How to avoid a money guzzling renovation nightmare

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4 min readAustralians have a long-term love affair with renovating. And why not! There’s good money to be made for savvy renovators who know what they’re doing and do it well.

 For sale: Stunning newly renovated home, 39 Stirling Street, Footscray, VIC , $980,000 plus. For sale: Stunning newly renovated home, 39 Stirling Street, Footscray, VIC , $980,000 plus.

Being able to spot a good renovation project from the beginning holds the key to renovation success. Which let’s face it can be challenging. There is always the risk of underlying or unseen issues with any property that could turn a quick cosmetic renovation into a money guzzling renovation nightmare.

Of course, having a thorough pest and building inspection carried out on a property before you buy often brings out all the issues the property holds, both big and small. But before you even get to that stage there are a few things to look out for when viewing the property for the first time that could highlight some underlying issues that could spell disaster for your renovation dreams.

Look out for the following to avoid a renovation nightmare:

Cracking – Cracking to corners on interior plasterboard is fairly common in houses across Australia and is not a huge concern. It’s simply a sign of movement or the house settling. However, large cracks, cracks along the middle of the wall, sagging in the ceiling and cracks to the exterior brickwork can be an indication of something more serious. It could be the result of excessive movement to the base or foundations that are supporting the dwelling. Sloping or spongy floors could also indicate movement in the foundations. This could potentially blow out the budget if it is unknown how much movement has happened to date and how much more is likely to occur.

Water – Signs of underlying water issues can present in various forms. There could be issues with the internal plumbing, or there could be issues outside the dwelling. Regardless of where the issue originates, any water issue can mean big dollars to rectify.

Internally, It’s always good to check the taps during an inspection and make sure the water is running clean and with good pressure (and it is draining away quickly). Any knocking or grinding of the pipes could also indicate an issue with the plumbing.

Any signs of dampness, plasterboard blistering or water marks on the ceiling walls or floors are also an indication that there’s a water issue present. Any presence of mould at all should be taken as a big warning sign as mould is difficult, not to mention expensive, to remove completely.

Outside the dwelling, check the exterior of the house for signs of rising damp. If there is rising damp present there will be a discolouration around the bottom of the walls of the dwelling. Check the drainage around the house and keep your eye out for any water pooling.

Wiring – Any potential power issues can be hard to spot on a first inspection, and you should definitely not be messing around with anything electrical (needless to say, keep well away from any exposed wiring). However, a quick check of the lights is an easy way to identify if there may be any underlying electrical problems. Flickering lights or lights not working at all should be noted. It may just be a case of replacing the bulb or it could potentially be a whole bigger issue.

Additions and extensions – One of the biggest oversights a renovator could make when purchasing a property is buying a property that has additions or extensions added to it without the necessary permissions or permits. Having to either remove or certify property additions can be expensive, both in money and time. This can easily be avoided simply by asking for the building certificates up front or checking with the local council that the necessary paperwork is in place.

If you’re looking at a property that is still in construction stage with the plan to complete it, then make sure you’re able to obtain the certificates for the work already completed. If you don’t have these, final sign off will be hard to achieve.

Overlays and restrictions – Nothing adds dollars faster to a renovation than the words ‘heritage listed’ or ‘Neighbourhood Character Overlay’. Both these restrictions can add time, money and energy to your project or even halt your plan in its tracks. Heritage listed properties or properties with Character Overlay constraints will involve a number of restrictions in what you can do with the property. This could mean you have no choice but to source matching tiles with existing ones, repair existing fittings and fixtures instead of replacing them and so on.

The restrictions can be very strict and finding suitable materials or replacement products can be arduous. It pays to check there are no restrictions on the property before you buy.

Of course, as previously mentioned, it does pay to have a thorough pest and building inspection carried out on the property. This along with detailed searches of the property history and restrictions will give you a clearer picture of the property’s history and help you decide if you’re buying the ideal renovator or a money pit.

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Katie Marshall
Katie Marshall is a Designer, Project Manager, Property Investment Advisor, Author and Founder of Chicks and Mortar®. Chicks and Mortar® helps empower women to make smarter, more profitable property choices. Find out more at or buy the Chicks and Mortar the book here.

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