Tips on buying a rundown house and renovating it

With house prices rising to such high levels, buyers are finding it harder and harder to afford the house of their dreams. This has lead to an increase in renovation, with the subjects ranging from run down properties to houses which have not been lived in for years or even decades. Although some rundown houses may be relatively cheap, the amount of money you need to spend on these types of renovations is great due to the level of necessary structural work.


Before you start

Regardless of your chosen property, the most important thing you need to take stock of is your finances. These will completely dictate what you do, and will guide all of your planning. Working out how much you have to spend will dictate how large the project will be, and how long it will take. If you are thinking about taking out a loan, then shop around for different ones that are available so you get the best interest rates. If you are planning to buy a house, then check and see how house prices are in the area you want to buy. Sometimes these can fluctuate greatly, and a real estate agent will be able to let you know when the best time to buy is, so that you can get the best value for money.

Make sure you plan exactly what you want from your renovation, whether it is in your current house or what you want from the house that you will buy. By planning ahead, you will save yourself a great deal of money, and will not be stuck with any nasty surprises later on. It will also make finding a suitable house, if you are looking for one, a great deal quicker and easier.

Finding a house

The best way to find a suitable house is to go through different real estate agents. As renovation has become much more popular in recent years, the competition for finding suitable properties has risen considerably. Therefore, you may be on a real estate agent’s books for many months before they offer you anything. Stay patient, as the real estate agent will be able to find you a property which matches how much work and how much money you are willing to spend. They will also have a rough indication of the financial investment it will take to make it habitable.

Once you have found a property, make sure you survey its potential. The location of the house is very important, renovating a house rather than buying one in an above average area can often save you a great deal of money. On the other hand, some houses may appear to be a bargain but will actually require a great deal of structural work, increasing the amount of time and money you spend on the renovation. Also find out whether the house is already fitted with electricity and has plumbing, as these will cost you a great deal more to have installed.

Before you buy

Before you buy a house, there are a number of things which you should check so you do not get any nasty surprises when it’s too late.

First, check how easy it will be to get planning permission for the house. If you wish to make any structural changes, for example putting doors in to make an en suite or knocking down any walls, then you will need permission from your local council – in most cases planning permission from the council is not needed for internal alterations (with some exceptions).

Also, check the title for the house to find out where the boundaries lie for the garden, in case you want to add any extensions onto the house.

Get a building inspector in to see exactly what state the structure of the house is in. If you need to replace any walls or parts of the roof this is going to cost you time and money, so it is best to get an indication before you buy. The building inspector should be able to tell you exactly how much this will cost you, and you may be able to agree with the owner to get some money off the asking price. Your real estate agent should be able to help you with these negotiations.

Make a plan of what changes you would like to make to the house, so you know exactly how the finished product would look. This will help you decide which rooms you want where, and will give you an indication of exactly how much work will be necessary.

Once you have bought the house

One immediate question is whether you are going to live in the house while renovating. This decision will dictate the order in which you renovate the house. It may be necessary to complete one floor first so that you can use this one to live in while the rest of the house is developed. As ever, the deciding factors will be cost and time, either of renting somewhere off-site or potentially holding up the renovation process by moving around the house.

Next, you need to decide whether you are going to hire a building company to take control of the work for you, or whether you are going to hire contractors independently (owner builder). Again this will depend on how much money you have to spend, but another factor is how much control you want over the renovations. If you are going to hire the contractors independently then it is essential that you have a plan of what needs to be done to the house. You may find it helpful to hire an architect or builder to get their advice about structural changes.

If you are hiring the contractors independently, make sure that you do not get them all to come at the same time. Plan the order in which you wish the work to happen, and make sure that this logically runs together. For example, do not ask the electricians to come after the plasterers, as they will have to work beneath the walls which have been plastered. It is advisable to have plumbing installed in the house, if it is not already, before any of the other work gets done, as many of the other contractors will need to use water with their work. It is also advisable to get the structural changes completed quickly after the plumbing, so that the main outline of the house is in place.

Try and be on-site as much as possible whilst you have contractors working on your house. Obviously this may be impossible if you are working, but dropping in on your lunch hours if possible, or coming home from work early some days will give you an opportunity to see the contractors at work. It will also mean that they do not know when you will be there or not and will subsequently (or hopefully!) encourage them to work at a consistent pace. It also means that you can check that the right work is being done, and allows you to communicate with the contractors about how the work is going. If you are not going to be in the house at the same time as them for a long period of time, try and get them to leave daily or weekly feedback so you know how the work is progressing.

If you are limited with your spending amount then make a list of the most important tasks to be completed. Renovation can be done over many years, so you should decide what the essentials are. For example, carpeting your house can be very expensive, so one alternative, if possible, is bare wood flooring throughout the house until you can afford to lay carpets.

One of the simple rules of renovating your house is never spend money on making a major change that will not increase the selling price of the house. Although this may sometimes limit your choices, it means that you are not making empty investments. This rule applies even if you are planning to live in your house for a considerable amount of time before you sell. Try not to get too emotionally attached to the property.


When you are putting your bathroom in, think about the practicalities, for example whether you want to have a shower or a bath. If you have more than one bathroom then you have greater luxury and can put both into the house. If you are planning to sell the house once you have renovated it or, if you are interested in selling it in the future having lived in it for a few years, then the type of bathroom you install could greatly affect the price which your house reaches on the market. Showers are preferable generally speaking due to convenience and speed, which is an important factor for house-hunters.


As with bathrooms, it is important to think about how the kitchen you install will increase the house price. Make sure the style of kitchen you go for is not too dated, otherwise it could mean that you have to renovate the kitchen again if you wish to sell the house in years to come. Also, make sure the kitchen generally has a wide-reaching appeal and avoid fads, so you do not put certain people off the house.

Things to take into consideration

  • Do your research– find out how long the property has been on the market. If it has been on the market for more than a few months it suggests that you will probably not make a great deal of money out of it.
  • Make sure that the property you buy is worth having the money spent on it. Sometimes the property is so run down it will cost a great deal more than expected to repair.
  • Set yourself a budget and do not go over it. When you are calculating the budget be realistic – people often end up spending up to twice as much as they thought they would.
  • Be willing to be flexible on your timing. Often problems will occur or further work may need to be done which will lengthen the duration of the project.
  • Get as much advice as possible from other people who have renovated a property before. They may be able to tell you things which you would never have thought about, and will greatly improve your project.
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