Renovation planning guide

Renovating is an exciting time when you can see your dream home come to life or spruce up an older property for sale. Whether you are doing it yourself or with a little help it can be a daunting process, and a lot of hard work. From budgets to timelines, and materials through to project management, there’s plenty to consider. But don’t let that put you off the journey as the end result and the overall experience can be truly rewarding.

1. Planning your renovation

Planning is the most important part of the renovating journey. It’s best to consider the basics first – like budgets and timelines – and then move onto the more detailed parts of the project. Start with creating a basic scope of works that should include a list of everything that needs to be done. Carefully consider what can be updated and what requires replacing. This will help you estimate a realistic budget taking into account the cost of materials, layouts, and trades. Use a spreadsheet or budget tracker to keep an eye on costs and track all aspects of the renovation project. A vision board is another great idea, not only as a source of inspiration, but to help you identify the overarching style and look.

Finally, do plenty of research. When taking on a renovation project, it pays to be as knowledgeable as you can.  This will help eliminate any surprises that might blow the budget and give you a better idea of all the moving parts within the project.

2. Set a renovation budget

Whether the renovation project is big or small, you will need to have a clear idea of how much you can afford to spend. This will ultimately be guided by the amount you have saved, or how much you want to borrow. It’s important to note, funds usually dictate a project and will help inform how much of the work will need to be DIY, and what areas to prioritise if money is tight.  Need help? Use a renovation cost estimator to plan your budget.

As a guide follow this budget guide:

Forecast your budget: Document the exact cost of materials, fixtures, fittings, and labour costs.

Track everything: Contacts, dates, costs, receipt, and paperwork. Keeping everything in an orderly manner will help you stay on top of the project and plan accordingly for any major changes if delays or mishaps occur.

Pay attention to the details: Continuous small costs add up, so constantly revisit the budget and alter plans accordingly. Don’t continue to spend if you can’t afford to finish parts of the job – instead prioritise what needs to be done.

Plan for the unexpected: Factor a sum of money into your budget for unforeseen costs.  Any type of building project will throw up surprises and these will be less stressful if you are prepared. The recommended buffer is between 15 and 20%.

Don’t rush: Review all contracts line-by-line before signing, also consult your budget before committing to any expenditure.

3. Reasons for renovating

Like any project, it’s important to have a good understanding of your goals and why you want to achieve them. So how you renovate will often be dictated by the circumstances.

Renovating to sell

If you’re renovating for profit and intend to sell the property, the focus will be on adding value, appeal and maximising return on investment (ROI) within the shortest possible timeframe. This means you must approach the project without emotion, treating everything like a business decision.

Renovating to stay

On the other hand, if you’re planning to live in the property longer term, the process will be a delicate balance of smart decision making and emotional choices. You will want to consider how the space suits your family and what your dream home ideally should look like. Typically, this type of project will include some features from your personal ‘must have’ list you splash out on.

Planning to stay in a home long term may also make you more willing to pay extra for fixtures, fittings and tradespeople. Don’t forget, you will eventually need to sell, so avoid any design elements that are too niche or that won’t stand the test of time.

Buying to renovate

Restoring and upgrading an older home seems like a fun and affordable option, but many people are shocked to find out the real costs involved – especially if there are structural changes. Make sure you get a proper building inspection to identify any costly fixes like asbestos and pests before you buy. But don’t let the challenges put you off.  Try and choose a property in a good location that needs mainly cosmetic work, not structural alterations and speak to real estate agents about what kind of things people want in a home.

Finally, do the proper due diligence on any property before purchase including checking council and title restrictions.

4. Set a renovation timeline

Renovating offers endless possibilities, but change does take time, so planning is essential. Months before you start work you will need to apply for any necessary planning approvals with the council to have these in place before work commences. Then six to eight weeks out you will want to be preparing trade schedules and organising material delivery. It’s a good idea to factor in time for unexpected delays, so you won’t be left disappointed – or financially stretched – if things take longer.

In terms of the actual building time it will vary depending on the scope of works and the rooms being worked on, but here is a rough guide room-by-room:

  • Kitchens: 2 – 9 weeks
  • Bathrooms: 1 – 3 weeks
  • Living rooms: 1 week
  • Bedrooms: 1 week
  • Gardens: 1 – 2 weeks

5. Pros and cons of renovating

The biggest benefit of renovating is the value it can add to your home or asset, which can be especially useful if you are planning on putting it on the market straight away. While for those renovating to stay, if done properly it can drastically improve your living space. But while rolling up your sleeves and getting started straight away seems like a no brainer there are some downsides.

