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Case Study - How to save money on an extension or loft conversion project

Case Study - How to save money on an extension or loft conversion project

Initial thoughts on saving money would be not to build an extension (or loft conversion) in the first place.  However, if you are in a situation where an extension project will add value to your house (and hopefully more than the cost of the project), then crazy as it sounds, borrowing money and doing an extension project could actually save money!

So assuming you have decided to go ahead with a project, there are lots of things you can consider doing to save money but always keep in mind that taking short cuts might not save money in the long run.

Some possibilities to consider are as follows:

Don’t buy things that you do not need

Don’t get blazié or over enthusiastic about spending money.  This is probably the most important thing to learn.  Once you have money available, it is so easy to spend it on things that you do not need.  For example, don’t buy a new kitchen when you don’t really need to.  Instead just tidy up the old one.  Or, if you are going to buy a new kitchen, don’t spend £30,000 on a special bespoke designed kitchen when you could just spend £5,000 and get a really nice well-built kitchen and save £25,000 to spend on other projects.

Know your own capabilities

We are all different in our capabilities and our situations are different in the amount of spare time that we have available to pursue our interests.  If you are a busy person and you are not very practical with your hands then don’t kid yourself, take on some experts and get them to do everything for you.  If on the other hand you are reasonably good at DIY and you have the time, then for your building project, figure out ways to do as much as you can by yourself.  This will save you a fair bit of money.

Think twice before moving any internal walls

It is very easy to think that moving an interior wall and making a room slightly larger will increase the value of your house.  It won’t! 

Knocking down internal walls

The adjacent room will become smaller and the overall area of the house will still be the same.  The money spent moving the wall will be gone and the value of your house will not be increased.

Draw up your own design before you hire an Architect

The biggest cost of using an architect results from the fact that you are not certain what you want.  Your chosen architect will give you a lot of help by coming up with a design, listening to your feedback and then redrawing it three or four times.  You need to keep in mind that you are paying for this. 

Before hiring an architect it is much better to buy one of these simple Architecture packages for £50 or so and load it onto your computer.  Spend some time learning how to use it.  Measure up your existing house and create an accurate drawing of it.  Then look to see how you can modify it by designing an extension.  Once you have had a good play around, then think about taking on an architect.

On the other hand, learning how to use one of these architecture packages can be a bit complicated and can take a significant amount of time.  It might be that you are best to talk to an architect before you do anything.  It will cost you more money but this might be money well spent.

Make your own planning permission application

Most people will use a consultant to help them make a planning application.  Keep in mind that the most important thing that will help you get planning permission is your relationship with your neighbours.  It is not the amount of money that you spend on a planning consultant.  However, having said this, getting planning permission can be quite involved and in the long run you may find it useful to hire expert help.

Hire good people and know who they are

When choosing a builder the most important thing is to look for recommendations. 

Know your builders

If possible make contact with some of their previous customers and check that there were no major problems.  Recommendations from friends can usually be fairly reliable.

Check someone out before hiring them.  I once asked a supplier to bring me his passport and a recent utility bill with his home address on it.  He was happy to do this and turned up with the said documents the following day.  He accepted that this was a completely reasonable request but he said no one else had ever asked him for proof of who he was.  I hired him and I was very pleased with the work that he did for me.

The other thing to do is a general check on the internet, type their name into Google and see what comes up.

Be very careful if you are asked to pay money in advance

There is no reason to pay substantial money in advance to your chosen builder.  Be cautious and be wary.   Paying money when materials are delivered or when workers are about to be paid is fine.  I once heard a terrible story where the customer appointed a builder and agreed to pay an advance payment of £50k once the work started.  The builder turned up with a team of workmen and started to take the roof off (as it later turned out none of these men were builders).  The customer payed the advance payment of £50k as agreed.  The builder did not turn up the next day and was never seen again.  The customer was left with a severely damaged roof and a loss of £50k.

Don’t over pay for materials and services

Some builders will charge you a mark-up on all the materials that they buy for your project.  You can reduce their ability to get away with this if you pay all the other suppliers directly. 

Buying building supplies

However, this is still not fool proof, as many of the suppliers will pay a kickback (commission) to the builder rather than charging you slightly less in the first place.  While it is impossible to completely stop these underhand practices, be wary, check prices when you can and check alternative suppliers for better offers.

Buy some things second hand

In general it is not very often worth buying things second hand but it is worth keeping an eye out.  In my house I already had a number of brass light fittings hanging from the ceiling in various rooms.  During my extension project I took the opportunity to install lots of spot lights into the ceilings but there were still a few rooms where I wanted to install some more of these hanging brass light fittings.  I searched on the internet and quickly realised that these are obviously out of fashion as there was not a lot of choice available.  I did find a few that were fairly similar but the price was £150 per unit.  I thought this a bit expensive as I needed 3 which would cost in total £450.  I then searched on ebay and found someone in Liverpool who was selling a set of 4 second hand ones for £50.  They were delivered the following week and were just what I needed.

Look after your team and earn their respect

People who have a level of respect for you will always work more efficiently than people who do not know you.  It is important to make sure that all your site workers can get a cup of tea etc, but the most important thing, right from the outset, is to learn their names and talk to them. 

Looking after your builders

My own project a few years ago went well and there were no major problems.  When talking to some of the builders one day I was surprized to hear from them that half their customers never bother to learn their names.  How can you have any respect for someone who is seeing you every day but not even bothering to find out who you are.  Little things like this are important.

Cleaning up

A building project generates a lot of mess. 

Mess on a building site

Each evening my wife and I used to spend some time sweeping up as much of the mess as we could.  This had a number of benefits.  One was that it helped to keep the general level of dust down.  Another was that we were doing work that otherwise we would be paying the builders to do.  By sweeping up each evening we got to see the progress of the work in a lot of detail.  The most important benefit was that the builders got to know that we were very tidy people and we wanted everything done to a high standard.

Recycle it or skip it

A building project generates a lot of rubbish and it all goes into the skip, or in my case for my project, a series of skips.  Each evening I carefully went through the skip and removed anything that was made of wood. 

Skips on a building site

This consisted of odd bits of wood removed from the house, offcuts from all the new work and of course lots of pallet cases left over from numerous deliveries.  Dismantling the pallet cases was a real challenge as I found them very difficult to pull apart but I persevered and eventually got quite good at it.  I removed all the nails and over time built up a very large pile of fire wood for future use.  This saved me money twice over as I paid for less rubbish to be removed in the skips and I got a lot of free firewood.  I didn’t get paid any money when I eventually took a bucket full of nails down to the recycling centre but it did give me a lot of satisfaction.

Snagging DIY

After my project was completed there were lots of small things to fix.  Initially the builders started working on these one by one but I quickly realised that most were very simple jobs so rather than pay the builders I got my tools out and fixed them myself.  I wrote up a list and took great satisfaction crossing all these jobs off one by one as I completed them.

Painting and Decorating

Painting and Decorating is not incredibly difficult but it takes a lot of time and patience.  The worst thing you can do is rush it and then end up with a bit of mess. 

Do your own decorating

My wife and I slowly spent evenings and weekends painting all the rooms in our new extension but once that was done we realised that the rest of the house also needed a good paint.  We worked at it steadily for about 6 months.  It took a lot of our time but we ended up with an excellent finish.  We saved a substantial amount of money and we gained a lot of personal satisfaction.

The above lists some of the ways that I saved money on my project.  Every project is different but I hope the above list will be of some use to other people.

Article written by JJ Heath-Caldwell