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how do you feel about buying a family house that needs work? have you done this? how was it for you?

(52 Posts)
Honesttodog Sat 12-Jan-13 16:56:34

I think I'd like to buy a house I can improve myself. We are planning to rent until we find the right house and have been looking at "finished" houses and houses that need some modernising.

Friends who have worked on houses seem to have found the experience pretty frustrating, but i am really keen to design my own kitchen, do bathrooms the way I want them, take time to choose the fittings that I like etc.

However i can be pretty indecisive. If we do take on a bit of work I'll get support (re: planning, project managing, not financial!) from my parents but my husband is the opposite end of the spectrum, he is the type to just want to go to one shop and choose, I like to do a bit of research and then once I find the right thing, I like to look for a really good price.

Would it be crazy to take on renovations? How did you cope with all the decision making? How did you pick yr builder? Did you use an architect as well? How much time did you spend plannign work??

ARe there any websites you can recommend to look at before I start?

LifeofPo Sat 12-Jan-13 17:09:39

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

NightFallsFast Sat 12-Jan-13 17:10:50

We're in the middle of renovating. I'm like you and like to look at lots of things before choosing. DH would go with something in the first place he looks. He gets a bit frustrated with me continue to juggle ideas when he thinks something is "sorted" but as long as I don't go on about it it's fine!

Choosing things really isn't the problem, it's the disruption. We needed an architect and to go through planning, then the architect put it out to tender. 2 quotes were similar so we went with the one we preferred. Unfortunately he then tried to screw us over so we told him we didn't want his services and looked again. We've now got a fab builder through recommendation. Although they're fab there will always be stresses with it. There will be setbacks and hold ups, things not done on time or that need to be rectified and things left in the way etc. We seem to rub along alright though and we're happy so far.

There's a huge difference between "doing a bit of work" (painting, may be a new kitchen or bathroom) and a complete renovation, so think about what you can manage. Also it'll always cost more than you thought it would!

SuchFunHaHa Sat 12-Jan-13 17:15:45

You have to learn to live with mess and dust, not to mention the state they will leave your garden in.

MoreBeta Sat 12-Jan-13 17:18:04

IME people always underestimate the cost and time required.

Unless it is just new kitchens and bathrooms plus paint and caroets then you need professional people to do it.

Our house (we rent) superficially looks OK but would you be able to completely tile a roof, replace roof timbers, apply lime mortar, rewire and replumb a house and have you won the lottery recently?

If so my LL would dearly love to sell you it.

The other thing in my experience is that the owners of huses that 'need work' are never willing to knock enough off asking price. Hence they wait to catch someone who understimates the cost.

I am trying to buy a house that needs a lot of work at the moment but the owner after 2 years on the market is still looking for 20% more than it is worth but can't actually afford to do it up himself.

kickassangel Sat 12-Jan-13 17:24:53

You have to be prepared for it to be like having an extra job. Even if you employ people to do everything for you, they can't read your mind and you will need to meet them, shop around etc.

For looking at ideas I love the app Houzz. You can put together pics of what you like and share it with someone so your architect designer etc can see them.

Be prepared for at least one third of your house to be unliveable for long periods, and you will have to constantly shift furniture around as different jobs are done.

The cosmetic stuff like how a room looks is just a tiny part of it. You have to be willing to do electrics, plumbing, heating etc before you get to make fun decisions.

Honesttodog Sat 12-Jan-13 17:56:01

yes it's the boring stuff eg electrics etc which scares me slightly, that's the sort of thing i wanted to read about. How do you get that sort of thing right? planning of lights, what type of light, number of sockets (you can never have too many these days it seems) saving energy vs making the room look good etc etc

Do you think it's just easier once you have actually chosen a house and can have a good think about how you're going to live in it?

Honesttodog Sat 12-Jan-13 17:56:27

Am fully prepared to treat it like a job.

TheSecondComing Sat 12-Jan-13 17:59:36

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

notactuallyme Sat 12-Jan-13 18:09:33

I wish we hadn't. We underestimated massively, the survey didn't tell us stuff like boiler would be useless, kitchen cupboards would fall down, and I had no idea that I would hate living in a shithole while waiting to do it up. All that stuff takes real money, so we had to put other stuff on credit cards (using salary to write cheques to plumbers etc) and are now about 60k in debt. (Other factors include some inherited debt) and the house will never massively exceed the ceiling for our area, and we can't afford to do the extension we need. Newbuild next time!

