By Joy Persaud

Home improvements: what do they cost?

Most homeowners wish to revamp their property at some point, so what’s the best way to budget for jobs and keep control of the purse strings?

Renovations often go hand in hand with the purchase of a property. Homeowners often need to modernise or simply want to put their own stamp on a new place, but such building work is generally expensive, and it’s wise to plan ahead and budget.

Fiona Baylis, director of Brighton-based Charter Projects, says clients need to be honest about their budget – both to themselves and their project team, which may include an architect and designer, as well as a builder.

“They must know their line in the sand for budget, beyond which they will not and cannot go; get this nailed first – and if you’re borrowing, get approval in principle in place,” she says. “We know there’s a tension in stating your budget – thinking the quote will automatically come in at that price. However, without knowing the budgetary constraints, it’s very difficult for an architect, designer or builder to put forward the right scheme for that client. Builders don’t want to start building something clients can’t afford – that doesn’t end well for anyone.”


Set a realistic budget

Echoing this, Paul Dempsey, MD of award-winning Edinburgh-based firm, True Build, says one of the most common challenges that people face is not expecting their renovation to cost as much as they had anticipated.

Also, he says, other factors that can cause problems include the stress on the family, long delays in dealing with building control and unexpected variations in cost for unforeseen problems, such as damp or soft ground or structural issues. For these reasons, preparation is key to successful renovations projects.

Dempsey says: “Selecting the correct architect or designer is important. Careful thought should go into the design and layout – this should not be rushed. In my own personal experience, we had our kitchen in a different room then realised, after living with it for several months, that it would have been better in the other room.

“I would not start without getting the designs and planning permissions first. Otherwise it can cause issues with building control. Unless you have a preferred contractor in mind, go to tender with at least three builders. Research the builder, ask for references and examples of jobs.”


Hire the right people

Baylis is particularly passionate about redressing the bad reputation that so many firms in the construction industry suffer and says it’s crucial for clients to feel comfortable with the team and the process – and that they get the design they want, at a good price, and within a realistic time frame.

Many clients, she adds, don’t know where to start and she suggests that they first approach an architect, structural engineer or talk to a builder.

“It can be bewildering [so] we offer all the services clients would need for their projects in our team – that way, we feel, there’s no friction between professionals on- and off-site so the process can seem clearer," she says.


“Kitchens are usually the focus point when renovating and you should allocate a substantial part of the budget here”

Sonia Pash, co-founder, TEMZA


Dempsey admits that he tends to avoid jobs that do not have a project manager and he prefers to have the principal designer or architect manage a renovation so it runs smoothly for all concerned.

“All communication is best placed through the architect,” he says. “They would be able to record conversations and instruct details and variations in cost and change of plans. The principal designer keeps the contract in line and helps to protect both the client and the contractor.

"The contractor should price the job in a bill of quantities format or a DOW (description of works) – this clearly states what has been included in pricing, limiting ambiguity. The contractor should also produce a programme of works. This keeps the client informed when things are happening, which allows them to plan ahead.”


How much is it likely to cost?

Depending on its size, a budget bathroom might cost around £2,000 and a luxury version in the region of £20,000, but, on average, most people should expect to spend £5,000 – £6,000. Generally speaking, and again depending on size, kitchens can range from £3,000 – £20,000, with the average somewhere around £6,000 – £7,000.

“If budget is restricted, but you are keen to aim for a high-end finish, I would suggest choosing a less expensive but stylish kitchen carcass and spending more of the budget on a quartz worktop and better brand appliances,” says Dempsey. “This would achieve a high-end and pleasing finish on a budget that would cost less than a designer-branded kitchen.”


Top tips

Sonia Pash, co-founder, TEMZA interior design studio, recommends adding a contingency of at least 10% on top of your renovations budget to allow for unforeseen issues. Others suggest a contingency fund of 20%.

“Kitchens are usually the focus point when renovating and you should allocate a substantial part of the budget here,” says Pash. “It’s not all about the finishes, the layout is very important too, so make sure it’s practical and there is plenty of storage. Spend more generously on work surfaces, as they show wear and tear more quickly. If budget is tight, you can be more frugal with kitchen cabinetry. If you don’t have the budget to provide a full splashback, just do upstands [backboards] and a splashback behind the oven.”

Pash says bathrooms should be next in line after the kitchen in terms of priority and recommends considering putting in a tiled feature wall behind the bath or in the shower area.

“Metro tiles or other small format, elongated shapes are very popular at the moment, and so are concrete and stone effects,” she notes. “Then choose more basic ranges to complement your feature tile. This way, the bathroom will look well-designed and interesting, but you can keep the cost low if you use cheaper materials on the rest of the surfaces.”


Budget checklist

  • set a realistic budget
  • employ an architect, designer or project manager
  • plan ahead
  • creative design can cut costs and help the project look high-end