What I Learned When I Blew My Renovation Budget!

Contributed by Canberra local, Judith Smyth



You either love it or hate it.

Tackle it with gusto and have endless catalogues of on-trend looks and spend every spare moment at the hardware store or display villages, or procrastinate and pretend that the leak in the shower isn’t really THAT bad, or you can live with the cracked laminex kitchen and 60’s floral carpet that has seen much better days.


One day I turned to my ever smiling and patient other half and we spoke about the ‘R’ word. Yes, let’s do it was the decision. Our kitchen was functional but could be updated, and the bathroom had seen better fashion trends.... I was so excited!! Goodbye baby blue floor tiles and helloooo modern whites, greys and beige.


18 months on (and an extra 150% later....), I would like to share now what I learned from my renovation.


Have a clear idea of exactly what you want.

It will save you a lot of trouble and expense if you do some preparation before rushing out and choosing the newest, biggest and brightest appliances. Get the tape measure out, check that the space you have can accommodate your choices, if not, keep shopping.

Choose your colour scheme. Decide if you want neutral shades or vibrant colours before you go on a buying spree and then try to tie things together in an attempt to make all your purchases work.

And … the most expensive mistake is wanting to change plans/ideas along the way of the renovation. This runs into time and money (trust me, I'm the connoisseur of changing plans; much to our builder's aversion).


Draw up a contract with your builder

A big trap to fall into is a verbal ‘yep it’ll cost you this, no worries’ kind of arrangement.

Have a contract drawn up with the builder’s written quote and time frame. Have your lawyer check it over. It may sound a bit over the top, but stuff happens. How many times have I heard the lamentation of renovators ‘we were to be finished by Christmas and it was only going to cost $XX’... This is 3, 6, 12 months after the estimated finish date. Protect yourself early on.


Visit the site regularly

If you are doing a big renovation and have to move out of your home, it really pays to be able to visit the site regularly. No matter how clear your plans and instructions are, there is always the ability of someone to get it wrong. Being available if issues arise or just to check the day’s activity on the scene can really be useful. And sometimes things may need to be modified due to circumstances, so to be on hand and able to navigate through a range of scenarios can be very helpful. Mind you, the opposite can have a negative effect, so don’t pull up a chair and direct every move your team makes. Chances are you will be left finishing the job yourself!! Stay insightful.


Administrative costs

Don’t forget to factor into your budget the administration costs. This will be your DA and all certification that the project has been completed and is to standard.


Materials and products

As I mentioned before, choosing the appliances and materials (tiles, lighting, etc) is very exciting. Just get the prices of all these items locked in before the job starts. Source what you want, shop around and lock it in.


Stuff happens

Unfortunately, this is so true. So as far as the budget goes, it helps to be very prepared and have a financial buffer set aside.

It may be found that some previous non-compliant work has been uncovered (eg, electrical, plumbing, structural, fire rating, drainage) and if you are stretched to your very last dollar, this is a major problem, particularly as it will not usually be covered by your contract. Plan for the worst, and be happily surprised when the best happens!


I love my newly renovated home, and I delight each day with the finishes and quality that we were able to achieve. Having the right people doing the job really helps and this is where your real estate agent/property manager can help with their recommendations. They get to know people in the trades and can assist with the best people for you.


Judith Smyth


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