An interior designer and builder couple tell of how they work together as a team – and share their knowledge of the best ways to renovate with a view to selling

BUYING A PROPERTY with a view to renovating and selling it, or planning to do up a home you already own? You want to get it right first time – and maximise your profit when it comes time to sell. Meet Murray and Alice Flynn. He’s been a successful builder in Sydney’s north for 16 years; his wife, Alice, has been an interior stylist and decorator for about half that time. They’ve been working on projects together, from go to whoa, for more than six years.

Buy a house and innovate it

Buy a house and renovate it

Starting point

THE PROPERTY If you’re looking for a property to buy and renovate, do your research. Walk the streets to get a feel for the neighbourhood. “If possible, buy the worst house in the best street, not the other way round,” Murray says. Also, note the proximity to public transport. Can you walk to local shops, parks, schools and so on? What services are available in the neighbourhood? A locale with heaps of shopping and cafes will likely appeal to young couples, for instance. A more sedate one, to the older set or families with young kids. And so

Know your market

THE BUYER Right from the start, think about who will live in the property you will be renovating. This should dictate your build and the way you decorate. Is it a large family? Think open-plan living areas and extra bedrooms. Are they retired? Think cabinetry that minimises the need to bend, a minimum of steps, etc. “We spend a lot of time looking at projects in our area and talking through the things that have and have not been done well,” Alice says. Now you’ve bought the property (or are already installed in the home), it’s time to

Make a plan

Do this exhaustively. Begin by writing a clear and detailed brief of what you want to achieve. Set a realistic budget and timeframe and figure out if you or someone else will be project-managing the renovation (see right). In your mind’s eye, what date will the reno finish? What month or season will you put the property on the market?

Make a plan to renovate the house

Make a plan to renovate the house

Who’s designing?

YOURSELF Depending on your drawing skills, if you are designing the renovation yourself you may need to hire a draftsperson to draw up the building plans. “Generally, a draftsperson meets with the builder, draws up your plans, says good luck with the project and leaves,” Murray says. “The client submits the plans to council and then it’s up to the client and the builder to make it happen.” It’s about a quarter of the price of hiring an architect. “There are definitely different qualities of drafts people. Some have 30 years’ experience, some have five. One’s not better than the other – a lessexperienced drafty might know all the latest trends and read the magazines, and the older ones might be a bit more set in their ways.”

A design for your house renovation

A design for your house renovation

AN ARCHITECT “You are paying for their artistic fl air, something that’s amazing and a bit different,” Murray says. “They can walk you through all the steps, put in council DA (development approval) applications and be involved with the builder through the job. You pay a premium for this.” You can get approximate costing guides though your state’s Architects Registration Board (do an internet search).


The other option is to hire a building designer to make up your plans. Cost falls somewhere between draftsperson and architect. Check out the Building Designers Association website at See our renovation brief sheets, page 204.

Pick your team

MANAGING THE PROJECT You could opt to project-manage yourself; this will involve sourcing your tradespeople (“subcontractors”; make sure they are licensed) – builder, plumber, cabinetmaker, electrician, etc – and being onsite day in, day out to supervise the work. You will be in the thick of perhaps unknown personalities whom you may or may not work well with. Some of them might underperform, be lazy, late or incompetent – “cowboys”. It’s a risk you have to take. Get recommendations from people you know who have renovated before or people who work in the industry. Or you could hire a builder who will project-manage and call out all the tradespeople he regularly works with. That way, if there are any problems with the work, it all comes back to him.

It is very important to pick a good team to build the house

It is very important to pick a good team to build the house

CHOOSING YOUR BUILDER So how do I find a good builder? “Word of mouth and recommendations from people you know is the only way,” Murray says. It’s advisable that the builder be a member of the Housing Industry Association ( or Master Builders Association ( – ask to see proof. Also ask for details of the builder’s last four jobs – no good builder will refuse this request. If you can, inspect their past work in person. Builders are not supposed to charge for quotes.

COMMUNICATION IS KING “The key to working well with any tradesperson is communication,” Alice says. “And it’s not just between the homeowner and the tradies – it’s essential between the designer/architect and the builder, too.” You as the client need to feel comfortable with your team – to click with them – and have similar tastes and styles. It needs to feel “right”. Murray always tries to incorporate Alice’s design suggestions; “Happy wife, happy life!” she laughs.

paying for it You have two options: fixed price or cost plus. They both have pros and cons. Most building projects are paid for in stages.

FIXED PRICE You pay a fixed lump sum for the project. You need to agree on exactly what the project is to include before you sign. Any changes or addition you make will be charged extra. Some builders will charge you an inflated price in anticipation of unforeseen expenses.

COST PLUS Some builders will only work on cost plus because it poses less risk to them. If, for example, the workers are digging and hit bedrock, it’s the client who pays for the earthmoving equipment, not the contractor, as with fixed price. But the client gets more flexibility than with fixed price – you can make changes as you go along because you pay the builder by the hour, and he buys the materials at trade price and passes on the discount to you. “But clients usually underestimate what it’s going to cost,” Murray says. See page 206.

Priorities & choices

A SEAMLESS LOOK The whole idea of a new renovation is to make sure it looks like it’s always been there. You don’t want things looking like they have been added on. “You need to match the bricks, gutters, roof and tiles to the existing ones in the house,” Murray says. “Keep it simple. Go for clean lines. Don’t go over the top with detail.”

SPEND MORE ON Well-renovated kitchens and bathrooms. Use mould-resistant paints in the bathroom – it doesn’t cost much and future-proofs the ceiling and walls. Be sure to factor landscaping into your budget – this helps sell the property.

SPEND LESS ON “Ultra-expensive brands – you don’t get the return,” Murray says. Choose well-known brands that are moderately priced – for your kitchen, lighting, carpets, etc.

GOING SOLAR Some plumbers want to choose the hot-water system – the one that’s most convenient for them to install. Don’t allow this. Especially don’t let your plumber choose an electric water heater for your project. These can account for up to 25% of power use in the home and are likely to be phased out of freestanding homes after 2012. Install a solar water heating system (as well as all the other eco products that are attractive to buyers) – there are several kinds. Government rebates are currently available. Visit for more information.

DISHWASHER Install one. Many people don’t know it – or they refuse to believe it – but doing the dishes by hand uses up to five times more water and 60% more energy than a dishwasher with a 4-star rating.

Preparing for sale

FIRST IMPRESSIONS This is what sells a property. “It’s pointless spending $100,000 or whatever amount on your reno and doing a cheap decorating job,” Alice says. “Keep a realistic part of the budget for quality paints and basic, attractive, reasonably conservative furniture that you can dress up with accessories. Keep the style generic and safe – even if your own personal style is more wild. You want to appeal to the maximum amount of people.” Avoid clutter at all costs. “Think each room through. Workshop your decorating with friends whose style you respect and test out looks. Keep reading homewares mags like real living – they are full of inspiration.”

It is very important to pick a good team to build the house

It is very important to pick a good team to build the house

ONCE YOU’VE SOLD “Give the new owners all the manuals, warranties, spec sheets and contacts from your renovation as a goodwill gesture,” Murray says. “Offer to walk them through the house once you’ve settled to show them all the in and outs.” Finally, encourage them to pass on the details of your reliable builder and trusty tradies to their own friends and family. Happy renovating!

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