10 top tips for renovating your house

Starting a big renovation when you're heavily pregnant with a one year old is far from ideal and should not be underestimated. However, if you're going to embark on a renovation or some building work there's lot of advice I would give. Having been a project manager and with experiences of business contract law, we took a lot of our work experience into our project which helped us largely come in on budget and to time, but there are still lessons we learned and I would stick to if we do it again in the future.

Getting the basics right before even choosing a builder will help enormously. Look on pinterest to build a mood board of the kind of look you would like and what will suit your house. You can either choose an architect (expensive but expert advice) or get a plan drawer to bring your ideas into a technical drawing. We went down both paths because we changed our scheme once we found out I was pregnant. Get your finance in place early too so that you don't have the added stress of knowing if your money is going to be in place.

1. Don't automatically choose the cheapest builder. There are unfortunately a lot of cowboy builders out there who don't have the foggiest about contract law, or consumer rights and operate on shoe string budgets. For this reason they can get fairly rough and loose with their rules. Obtaining at least 3 quotes will help you find out the average. We also sent them all the same spreadsheet to respond to as there is so much variation with builder's quotes it's unreal.

2. Beware of those most available. If they are free to start straight away ask why and read between the lines if there's not a watertight reason. Do your due diligence on the company. You can check out accounts at Companies House to see they are in the green and not in bad debt, get references, ask why they are not busy etc. Often we start projects when we are under the most pressure from a deadline (hello baby) but sometimes its better to wait for the right builders.

3. Don't piss off your builder. It is a bit like dealing with the mafia - all the independent traders gang together to make your life hard or force your hand in some way. Whilst you shouldn't care if they like you or not too much, it does help if they do to some degree. Be nice, engage in a tiny bit of small talk, make drinks a couple of times a day and leave biscuits occasionally too. But also be professional. This is a business relationship, don't forget.

4. Do put everything in writing. Check and double check your contract. Try to get them to be as detailed as possible about what is included and what is an extra. We sent over our own spreadsheet asking them to quote against it which helped keep us tight to a budget. However, it can also be a bind if you are vague about something, so you have to be really specific.

5. Do keep telling them why you are doing the renovation and when for...it helps when they are on your side. Whether its Christmas, baby arrival, or guests coming. Keep subtley reminding them of the finish date and try to have a clause in the contract for if it overruns that they incur a penalty.

6. Stay very involved in the build...things move fast. When you're out at work all day a lot of decisions happen and it's easier to resolve at the time then to undo work. I was onsite during the build every day and the amount of questions I fielded was unreal and tough with a lively one year old and being heavily pregnant. But it largely meant I was on top of things before it became an issue.

7. Drawings only take you so far, trust your builders advice but don't be afraid to question it. It will feel weird and different and you may not even like some of the consequences of extending i.e you may end up with compromised views elsewhere so try to discuss it or walk the house thinking how the extension may look from every angle.

8. If you have a problem with the build, make sure you keep solid notes, make clear you are a lay person and have no building experience, know in advance where to go if things go wrong. If you can be pragmatic and unemotional about things, you can often come to a compromise where both parties win.

I've heard people say that they will often use the fact they are not the project managers and try to pin things on you - this can be like the wild west, not the polite corporate environment most are used to. You like to think it will be all polite and you can resolve differences in a meeting but be prepared for it to get messy. I've heard a lot of people end up in litigation and far from the law being on your side, it oftentimes isn't and can get expensive. Save yourself the trouble by choosing right from the start, and being really specific in your contract. I can't stress enough doing your homework about the company online and getting at least 3 references.

9. Make sure you ask for utter transparency over extras in advance....keep reminding them that you want to know the cost of any extras before it is undertaken and billed. This often does not happen and the amount of people who have received a huge bill at the end is untrue. There will be extras no matter how specific you are so have at least 10% contingency in the pipeline.

10. Try to let go, go with the flow, and don't sweat the small stuff. Time lines will slip, snags will occur and extra costs will happen. Use your time and money contingency. Also you may want to change things during the build...sometimes the idea you had doesn't work or you see something on Pinterest that you love. It isn't ideal to change things through the build and is a builders nightmare but talk upfront about what you will do if there are deviations.

There are so many other bits of advice I could give having lived through a significant renovation so feel free to drop some questions below if you have any specific issues.....

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