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How to avoid a home renovation disaster

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

Renovating seems to have become a national pastime in Australia and Sydney’s Northern Beaches is no exception. Take one look around the streets of any of our suburbs and it’s clear many on the peninsular have caught the renovation itch.


Renovating is exciting and can be incredibly satisfying when you see your vision come to life. But not all renos go to plan. While some come in on time, on budget and meet the brief, many are plagued by timeline and budget blowouts, and compromises that impact the finished product.

So, if you’re thinking of renovating on the Northern Beaches, how do you get it right and avoid costly problems and mistakes?

To find out, 26 and Sunny host Cat Denney from Nook Money sat down for a chat with co-host Nick Freemen from ADDVantage Property who has a wealth of experience and knowledge in this area. As the former owner of high-end construction firm Dreambuild, these days Nick specialises in helping people buy the right property when they are looking for a renovation or knock-down opportunity.

Nick, you’ve been involved in Northern Beaches property as both a builder and a buyer’s agent for many years now. Why is renovating so popular in the area?


You’re right, renovating is extremely popular on the Northern Beaches, and I think there are a few reasons for that. First off, people definitely like to personalise their properties by adding unique touches, and renovating lets them do this. Understandably, people want a home that’s truly their own, and by renovating they get to see the outcome of their efforts.

Also, compared to some other Sydney markets like the eastern suburbs, lower price points on the Northern Beaches mean more people can afford to buy and then renovate. The housing stock on the Northern Beaches also often encourages renovations as owners are able to preserve original property features, which can add character.

What are some of the major issues that people often encounter when renovating on the beaches?


Most major issues are due to a lack of planning and forethought. As a starting point, look at the existing building for potential issues such as rising damp, or unstable foundations. Also, check flood zones and bushfire risk, which can add large costs, and can be overlooked in outer suburban areas.

Another common issue is the impact of easements. This is where a portion of land is burdened by another property, such as sewer or storm water pipes, or power lines over the top of a pool area. If you’re affected by an easement, it usually means you can’t build there, or you will have to move the services, which can be very expensive.

If you don’t get things right upfront renovation costs can really blow out. For instance, I was recently looking at a property for a client near Pittwater and noticed a storm water pipe running through the middle of the lot. If they wanted to move it, they’d be looking at about $40,000 to move it to a more suitable location. Because I identified the issue, they were able to make an informed choice about whether it was a cost they were prepared to take on.

If you don’t know what you’re looking for, and haven’t done your homework before starting your reno, it’s easy to miss these kinds of costly issues.

If someone has a small renovation budget, what sort of properties should they avoid?


The key when working with a small budget is to keep costs in check. To this end, try and avoid renovating kitchens and bathrooms as they’re expensive. And be especially wary of older bathrooms as they could have rising damp, mould issues, or issues with rot.

More generally, take time to buy a property that meets your brief. Don’t buy the first thing you see and think you can figure it out later. Carefully consider your floor plans and layouts, so that you can avoid having to do big structural renovations.

What’s the average cost of a home renovation on the Northern Beaches?


It’s really hard to say. But as a general guide, if you’re renovating an existing internal space, allow around $3,000 per sqm. If it includes a kitchen or bathroom, increase it to about $5,000 per sqm. To add a basic second story to a property, it’s also commonly about $5,000 per sqm.

Going bigger, for a mid-range reno across a whole house allow about $5,500 per sqm. While a top-end job with the best finishes, would need a budget of at least $9,500 per sqm.

Nick, is the ‘buy, renovate and flip’ strategy still achievable in the current market climate?


Good question. If we’d talked 18 months ago, I would have said this strategy was absolutely making people a lot of money, but the market has moved on since then.

If you buy now, you’re buying near the top of the market, which doesn’t give you room to grow once your reno costs are added on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay to buy now if you’re planning on holding for the long term, but short-term holds are becoming more difficult.

What’s more, high building costs and limited trades availability is making it more expensive to renovate at the moment on the Northern Beaches, and is pushing out delivery times.

What about when it comes to buying a place that’s been recently renovated, any tips?


Be careful if you’re buying a house from a DIY renovator because there is no building warranty and be especially wary of renovations done by buy-and-flip renovators.

By contrast, buying from a licensed builder means they have building insurance, and also more qualifications, experience and skills than DIY renovators. On this front, a good buyer’s agent can help you understand what you’re buying, and whether it’s a quality job.

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