So here is a list of pros and cons to mull over.


Adds value – If done well a renovation is a way for homeowners and investors to add value to their house in terms of functionality, liveability as well as financial value.

Can be a rewarding experience  – Both financially and personally the challenge of successfully remodelling a home can have lasting benefits

Cheaper than upgrading to a new home – Buying a new home includes paying stamp duty, but also takes a lot of emotional investment and time spent house hunting. While renovating does take time and money it tends to have bigger gains.

It will improve your home – Even the most budget makeover will add to your property, and if you spend more you can totally overhaul an ailing property.

It’s personalised to your style and needs – It’s hard to find something on the market that totally suits you and your family. There is the option of building new but that comes with a whole lot of other challenges and may restrict your location. Renovating means you get the best of both worlds.

Budget can be adjusted to suit your finances  – Not everyone has $100,000 laying around so when you renovate you can make choices that suit your budget. A renovation also takes time so you can scale up or down if your circumstances change.

If DIYing it can be done whenever it suits you  – Plenty of people choose to renovate their own home outside of work hours giving them the flexibility of when they work. It can also be rewarding to come home and build rather than staring at the television.

There may be government subsidies available  – The government is constantly trying to stimulate the economy and building is one of the key areas of focus. For example, the coronavirus saw the HomeBuilder grants launched that gave applicants a $25,000 cash bonus towards their build.


Costs can spiral out of control – Old homes can throw up some nasty surprises like water damage, asbestos and building faults. It can also be easy to underestimate the amount of work needed and the cost.

It can be a lot of work and stress – Renovating is not an easy ride, and while you may be doing for profit it also needs to be a labour of love or it may end up sucking your time and stressing you out.

Projects can be delayed – The general rule in building is ‘what can go wrong will go wrong’ so expected hiccups and delays on the journey.

Works may uncover existing problems with the structure – It is every renovator’s nightmare finding that the problems underneath are worse than you thought. In severe cases the cost may derail the whole project.

6. Finding a builder vs DIY

Rolling up your sleeves and flexing some DIY muscle is a great way to save on costs when renovating.  But if you don’t have the skills and experience you may need to bring in an expert to do the job to avoid costly or dangerous mistakes. As a general rule here are some jobs that are best to leave to the experts and things you can do yourself.

Experts jobs:

  • Structural work
  • Brick laying
  • Hardscaping
  • Electrics
  • Plumbing
  • Roofing
  • Tiling
  • Installing kitchens
  • Installing complex storage like built-ins

DIY jobs:

  • Painting
  • Decorating
  • Ripping out old cupboards and kitchens
  • Wall prep
  • Building furniture

How to find the right tradesperson?

Picking the right tradie is often a choice that could make your renovation experience a dream or a nightmare. So, taking the time to research and find the right tradespeople is essential. Reliable references are a great place to start. Ask your friends and family for recommendations, if they can’t help try and get at least three quotes from different companies that operate in your area. This will help get an idea of market price for the project, as well as let you gauge who you’re dealing with.

Remember the onus is on you to pick the right tradespeople so check they have accreditation and don’t be shy to ask for past references. It’s worth noting, the cheapest quote isn’t always the one to go with. Be on the lookout for a combination of quality work and materials, good references and a contract that offers a guarantee on timeframes, work, and where all costs are itemised.

7. Project management

A successful renovation is a well-managed renovation, so every project needs a designated person to oversee the operation. Some people choose to hire a professional project manager at an additional cost, and it may be money well spent if you want to avoid stress and mistakes. Meanwhile, many amateur home renovators successfully manage their own renovation projects too.

If you are taking on the job here are some tips to help things run smoothly:

  • Have a plan – having a detailed idea of how the project will run will ensure success.
  • Use a spreadsheet to keep track of costs, dates, materials and trades.
  • Set a detailed schedule – this includes noting down key deadlines and ensuring milestones are met.
  • Keep paperwork up to date – invoices, receipts, quotes, contracts and plans need to be kept and filed.
  • Keep an onsite diary – details are easy to forget so having a daily ledger will help keep track of any important facts, issues, risks or delays.

The following advice is of a general nature only and intended as a broad guide. The advice should not be regarded as legal, financial, or real estate advice. You should make your own inquiries and obtain independent professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances before making any legal, financial, or real estate decisions.

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