Ask a builder: what elements add the most value to a home?

By Samantha Thorne

So you’re thinking about updating your home to increase its value. You’ve got an idea in your mind of what it might look like, but you’re not sure how to tackle it - don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Renovating a home can seem like a daunting task, especially when there’s pressure to make a good return on investment. So how do you know what adds value and what doesn’t?

To help you, we spoke to expert Sydney-based builder James Mason of Our Build Handyman and Renovation Junkies. James has a multitude of experience in the home improvement industry and definitely knows a thing or two about what adds the most value to a home. Let’s dive in.

Alright, James - tell us, what adds the most value to a home?

Yeah, I was thinking about that. The main ones that do add value are kitchen upgrades and bathroom renovations, and definitely, if you speak to most real estate agents, they’ll agree that those are the big ones.

People often spend up to $200 per square metre on tiles, when they can get something identical for $20 per square metre. It’s important to do your research.

Okay, so for homeowners wanting to update a kitchen or a bathroom, how do you know when to spend a lot or go for more budget-friendly materials and fittings?

It’s really relative to the property, the area and the kind of target market you’re renovating for. If it’s a high-end suburb or a high-end home, then you’ll definitely want to put more expensive and high-end fittings in a high-calibre home.

However, in the suburbs where you come across more run-of-the-mill homes, you really shouldn’t be spending top dollar because it doesn’t match the area. In this sense, you wouldn’t get a return back at sale time.

You know, people often spend up to $200 per square metre on tiles, when they can get something identical for $20 per square metre. It’s important to do your research.

portuguese tiling cost

As a builder, what are the kinds of jobs most people are coming to you for?

I’d say space going up and space going out - people are adding extra rooms to get extra space. They like to give their place a bit of a facelift.

First home buyers will usually come into an older and more dated property, tidy it up, add a new kitchen, bathroom and a lick of paint. They’ll do just enough to make it comfortable, and will opt for a bigger reno down the track.

planning a renovation

Do you think extensions and additions add value to houses?

Yeah, I think they can, you’ve just got to be careful not to over capitalise. So I’d say you’ve really got to know what’s selling in your area, what you’re going to spend and do the numbers on what it’s going to cost you.

If you’re going to spend $100,000 - $150,000 and want to sell the property in a couple of years time, you need to evaluate whether it’s worth that kind of spend.

If this is your forever home, it might be a different story, as plenty of people in this situation will spend to make the home suit their own tastes and needs. But if you plan on selling in the future then you need to work out whether the cost of renovations will pay for itself over time.

What are some horror stories you’ve seen when people are trying to flip a house?

Oh there’s a few things. Definitely over capitalising - I see a lot of people spending a fortune on fittings when it’s really not needed.

When it comes to house flipping, it’s all about watching the dollar. Obviously you don’t want to be getting dodgy or cheap parts, but you’ve got to be wary of not spending $2,000 on something like a kitchen mixer when you can get one that looks good and does the job for a lot less than that.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions around renovating for profit?

A lot of renovators can be unrealistic and unprepared. Shows like The Block appear to take on renovations in an ultra-fast fashion, which is completely unrealistic for the general punter out there with zero trade experience and qualifications.

Generally, the more homework upfront, the faster a job will go. Disorganisation causes problems and knock-on effects - for example: some trades may not be abe to source materials.

If your renovation is in six months time, give a long window of time to plan everything out. In my experience, the more time you have upfront, the better the outcome and the more smoothly your renovation will go.

You mentioned The Block - we’re keen to see what you think about these kinds of shows?

I think they inspire a lot of people. People watch these shows and think ‘yes, I need to upgrade.’

The thing is, those shows fail to show the homework and backend of a renovation. This is what I’m trying to do with Renovation Junkies - I want to try and educate people.

On these home improvement reality shows you see the demolition and a brand new renovation pretty quickly. What you don’t see is the three to six months of planning beforehand; the extent of shopping around for the right materials and best deals; seeing plans getting drawn up; finding the right tradies; timelines and project management.

The outcome of this is that people start ripping things out when they haven’t done the research and don’t have trades organised. It can actually stall your progress.

modern bathroom style australia

What would be something that’s not worth splurging on if you’re simply trying to add value?

Like I mentioned earlier, fixtures and fittings are big ones. Also, pools don’t really add a lot of value. While a pool may be a fantastic set up for a family, for older couples it can spell more work, which can turn people off.

They can also take up quite a lot of room on smaller blocks - certainly in Sydney and Melbourne I’ve seen plunge pools taking up ¾ of a block of land, which can really discourage people.

Related: What could be hurting the value of your property?

What about when it comes to colours and materials - what would you recommend renovators use to appeal to buyers?

I think keeping the interior neutral is a good idea and using lots of whites. If you plan on hiring a good stylist before a sale, spending $2,000 or so can be a good investment to really make it pop.

I’d advise people to steer clear of interior design that’s too personal. Coloured feature walls can scare people away - not to mention that they’re quite outdated. For exterior colours light to mid-greys tend to be in at the moment, but internally, I’d advise people to stick to whites and neutrals.

The biggest thing people overlook when renovating a bathroom is waterproofing - there’s several stages to it and a lot of renovators don’t realise this.

How much time should you allocate for a basic bathroom or kitchen renovation?

For a kitchen, if planned out well, it can be done in a week to two weeks tops. A demolition can be done in a day, and the new kitchen would go in after that. If you get a caesarstone benchtop measured, it can be installed a couple of days after that.

Bathrooms can take a bit longer, but generally for a well-planned out bathroom renovation, on-site timing is around a month. The biggest thing people overlook when renovating a bathroom is waterproofing - there’s several stages to it and a lot of renovators don’t realise this. So when planning, make sure you speak to your plumber, bathroom builder and waterproofer to find out timings and when each trade needs to be on site etc.

It’s also important to get a professional licensed contractor to do your waterproofing. A lot of people pay tilers to do it and it’s really not the best way to go. They’re not as good as professional waterproofers.

You should do your background research too - when you get a written quote, their details should be on the paperwork. Do license checks, search online and look them up in trade directories to make sure you’re working with the real deal.

Related: how much do pre-sale repairs and renovations cost?

What should people look out for when it comes to hiring trades?

I’d say trade delays is the biggest thing to be wary of. You have a lot of leverage if you have existing relationships with a network of trades. If you’ve used the same guys for five to ten years, then they have a lot of loyalty.

If you have a delay and you move them around, they’ll usually shift your job back, but if you’re a first time client and someone more loyal shifts their job around, then they’re likely to be more loyal to that person than you. This can cause delays.

sunny interior design

If there’s rot in the floor and carpenters need to replace it, the knock-on effect is that subsequent trades won’t be able to come in until that floor is replaced.

The other thing is, if you’re not organised and account for delays, you might hit a little snag which can derail an entire process. For example, say there’s rot in the floor and carpenters need to replace it, the knock-on effect is that if you have a tiler or waterproofer booked in, they can’t come in until that floor is replaced - this will slow you down.

Bumps in the road will have an affect on your tradies’ schedules, because it affects all clients. You could be the best builder or homeowner in the world, but you’re still susceptible to the same things, so accept this as a possibility.


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