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How Much Will it Cost… Exactly??

By September 25, 2017October 2nd, 2019Managing a Renovation, Renovation, Knowledge & Tips

At Absolute, we often receive enquiries about total project costs.

A typical query might be ‘we have just bought a 3 bedroom flat in Islington and want to renovate it throughout, including moving some walls – how much will that cost?’.

We understand our clients need to:

  • maximise value from a project, and
  • ensure they can afford to carry out the work they have in mind (or adjust the amount or specification of work to suit their budget)

However, so many factors can affect overall costs that it’s very difficult to provide even ‘ballpark’ figures when only given an outline description of a project.

We advise below on how to clarify budgets and identify some of the advantages of hiring designers and/ or project managers.

Key factors influencing cost

  • Extent of work
    • How many rooms/ areas are affected?
    • Is the work to the ‘infrastructure’ of the building? If you are rewiring or replacing pipework, walls and flooring will be cut into, thus require repair/ redecoration afterwards.
    • Does it require several specialist trades? Electrics, plumbing, joinery, etc. are skilled trades so will need several different sub-contractors.
    • Does the work need certification that it complies with relevant Building Regulations? (Electrical, gas, structural, etc. work will do so.)
    • Do you plan to move walls?
  • Level of finish – a ‘refresh’ of the walls with a lick of trade paint has a vastly different cost to stripping off old paint, sanding to a fine finish then carefully applying several layers of specialist paint (i.e. Farrow & Ball)
  • Style of furniture, fittings and equipment (‘FF&E’ – taps, flooring, etc.) – budget kitchen units with low-budget appliances, tiles and flooring will cost a few thousand pounds; bespoke designer kitchen units with top quality appliances, stone worktop and brass taps can cost more than some people’s budget for an entire renovation.
  • Planning Permission, Listed Building Consent and Party Wall consents all take time to obtain and require specialist preparation (so extra costs).
  • Location/ type of property
    • Work to leasehold properties may require the consent of freeholder and/ or management company and may be subject to strict rules on what work can be done and when.
    • Age/ condition of the property – a poorly maintained, or inherently old property will require more work and contain more ‘unknowns’.
    • Parking/ access – can workers deliver tools and materials and dispose of waste easily? Contractors will pass on the costs to do these to the client.
    • Size of property – a large property will require more work BUT there may be enough space for several ‘trades’ to work simultaneously. In small properties, limited space can mean only one or two individuals can work safely, and to a good standard, in each area at each time
    • Location – labour costs are often higher in large cities (high cost of living), although delivery costs may be higher in rural areas.
  • The client
    • Will you live at the property during the works? If so, contractors need to work around you and spend time cleaning.  This will slow down work and increase costs.
    • Decision making – there are so many choices! Failing to make these before, or changing them during, the works will slow the process and increase costs.
    • Be upfront about max budget – designers/ specialists can tailor suggestions to this and if you’ve artificially set a low budget, may miss out on cost-effective, value-adding improvements. Equally, be confident to say ‘No’ to suggestions which will push you over budget – ultimately, you are in charge and it’s your money!
    • Be realistic – if your budget is £75k but the building work you want to do costs £40k and the fittings you want cost £80k, even the best project manager can’t make those maths work! You’ll have to reduce the scope of works or the quality of fittings.

Typical concerns

  1. Hiring a designer will cost too much!!

Designers/ Project Managers are often a good investment, especially if you are not confident you have the requisite skills or time needed.  These professionals save you costs and/or get you a better result by:

  • Good design, specific to your needs
  • Anticipating and heading off problems and delays
  • Advising on best value suppliers (for example High Street tile shops will not be as cost effective as a tile warehouse selling similar products)
  • Trade discounts – reputable companies will pass these on to you.
  • Inside knowledge – identifying when labour or fixtures costs are unusually high and negotiating a better deal.
  • Advising in advance on proper procedures, certification and permissions required.
  • Recommending trusted specialists and contractors

Top tips-

  • Ask up front how your designer charges for their work. Professionals will want to discuss this frankly and agree fee rates in advance.
  • Be as clear as possible about your aims and your maximum budget.
  • In some cases, you can reduce the scope of works or the designers’ level of involvement, and save on costs. Some larger practices have minimal project sizes/ fees so may respectfully decline smaller scope projects.
  • Ensure, if the scope decreases. you are very clear about your/ the designers’ role to ensure nothing is missed and you’re clear on what will be done, by whom and when.
  • Doing some of the physical work yourself can save on costs but is not always practical, possible or advisable. Under no circumstances undertake potentially dangerous work without proper tools/ knowledge/ certification.
  • Ask for an approximate and realistic overall budget early on – you may need to pay for this as it takes time to produce if done accurately.
  • Ask for updated budget costs throughout the project.


  1. I’m worried about giving an unrealistic budget.

This is understandably daunting.  A good designer will help with this by:

  1. predicting a sensible budget based on your scope of works and level of finishes and/ or
  2. advising how much work, and what sort of finish you can expect for your provisional budget.

Top tips-

  • Be clear about your maximum budget
  • List the works in order of preference – what must be done, ‘nice to haves’, possible additional phases and give as much detail as possible
  • Decide on level of finish required.
  • Decide on fixtures, furniture and equipment and brands/ styles you like
  • Invest plenty of time in accurate design and planning to minimise costly mistakes.
  • Bear in mind the reason for doing the works. If you plan to sell on soon for a profit, you will be more cautious about overall cash investment; if this is a long-term home for you/ your family, you will be investing in ‘utility value’ and comfort as much as pure market value

  1. I’m worried about being ripped off.

It’s crucial you feel comfortable with, and confident in, the professionals you appoint.  Spend time talking to your designers about specific concerns before starting. If you do not trust the professionals you are working with, you shouldn’t be working with them!

Top tips-

  • Designers/ Project Managers can allay your fears by talking you through the process and explaining issues and costs clearly. If you’re unsure, ask!
  • Most professionals can provide references or show you previous projects. You can also often find reviews online.
  • Be CAUTIOUS asking friends/ family about costs of work they have undertaken. This can be useful, but bear in mind their project/ property/ the amount of work/ location as these can hugely affect costs
  • Keep full records of costs and correspondence.
  • Enter into a clear contract which covers sets out remit and costs in detail – this protects you and the professionals you are working with.
  • Plan thoroughly and carry out any initial investigations of the property well in advance. This reduces the likelihood of unexpected costs and helps ensure additional costs don’t arise at a point where you have no choice but to go ahead.
  • Don’t always choose the lowest quote – also consider timeline, quality of work and ease of communication with the professionals you’re working with.

 If you have further questions about how to achieve your budget and goals, or to find out more about how we work, please get in touch.

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