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Five things to consider if you’re planning any home improvements

By Sam Wylie-Harris

With the ‘stay at home’ message having more staying power than we might have initially envisioned – and the possibility of our summer work place turning into a winter workshop, home improvements and renovations are on the up.

Indeed, Houzz, the leading platform for home renovation and design, reported a surge in searches over the summer, with a 102% increase in demand for home professionals during August, compared to the same period last year. So, it seems home extension projects are in high demand.

And with new restrictions being brought back in, it’s hardly surprising we’re looking to tackle jobs that lockdown highlighted, create more space or add a home office. Amid the joy and chaos this might bring, there are other things to consider, such as how to plan financially to keep a handle on the costs.

To help, professionals from the Houzz community reveal some of the key things to think about before starting any home improvements – and how to keep projects on track…

1. Plan ahead

If you haven’t renovated before, you may not realise the planning phase often takes longer than the construction work itself. It’s likely you will need to have decisions about style, layout, finishes and materials finalised before work begins, to avoid costly delays during construction.

The 2020 Houzz & Home Report found that UK homeowners took an average of five to 12 months to plan their projects, depending on the room. Kitchens, one of the most popular spaces to renovate, took an average of 10 months to plan, while construction took just over five months.

Planning for bathrooms, another room which tops the most-renovated charts, took more than seven months on average, with construction taking three months. It’s tempting to rush into a project, but it pays to take the time to plan thoroughly, and make sure you have everything prepared.

Miles Griffies of Red Squirrel Architects suggests putting together a bullet-point brief of your key objectives and requirements. “Start by giving a more general description of the project and the feel you’re trying to achieve,” he says. “Then create a list of requirements for each area, space or room of your home as you envisage it.”

2. Trust the pro

If you’re doing your project with the help of a professional, remember the point of hiring someone is for that person to manage your project, so you don’t have to.

Interior designer on Houzz, Bhavin Taylor of Bhavin Taylor Design (winner of the Evening Standard Home Design Awards 2019) explains: “When working with a designer, it’s extremely important that you let go and have full trust in them. There may be times when we suggest something that you’re not sure about or think we’re pushing you too far in terms of design; or times when we may not agree with your ideas or suggestions.

“And why do we do this? It’s simple – it’s not because we just want to do things our way, but because our ultimate goal is to give you the best possible outcome. If you do hire a professional, put all your trust in them and don’t feel that you have to watch their every move. Once you let go, you will really enjoy the benefits.”

3. Plan in a contingency fund

Budgeting for a project can be challenging, and according to Houzz, just 51% of renovating homeowners hit their budgets in 2019. Of the homeowners who ended up over budget, ‘deciding to buy more expensive products or materials’ and ‘products or services more costly than expected’ were the most common reasons.

When you’re planning for a renovation project, it’s important to account for the unexpected. “I would always recommend setting aside a contingency fund of 5-10% of the total budget. Err towards the larger figure if you’re working on an older property, where more problems may be uncovered,” suggests Stephen Fletcher of Stephen Fletcher Architects.

4. Understand your estimates

When you receive a quote, it’s important to be clear on what’s included in the price. Denise O’Connor of Optimise Home advises: “Typically, the contractor will not include items such as windows, kitchens, bathroom fittings or finishes. These are referred to as client supply items and are sometimes given what’s called a provisional cost by the contractor in their pricing document.

“The provisional cost, also called a PC sum, refers to the estimated cost of something that the contractor assumes the client will supply.” Ensure you read estimates carefully, and query anything you’re unsure about.

5. Communicate

Having clear communication lines with your professional will be vital to staying on track and avoiding any delays. When you hire a pro using Houzz Pro software, all your communications are kept in one centralised place, which both of you can see.

You can return to this history whenever you want to review what’s been proposed and approved, and keep on top of any outstanding questions. That way, both you and your pro have an easy-to-access, centralised record of all project decisions.

(PA)