Maintaining a home
What I learned from renovating my house
23 January 2018
This article is part of The Homeowner’s Journey series, featuring case studies from homeowners and property professionals.
A house renovation can be a daunting task – not just the time, money and energy you invest into it, but learning to communicate with builders, knowing what questions to ask and keeping your end-goals in mind – all while juggling the pressures of work and family life as well.
Justine Teggelove found herself faced with a full-scale home renovation in 2010. Despite having co-founded construction company Rodine with her husband Rod, she still faced her fair share of challenges. Understanding the build and construction industry can be like learning a whole new language. But, as Justine discovered, it’s a language you can come to learn and love. (In fact, she loved it so much that she went on to found her start-up Build in Common in 2016, a company dedicated to demystifying building and construction, and empowering women in the process.)
Here, Justine shares what she learned from renovating her house.
My house renovation project
We completely gutted and renovated our house a few years ago because, with two small kids, we needed to make it more suitable for our family. Luckily enough we were able to move out of home during the renovation, which made it ten times easier. Because we weren’t living in the house, we could tackle it all at once over 4-6 months rather than taking a staged approach. I was able to work on it full time, and as our rental house was just around the corner, I could walk over every day.
Even though we have a construction company of our own, understanding the language was difficult for me. I didn’t have a designer, and understanding the house renovation “vision”, and being able to break it down into little bits, was hard.
I also found it difficult to understand the process and what order things would go in. For example, knowing when the cabinetry would be installed and when the tiler would come. There were things that cropped up that required me to make a decision then and there. I found out early on that renovating is essentially making continuous, on-the-spot decisions.
Justine’s renovated house
What I learned
I learned a lot from renovating my house. I learned that even though I thought I knew a lot about construction, there was still a lot I didn’t know. I also learned that I was more capable than I thought. I realised I could solve problems myself.
I also learned that it’s really fun! I love being the one making the calls. I felt daunted going into it, but while it was challenging, it was also a lot of fun.
I learned that when renovation is done well, it can have financial benefits. We made some changes that ended up increasing the value of our house overall. For example, we removed the house’s arched hallways in an effort to modernise the place. We also decided to keep our extremely large laundry. People asked why we didn’t extend the children’s bathroom instead, but we left this big laundry because it’s perfect for families. You can put up an ironing board and still have space for a dry rack. It ended up being a big selling feature. The people who bought the house said, “what a fantastic laundry!”.
"I learned that construction is fraught with issues and it’s important to go in prepared, with the understanding that it may not go smoothly. Give yourself extra time and extra budget to work with."
My top tips
1. Ask, ask, ask, ask!
Ask a whole lot of questions until you get an answer you understand and are happy with. Builders and tradesmen can be hard to understand sometimes, which is why you need to keep asking questions until you really understand what’s going on.
2. Think about everything
There is so much to think about in renovating, especially little things that you may not consider. For example, my kids were small at the time but they were growing. My son is now 6’4”! We had to think ahead and plan for him having a bedroom big enough for a king single bed. The kids were also about to head into high school, so they’d need desks for study. In another instance, my 6’3” husband’s clothes didn’t fit in our walk-in-robe. I had to get the cabinetmaker to readjust the hang space so they’d fit.
"Think as far ahead as how you’ll fit your favourite plates, bowls, platters and glasses into your kitchen cupboards."
3. Have an understanding of the building industry
No, you don’t need to become a builder yourself, but there are certain things – like knowing how to read a drawing – which will be useful. There are simple things on builder’s drawings that you won’t instantly understand. For example, joinery is represented by a dotted line which shows which way the door will open. In construction, most measurements are in millimetres, which is unusual and requires some readjustment in your thinking. If something was 900mmx900mm I had to think to myself… “okay, that’s roughly three rulers by three rulers”.
4. You have to have a sense of humour
Yes, renovating is stressful but you have to have a laugh! Learn to laugh things off, and don’t get too tied up if something goes wrong.
Renovating a house is a lot of work, and learning about the process is a great first step to getting the result you want. Being able to finance it and have a realistic budget is also essential, and you’re best to seek independent financial advice before you get started.
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