NotMostPeople Sat 12-Jan-13 18:16:29

We did it, completely underestimated the costs. I am meticulously organised but there lots of unknowns. For example we had to put in a whole new heating system in we didn't anticipate it as we had been told the current owners had put a new boiler in the year before. They had but it was very underpowered and not capable of running the heating and hot water for a family of five. We spent all our money, had to take out a massive loan just to get the house liveable - we moved in with me pg with number 3 (of course, thats sensible). Eighteen months later we had to sell it because the combination of mortgage and loan payments made life very hard to live. It had a huge knock on effect and to some extent we are still suffering the after effects ten years later.

Stupidly we're considering doing it again, in the hopes that we learnt our lessons the first time.

TheSecondComing Sat 12-Jan-13 18:19:38

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ApuskiMcClusky Sat 12-Jan-13 18:29:08

Have just moved in to our renovated house - took out a chimney, moved some internal walls, new bathrooms and kitchen, full rewire and replumb, full redecoration, and built a new driveway. We didn't live in it whilst it was going on, which was relatively easy because we had already been renting. It has cost more than we expected, almost double I'd say, but that was partly because we went with a trustworthy highly recommended builder who wasn't cheap, but has meant it's all been pretty hassle free. But yes, I'm bored of making decisions, and the last few things are just drifting because I can't be bothered now.

I suspect we paid more for the house than it was worth bearing in mind the end cost of the work, but I would have wanted to change some things in any house - at least this house was partially priced for the work involved.

notcitrus Sat 12-Jan-13 19:10:03

We bought a neglected family house, which needed too much work for most people wanting to simply redecorate+new kitchen/bathroom, so the price was reduced, yet there were reasons developers couldn't easily convert it into 2 flats.

If we had had a spare £60k, we could have done more of the work at once, but as it is, we knew it was going to be a 10 year project. Getting people in isn't too bad, but once the kids were born we underestimated how little we would be up to doing ourselves. However they are unbothered about rooms moving round etc. There was a summer when I got very fit going to the leisure center every time I needed a shower...

It's not for the houseproud. On the plus side, we can happily host parties as the carpets are already trashed! Saves getting babysitters. But it really is disruptive, vacating rooms, moving furniture, dust and dirt getting into all the other rooms, blocking areas off with stairgates... and costs more than you ever think.

If you want a house that is basically sound but 'just' needs kitchen, bathroom and decoration, be warned that so does everyone else, and they often cost more than one already done up!

startlife Sat 12-Jan-13 19:37:12

I think it depends on the renovation. Our first place needed work but it was relatively modern so basics like electrical/heating were all fine. Living through a kitchen/bathroom/garage conversion refurb is fine - not ideal but very do'able.
The current place is a complete refurb and we completely unestimated the costs - it's at least double when we factor in costs for patio £8k/driveway (£20k)/new heating (£6k)etc.

If you are short on money then I think things become tricky/stressy - we can't afford the 'great' builder, we have to make compromises and we can't afford to move out when the work became really disruptive.

I would do a renovation again BUT I would plan a realistic budget that enabled it to be less stressful.

RubyrooUK Sat 12-Jan-13 19:43:31

We did it. We did literally everything - every room, every piece of wiring, lighting, wall, radiator etc. We did everything but build the house (although we did replace crumbling bricks too actually). With a baby/toddler in tow. It took 2.5 years.


- It is a nice house to live in. I love my bathroom, for example. It is small but makes me happy every time I am in there. It is really, really lovely and relaxes me so much.

- Even though the work went massively over budget, the housing market means we will still hopefully make a profit if we sell (and meanwhile have a house to live in that we love).

- The house fits our lifestyle; lots of storage for hoarders like us, lots of shelves for books and so on.

- I feel good that we replaced beautiful original features with reclaimed like-for-like versions (did my thorough research) where they'd been ripped out.

