Tommy Walsh On Tackling Home Improvement Projects
8 min read
Last Modified 16 February 2021 First Added 11 August 2016
I always say to people that the place where you live should be a home first and a house second, so the property should be comfortable and fit you and your family needs! However, for millions of people it’s the biggest purchase they will make throughout their whole lives, so even for the long term buyer it’s a major investment, so the condition and maintenance of your greatest asset is of great importance, and needs to be planned and carried out properly!
Major alterations and improvements to property need to be really carefully considered, and designed to enhance and compliment the property, carried out in conjunction with an architect, and of course the local planning office, and building regulations. It’s important to use professionals for major works, and selecting a suitable builder should be carried out with military precision, and any recommended builders should be researched and thoroughly checked out! Remember ‘if he is not busy, why?‘. He is probably not very good, and if he can start tomorrow, don’t touch him with a barge pole! Remember, good builders are always busy, so are well worth the wait! If you’re unsure, research a clever contract available to protect both the client and the contractor, it’s called a ‘home improvement guarantee’ and is a good way of insuring building quality, and making sure nobody runs off with your money, leaving you in the lurch!
When it comes to DIY it’s best to stay within your competency levels, but you can save lots of money by project managing, and being prepared to do the stripping out, moving and storing furniture, installing all the floor and home protection covering yourself, ahead of the contractor starting. Its easy to research a project online ahead of the work, familiarise yourself with what is required, so that you are able to have constructive conversations with both builder and architect, surveyors and building regulations (all the suits as we builders call them). It’s almost impossible to complete a major project successfully without a really good detailed set of drawings, and a full specification of materials and works, and it pains me to have to admit it. For the first ten years when I started out, I thought I was clever, and making savings by working with basic undetailed drawings and no specifications of works, but it just leads into difficulties, it’s far easier to move things around and make alterations on paper than it is to move walls, windows, and rooms physically!
Owning your own property is nearly always challenging, but can if carefully planned, and with the luck of timing on your side, be a great secondary, or primary source of creating wealth alongside your normal day job.
There are HUGE regional variations in both demand and availability, but the south east, south west, central regions, major northern cities, and property hot-spots such as Aberdeen, fuelled by the oil industry and of course beautiful regions all around the country, and even our once sought after, but recently unfashionable properties by the seaside, are undergoing a rigorous renaissance!
Well I’ve been working and dealing in property for forty years, and I’ve done OK! First thing, don’t get sentimental over property, it’s hard, especially with your first property, but it’s a weakness and may narrow your market!
Apply logic, if you are selling your property what’s the first thing a prospective buyer will see? That image will stay with them, so if it’s the front gate, make sure its painted, the hinges are oiled, the front garden has pretty flower boarders, the lawn cut and green, pretty hanging baskets in full bloom, planted troughs on the window sills, all hedges nicely trimmed and no bins or rubbish on show. Ensure the front elevation at least is in good decorative order, if not newly painted, then at least properly washed down, with clean curtains, and sparkling windows. A display of a few large, and mixed sized well planted pots either side of a freshly beautifully furnished front door, with no leaking gutters or drain pipes, and no visible signs of dampness, all of which could be achieved for an outlay of a few hundred quid, and not thousands, will sell that house for you far quicker than a fancy new kitchen and bathroom. People like to put their own stamp on a new kitchen or bathroom, these are big ticket items, and people like to be involved in making the choices! If your property is a flat, then ensure the management company keeps the common areas in tip-top condition, ensure lifts and stairwells are clean, (even if you have to do it yourself) before potential buyers arrive. Ensure the front door is spotless, if not newly painted, ensure stair wells and corridors are de-cluttered, the flat must be pristine in cleanliness, and if you have a balcony, ensure there is a display of fragrant colour in troughs, pots, and hanging baskets.
Selling a property is all about presentation, and not all about content, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to making money out of property.
So are there projects you should take on to make money from property? Maybe more importantly are there projects you should ‘NOT’ take on when trying to make money from property!
The rules of combat vary regionally, and the type of property, but let’s look at an average three bed house. Check the outside of the house, prevent any ingress of water! – (first rule). With any building always start at the top and work your way down, from back to front, outside to inside! Check conditions of the roof, repair if necessary, including gutters and downpipes, windows and doors, brickwork and pointing, and check the damp course hasn’t been bridged (ground level outside against the house is not above the damp course, if it is the outside ground level must be dug up and lowered- crucially important!) Get the electrical installation and plumbing assessed.
Loft extensions tend to be very profitable projects to take on, you already own the space, so you might as well use it! My tip though is to take the whole roof off and the ceilings on the top floor should go, construct a new loft extension with pressure treated timber, maximizing the space and build quality without being restricted with any of the old roof.
Extensions; generally if you are going to put a box on the back attached to your house (common extensions) you may restrict the light in the centre of the house, so consider an apron roof with roof lights or a lantern, with internal vaulted ceilings matching the shape of the roof. This creates fantastic space, and brings in an abundance of wonderful natural light!
Retain and revive period features rather than tearing them all out, it retains character and gives the property (and the people who live there) an identity.
Double glazing; Beware! Plastic windows are not maintenance free, no matter what they tell you. Plastic is a fairly week material, so the frame, mullions, and glazing bars (what makes a window!) are beefed up to make them stronger meaning you get less natural light, up to 20%, so the rooms may appear much darker. Planning laws control the size of a room by how much natural light it has, be careful not to be in contravention of planning laws I am not against double glazing, just try and stick to the original window design when replacing, but with double or triple glazed panels!
Sand and varnish old pine floors? Not on the ground floor, you’ll freeze in the winter with a hooley blowing under your floor up through the cracks into all the ground floor rooms and you’ll be forever dusting. I remove the flooring, install 90/100mm blown polythene installation cut between the joists resting on treated roof batten attached to the floor joists then I replace the old flooring with lovely engineered oak, so it looks fantastic it’s as warm as toast, and is a great investment and improvement to your home!
Never, Never, have your doors dipped to remove paint, it will ruin your doors dissolving the glue, splitting panels and taking any oils out of the wood and the doors may fall apart. Take the doors off and put them on a pair of stools, or bench, burn off excess paint with a heat gun, carefully sand down the surface, varnish, wax, or repaint. Restore old door furniture, unless naff, then replace it, but always replace worn hinges for good quality ones whatever!
These are just tips that have worked for me and all my building muckers over the years, there are tons more, but that’s for another day. Are you undertaking a major home improvement project? Please tell us about it in the comments below.