If you’re not already lucky enough to live in the home you want to renovate, then finding the ideal candidate could take some work. There is, of course, the most common method of trawling property search engines and estate agents windows until you uncover your diamond in the rough. However it’s important to remember that while not everyone will be able to identify the potential in a home, the same can be true of estate agents. If you register with an agent ensure they know the type of project you’re looking to take on, both in terms of level of work required, but also what level of floor increase you’d like to have when finished; don’t just give them your ideal location.
Often, people who would ideally like to build a house are tied to locations where building sites are rarer than hen’s teeth, and therefore many people who are willing to take on a large job are left unsatisfied by carrying out small-scale renovations. For those looking for a more substantial renovation job, property auctions can be a veritable gold mine of potential properties. A higher proportion of run-down and derelict homes are sold through auction than through estate-agents, and this should be the first port of call for anyone looking to find a sizeable and expansive project to undertake.
There is sometimes no substitute for a good old-fashioned ‘shoe-leather’ search, and getting out and identifying derelict or vacant properties in your target search areas can often gain an advantage overs others searching using less direct means. Speaking to neighbours, or indeed a hand-delivered mailshot, can also help identify potential homes, and those interested in selling. Land registry information is also available from the Registers of Scotland, to identify potential property owners, and can be very useful if your ideal home turns out to be a vacant or derelict house.
Some people will feel comfortable undertaking small projects without professional help. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this approach, for those embarking on larger or more complicated projects professional help is a vital and valuable element to add to their renovation – which should be added as early as possible.
A chartered building surveyor (RICS register of surveying firms) will be able to produce a report on the state of any home you are interested in, but do be aware that this report will be limited to issues which can be discovered by a visual inspection. If you are concerned about structural issues then consider obtaining the advice of a chartered structural engineer (register of structural engineers), but be mindful that very often they will be required to make inspection holes in areas of the building, in order to properly scrutinise many structural elements – and this is obviously a sticking point pre-purchase.
Once you’re confident that you’ve found a home you wish to renovate, it’s an ideal time to find an architect who can help you realise your project (ARB register of Architects). It’s important to find a practice that shares your vision for the property, and that you feel you can share ideas and connect with. An initial conversation at the property in question can often be enough to show whether their approach will be of interest to you. If an architect doesn’t seem excited, enthused, and bursting with ideas at this initial visit, then it may be worth continuing your search until you find the practice for you. Your relationship with your architect will be a long term one and therefore it’s worth investing the time and effort at this stage to find someone you think will understand, listen and be able to realise your brief, then see you through the stresses of the subsequent stages.
Many houses which are ripe for refurbishment are understandably in poor decorative order (which was the case on our Ferryhill House project). It can be difficult to see past floral 1970s carpets, avocado bathroom suites but lurking underneath dated decor could be the fabric of a building ripe for renovation.
Decor is temporary, but is the first thing to make an impression on you when visiting a potential project. Everyone has different taste, so try to see beyond cosmetic appearance, and imagine a space with your own personal style.
As well as trying to see past the surface level of decor, it can sometimes be difficult to see beyond the current layout or design of a building – even those you know well. We always start from the position that anything is possible, and don’t allow our preconceptions of an existing building to obscure potential solutions (read more on our design process here).
It’s also important to realise that with a renovation project it’s rare to find that no elements of the existing building should be retained. One of the first things we do when designing a renovation is determine which areas of the existing building have merit, and this allows us to quickly isolate and discard elements which may prevent the home working properly. These are often non-original additions, made in a hap-hazard manner, without considering the impact on the building as a whole.
It’s important to consider the atmospheric qualities of a house (such as light, shadow, materiality, proportion, etc), and not rely only on floorplans when assessing a renovation, as these additional traits often provide existing buildings with character. These qualities must be considered whilst developing renovation proposals, in order to ensure that the new and retained elements of the house combine to form a coherent home.
If there’s one element not to scrimp on when it comes to renovating your home it’s replacement windows and doors.
Don’t be tempted to consider uPVC units, which have unfortunately long been the dominant window type on the market. uPVC is bad for the environment, cheap and impossible to repair. The myth has always been that these windows are the most cost-effective option, however this doesn’t take whole-life costing into account. There is also a misconception regarding uPVC windows being ‘maintenance free’, as they degrade with exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, emitting toxic gases such as vinyl chloride in the process.
Options available for replacement windows range from timber units (with traditional arrangements available for period properties), to alu-clad (a timber window with an aluminium covering externally to reduce maintenance), to fully aluminium windows. Choosing the right kind of window for your project is important, and a marriage of cost vs performance (both thermal and aesthetic) should always be sought. In most cases the property value increase gained from replacing dilapidated windows with new units will be in excess of their cost, before even considering the savings to be gained from reduced heating bills due to better thermal performance.
Please be sure to see the second part of this guide which will be published next week, and which will deal with insulation, heating, approach to valuation, procurement routes, and insurance.