- We have insulated everywhere and under the original polished floorboards/had our sash windows double glazed so hopefully it is much more energy efficient.


- it is really hard to live in a house where you are doing serious building work. We find dust on clothes in our wardrobe months later even though we have cleaned endlessly.

- having to make a decision about exact types of granite when you get home from work exhausted at 8pm because otherwise it will hold up the whole job - even though never wanted granite anyway, you originally wanted slate...grin

- you have to compromise. There are some things you just can't have "your way" due to structure/practicality and that can be gutting when it's costing you a fortune and you are allegedly making the decisions.

- the days when your builder shows you that someone has effectively removed a large chunk of your supporting wall, rendering the house unsafe and requiring another expensive addition to the bill.

- the days when your builder puts in shiny chrome switches, not brushed chrome and your toddler is sick and work is a nightmare and you just want it to all go away and spend 1.5hrs crying to your mum on the phone.

- the periods where you are having lead stripped off windows or floors polished and you have to spend extra on short term flats near the nursery or work as your friends aren't close enough, racking up a massive bill.

- living in one room of your house for months on end.

- the enormous overspend that results from every renovation.

- the rows with your DH at 1am over the placement of a sink where you call each other cunts, announce your intention to divorce and then both cry hugging each other and say you can't take the stress anymore.

Would I do it again? Yes. But the essentials are:

- more money than you think;
- a brilliant builder;
- endless patience;
- the ability to make decisions or accept that sometimes you will be rushed, even on something you've planned for ages;
- even more money than you think;
- a really good sense of humour.

swizzles Sat 12-Jan-13 20:03:13

We have extended and renovated twice.

Agree with everything said here. We moved out of the house during the last renovation - cue 4 months rent for another property - didn't anticipate moving out but it was much worse than I thought (and I'd done it before).

The unforseen costs are incredible. For example, we had to pay to have our water mater moved. We had to have completely new water supply piped in from the main road because our pipe was too old and narrow (1961) to serve a family house with two bathrooms (that cost £750). The whole place had to be replastered, which cost thousands.

I am glad we did it, but I wouldn't like to live in it for any period whist renovating. Ours took 4 months in total and we weren't living there and that was incredibly stressful.

Springforward Sat 12-Jan-13 20:06:48

IME it depends on how much work. We're currently halfway through refurbishing a tired 80s build house, though even with a sound structure, boiler and electrics we underestimated the time and money required. We would not have bought anything more challenging as DH wants to spend time with DS, not wrestle with DIY all the hours god sends, TBH. Petsonally I wouldn't buy even another refurb again.

Honesttodog Sat 12-Jan-13 20:19:26

we are planning to rent anyway as we haven't found somewhere to buy yet, and I don't work so will be able to be around for decision making etc. I expect we will continue to rent while work is being done.

We are looking at buying in a conservation area so there will be a risk of encountering major problems like replastering etc. We hope to go round with a builder and/or architect before we buy a house which needs work, in order to try and get an idea of what we are taking on.

we have seen a couple of places which could take a bit of work but we just haven't found The One yet. Waiting patiently to fall in love with a place.

RubyrooUK Sat 12-Jan-13 20:40:25

It's good you'll be around for decision making, OP, but bear in mind that if you're not working and you live in the property while you're renovating, that's many, many hours each day spent somewhere with dust and noise. Often going to work was the highlight of a 6-week spate of building! My maternity leave spent with builders was pretty awful, even though they were lovely.

Good luck though; I'd do it all again. (When the scars wear off from this time....)

RubyrooUK Sat 12-Jan-13 20:41:29

...if you're renting elsewhere though, that's great. Just budget enough to run over by several months! grin

swizzles Sat 12-Jan-13 20:52:22

I do honestly think that refurbs are worth taking on, it's just true that even experienced refurbers (is that even a noun?!) can't spot everything.

We were ultra cautious. We took architects and builders around our house before we bought it. They said it would cost about £100k (that was a detailed written quote) but the real cost was nearer £170k. There was no way they could tell me for sure that the plaster would have to be replaced. Their electrics spec didn't allow for chrome sockets, cat 5 cables, a burglar alarm. They didn't know we didn't want the cheapest boiler on the market, that we would want underfloor heating in the bathrooms, Matki shower fittings...etc etc.

