear they can get the home of their dreams for a minimal cost,” Leigh says.

“They talk to as many builders as it takes for someone to tell them what they want to hear. This becomes the bottom line they keep in mind.”

“Ballpark figures or roundabout figures are just that. If you depend on those figures to work out your budget you can run into trouble down the road.”

If you’re considering buying and renovating an old house, it’s important to find a reputable builder who takes the time to talk you through the quote.

“The obvious fear people have is that if they are open and up front about their budget they will be overcharged for all the works so that the budget is fully utilised. Find an experienced builder, do some background checking, and talk about your budget with them.”

“Clarify what is most important to you. Be brutally honest and in return, they’ll be in a better position to offer sound advice.

Every house will require a unique approach to renovations

When looking into how to buy a cheap house and fix it up in the most intuitive way, research can be very useful. But it’s always best to assume your renovation will be quite different from someone else’s – even when they appear identical on the surface.

“What someone else paid for a renovation that looks similar to what you want to achieve could be way off the mark,” Leigh says.

Every house offers numerous features that combine into a unique whole. You should consider the:

  • size, style, and layout of the existing house
  • size, shape, and slope of the block
  • construction materials of the existing house
  • condition of the existing structure
  • owners’ wants, needs and priorities
  • level of inclusions desired, and;
  • timeframe for completion.

It can be a lot to digest, but bringing in the professionals from the outset can help clarify what’s possible.

“The best way to get an accurate price for any home renovation project is to get a builder involved.”

Get help with your ‘fixer-upper’ home loan

If you’re a first-time home buyer looking to buy a fixer-upper, understanding your home loan options can be helpful.

If yu’d like to learn more about what home loan could be right for you, Suncorp Bank lending experts are always willing to lend a helping hand, and all consultations are 100% obligation-free.

If you’re unsure about whether refinancing is the right option for you, talking to a lending specialist could help clear things up. Suncorp Bank’s professional lending experts can help you understand your options. All consultations are 100% obligation-free.

Talk to a home lending specialist

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Home Loans are provided by Suncorp-Metway Ltd ABN 66 010 831 722 AFSL No. 229882 Australian Credit Licence 229882 (“Suncorp Bank”) to approved applicants only. Fees, charges, terms and conditions apply and are available on request.

The information is intended to be of a general nature only and any advice has been prepared without taking into account your particular objectives, financial situations or needs, so you should consider whether it is appropriate for you before acting on it. We do not accept any legal responsibility for any loss incurred as a result of reliance upon it – please make your own enquiries