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Hints & Tips

Finding a Property to Renovate

Looking to buy a new property, but not quite able to afford your dream home? Sometimes, finding what would have once been your dream home, and restoring it to its former glory is the only option. However, finding the right property can be a daunting prospect. Do not fear, Property Renovate are here to help you in your property renovation journey.

Property Renovate are an online company with a mission to help restoration fanatics find their dream period property in London hassle free, by bringing all the various bits of information together in one easy to find place. So who better to give you some property renovation then a company “in the know”!

Why would you buy a rundown house?

Our customers are all looking for properties to renovate in London. Rundown Edwardian semis, unmodernised 1930s flats, neglected Victorian terraces. Why? What drives these people to take on the emotional and financial stress of restoring a rundown property?

I am always pleasantly surprised to discover that it is not all about the money. Of course, a proportion of our customers are property developers and builders looking to snap up development opportunities, complete a quick refurbishment before returning them to the market for a profit. But there is also large section of buyers who are searching for an unloved property that they can restore to its former glory as they rebuild a stunning home. Creating a property that is functional and stylish whilst respecting the original structure, design and history of the building and its surroundings is a brave journey that should be admired.

Whether you are buying a renovation property for profit or pleasure, there are risks and rewards. Understanding the risks before you commit to buying can help you find an investment that is both financially viable and inspires a passion for restoration.

Winkley renovation projects, before and after photos

Winkley Workshop, East London

This is a stunning renovation of a derelict upholsterers workshop in Bethnal Green. Designed and owned by Fiona Kirkwood, it is a wonderful creation of a unique home despite a tight budget and the restrictions of space within a conservation area.

Finding a Property to Renvoate

Finding a rundown house is often the easy part, finding the right rundown house is the difficult part. The key is to surround yourself with every possible property source:-

  • Local estate agents. It is often stated, that rundown houses are snapped up before they even reach the estate agent’s window, but if you believe that you are cutting out the biggest source of properties for sale on the market. Speak to your local estate agents, let them know what you are looking for and you might be the one getting the first call when the next renovation opportunity comes on their books.
  • Auctioneers. These are a quick way of achieving a sale and for that reason are used for neglected, repossessed or “problem” properties.
  • Online adverts. Private property sale websites and even small online local adverts can occasionally bring up some interesting opportunities…check out what Preloved has to offer in the property for sale section.
  • Local Councils. There is a national initiative to address the housing shortage by bringing empty properties back into use. Seek advice from the empty home agency about how you can work with your local council to help bring these homes back into functional use
  • Walk the streets. Familiarise yourself with any rundown houses or empty properties in your chosen area. You never know, if you can trace the owner and your timing is right, you might find a true bargain!

Finding the Right Property to Renovate

Sounds obvious, but not every neglected property on the market is a good investment. When you have been searching for months (or possibly years) for your dream renovation opportunity, you can start to lose sight of that. Your budget, valuation and risk assessments slip, as you become determined to make the next opportunity a perfect match. Treat every property you view with the same comprehensive risk assessment, research and financial planning.

Every property developer will tell you, the buzz comes from the end product. The late nights, the endless decisions and daily negotiations all become a distant memory when you can finally stand back and admire the finished home you have created. It provides a sense of pride that makes all the stress and hard work worthwhile. However being stuck with an incomplete project because of a lack of finance, planning permission refusals or unforeseen building complications could be your worst nightmare. There are some complications you will never be able to predict, but the key to a successful development is ruling out as many as you can and assessing those that you uncover.

Honor Oak renovation project before and after

Honor Oak Renovation, South East London

This is a modern transformation of a post war detached property in Honor Oak. Janene Waudby originally intended to just do the property up, but ended up completely overhauling the house to maximise warmth, space and light.

Use the Experts

I am not an expert in any specific area of property renovation, but I know a man who is. There are tradesmen and specialists who have years of experience in their particular area of property and construction. My advice is always to tap into that knowledge before you purchase the property not just afterwards; this is particularly true for older, period properties and those in a serious state of disrepair.

Go beyond the comfort of a survey and pay a reliable builder to visit the property with you. Ask a roofer to inspect the loft, a damp expert to test the basement, an engineer to review the cracked brickwork. Of course there are cowboys out there, but use recommendations and word of mouth to discover the trustworthy ones and get them on board early. Building contacts becomes easier after your first renovation, but learning from the experts is crucial. It eventually enables you to identify simple risk areas on your own and understand the consequences of the more complex ones. It is an upfront cost that feels like wasted money if you don’t complete the purchase, but is a fraction of the costs you pay if you end up with a house beyond repair and your budget.

Top Ten Renovation Considerations For Period Properties

  1. Electrics and Heating: a quick check for old fashioned fuse boards and sockets will indicate whether a complete rewire is required or just additional sockets. Whilst the floorboards are up, does the central heating system need upgrading, replacing or installing for the first time?
  2. Roof and Guttering: are there signs of long term damage due to water exposure and leaks? Missing slates tiles and damaged guttering can be replaced but long term water damage will determine how far you need to go.
  3. Windows and Doors: always an integral feature of older properties and often in need of repair. Consider the house style and restrictions carefully before deciding whether to restore or completely reinstall.
  4. Subsidence and Heave: changes in local ground levels can cause serious impact on the structure of a property. There are options but not without significant costs and risks that only an expert should advice on.
  5. Rot: dry and wet rot are usually a result of damp conditions and poor ventilation. Your renovation must address the cause. Treatment can prevent further spread but the extent of the existing damage needs to be understood.
  6. Damp: often a factor in older properties but always treatable once you have identified the source.
  7. Woodworm: familiar trail of holes in woodwork that can be chemically treated if active. The risk is how far it may have spread specifically to any major and potentially hidden wooden structures.
  8. Plastering: unstable ceilings, cracked or blown walls and the patching up of your other building work (electrics, damp courses, fireplaces etc) will determine how much re-plastering is involved.
  9. Kitchens and Bathrooms: usually require replacing but style has a big factor on price. Also consider the plumbing and electric services required as part of the installation
  10. Redecoration: if the house doesn’t need redecorating, it’s not a renovation project! Take note of the amount of woodchip wallpaper, Artex and ceiling tiles that need to be removed first (and what lies underneath).

Property Renovation – The Addiction

Renovating properties is addictive. There are thousands of decisions to be made throughout the process and they all feel so crucial to the success of the project. It can be incredibly stressful, financially risky and physically exhausting. But when all the tradesmen have gone and you add the final finishing touches, the feeling that you created a stunning home from a neglected wreck is one of immense pride and satisfaction. Then you suddenly forget about the stress and find yourself looking on the internet for the next project…so go on, get property hunting!

Sam Dale at Property Renovate

Sam Dale at Property Renovate

Community User

Sam is the Director of Property Renovate. Launched in 2004, Property Renovate are a London based online company with a mission to help Londoners find their dream renovation project, by bringing all the complicated information together in one easy to find place.