TO be honest, unless a builder is sure he has secured the contract, they won't put the time and effort into a detailed quote even if oyu know exactly what you want. We had 9 builders quote for our job and none of them would spend the time, which I can totally appreciate.

ArbitraryUsername Sat 12-Jan-13 21:02:02

At least double the figure that you think it'll cost. And everything takes a long time. It's hard to organise all the various people you'll need to do everything, so that there aren't big gaps when nothing's happening or problematic overlaps.

But you do actually get the stuff you want, which is always good. And the compromises are your compromises, if you see what I mean. It's hard to make the right decisions for a house you've never lived in though.

We bought this house at the end of August. It needed all the double glazing replaced (you couldn't see through some of the windows as the condensation had etched the inside of the glass), the flat roofs needed replacing, we had to put a window in the kitchen and a whole new kitchen. It's lovely in there now but still not quite finished. We need to get a new fridge-freezer (a plumbed in American style one) and the larder cupboard needs a door fitted. We've replaced all the internal doors (except the bathroom and toilet door, because we're going to knock them through to make one decent sized bathroom).

We had to de-convert the integral garage. The previous owners converted the garage into a really unpleasant room. It looked like they did it themselves. They'd accentuated the slope on the garage floor (perhaps they thought it was a feature). We put in a lovely roller garage door and had a utility area put in across the back of the garage. It's great having it all out the kitchen.

We've had loads of plasterwork done. We removed hideous built in wardrobes in the bedrooms and discovered the previous owners had pulled all the plaster off behind them, right back to the brick. We also had to remove a huge mystery box from one of the bedrooms, which contained nothing but some obsolete pipework and a pack of viagra. And there were artex ceilings that needed re boarding and skimming/dodgy plasterwork all over the place. Everything needed repainted. We've still got the reception rooms to decorate. Upstairs has been fully re carpeted (the previous owners had truly dire taste and didn't seem to think underlay was necessary).

We're replacing the not very nice laminate downstairs with solid oak flooring. But we need to replace some of the radiators first. The one in the halls needs to be changed to a shorter but more effective radiator, and the one in the front reception room needs to move into the bay (as it gives no heat out from behind the couch). We need to sound proof the party wall in the reception rooms (and DH wants to do it for the upstairs bedrooms too). It's not that the neighbours are especially loud; DH is just ridiculous about it and makes us all whisper all the time because you can sometimes hear the neighbours' teenage kids fighting.

Also still on the to do list is: to replace the very old aluminium patio door in the back reception room with something more attractive (and that we can actually use); replacing the unbelievably hideous uPVC front door (honestly, I don't think there's an uglier door in the whole country) with a 1930s style hardwood door that will go with the house and look much more attractive; sort the render out on the back of the house and paint it (we had the front of the house painted shortly after we got the house, but there's much more work needed at the back); knock down the boundary wall that the previous owners built in the wrong place (annoying the neighbours by doing so) with something that we all think is attractive; do something to soften the front of the house which is entirely monoblocked; decorate the downstairs reception rooms; and knock the bathroom and separate toilet through to make one decent sized room and fit an entirely new bathroom in it.

After that we can think about furniture...

Buying a fixer upper is exhausting and expensive. I think (hope) it'll be worth it in the end. Worryingly, DH has started talking about doing a loft conversion so he can have a 'gaming room'. hmm

Yfronts Sat 12-Jan-13 23:40:18

If you have kids I would consider a house that needs a new kitchen/windows/bathroom/electric/heating/damp proofing but not interior lay out changes (excluding simple knocking one or two walls down though). Everything takes a lot longer then expected and costs much more. It will eat up all your family time too. The best project is something dated you can live in and renovate as you get the time/money - but this can also be frustrating and take years.

crazyhead Sun 13-Jan-13 13:24:34

We're doing it at the moment - not huge scale but electrics, couple of walls, kitchen, bathroom, plastering, decoration and restoring period features. I am in a pricey bit of london where the gap between this and a nicely done up house was an awful lot of money - we managed to get over 100k off initial asking - which is why we're doing it. Without a financial incentive i wouldn't have - it's a lot with baby and career.

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