This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
Now I have time to stop and reflect on the last year, I realise how lucky I have been. I certainly didn’t know it at the time mind you. The last twelve months have, as for so many of us, been somewhat stressful. For me, everything came at once during the pandemic – getting divorced after a 30 year marriage and, singlehandedly, having to sell our existing property and find a new house on a tight budget.
As I’m sure you know, property prices and sales have risen considerably since mid 2020 due to the stamp duty holiday and pent up demand. Estate agents barely had time to put up For Sale signs. West Sussex, where I live, has been a particularly attractive proposition for urban-weary city dwellers seeking space and fresher air. After several heart-stopping setbacks, it all came good and I’m now settled into my new house.
While everything is fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share some of the tips and lessons I’ve learned while turning my new house into my new home.
Take your time before you decide on what changes you are going to make. Before I moved in I was brimming with renovation plans but, after actually living here for five months, I changed my mind on what actually needed doing. A fitted chest of drawers for example was on my scrap list, but it turned out to be so useful, in the end I just changed the drawer fronts and knobs and it looks great. So I avoided mistakes by being forced to take my time.
Research is key I dread to think about the number of hours I have spent Googling products and, now that I live alone, YouTube how-to videos! Ask friends or hop on your local community website for recommendations about tradesmen. I have found local trades tend to be more reliable as they don’t want to you-know-what on their own doorstep.
Estimate, estimate, estimate Even though it can be time consuming to get people to come and recce, let alone get a firm quote out of them, it really does pay to get three estimates. I received wildly varying decorating prices for example which, as it turned out, were not an accurate reflection of the quality of work. Consider getting a price for a job, rather than an hourly rate – essential for budgeting. I learned this the hard way, ending up paying £179 for a new loo flush that I had to wait three months to get installed!
Even people who come highly recommended are, of course, not perfect, often attempting things they have no real expertise in as part of a bigger job. So it is worth delving deeper when they claim to be all things to all men and, if they sound at all unsure, probably wise to split the job.
Get moody A mood board is pretty much essential in my view. When I was choosing paint colours, I could put the swatches next to, for example, my chosen carpet or floorboard samples to see if they went well together. Also I will be able to check the right carpets and flooring are laid when the time comes (in my case it has been months and I probably wouldn’t remember what I had chosen!)
Subscribe to Amazon Prime – it is amazing the range of products that you can buy with one click which turn up on your doorstep the next day. Saves you time, petrol and wild goose chases. And if a product isn’t what you were expecting, I have found Amazon to be very good at refunds.
Unexpected costs – time and money Of course some things came to light that I never noticed when viewing the house. Luckily nothing desperate – a new light cover for my kitchen extractor hood for example. And the part I needed to fix the integrated washing machine from spilling water every time I opened the dispenser took me endless emails before I found it (Beko, by the way, being the worst customer service ever). All that time hanging on the phone/waiting for online bot assistants really added up, as did the various £20’s and £10’s for parts. So wise to add a contingency for this to your overall renovation budget.
I am the first one to ask the advice of my friends. They are all charming and have taste and so why not see what they have to say? But another lesson I learned is to stick to what you feel is right. It is your home and you have to live in it. If you came to my house you may think I’ve made mistakes with my decor, but I like it. And, as my friend Sally says, that is what is important. Saying that, I have since made a couple of changes after asking my friends to be absolutely honest if they think I’ve cocked up. Takes some persuading to get them to be upfront but they will usually, if rather hesitantly, tell you if you promise them you won’t cry or get annoyed.
Compromises will need to be made. Of course I know you know that. Mostly relating to finances. So, for example, my two slightly too large for the sitting room sofas have stayed. They are old and rather florid, but large and rather comfortable. My plans for a utility room had to be shelved – I shall just have to wait until I win the Lottery.
The perils of paint Definitely worth buying paint sample pots before you decide on a colour scheme – or borrow them from your friends who have recently decorated. It’s amazing how many people opt for the same popular colours. Give an A4 sheet of paper two coats of paint and then you can walk around with it to see how it looks in various positions in a room. It is rather mind boggling how much the colour can change from one wall to another, from one part of the day to another. The pale cream I chose for my hallways looked just as I had hoped in one area and like yellow clotted cream in another! As my friend Mandy explained to me, don’t be afraid of using tonal ranges of paint – darker version in lighter areas and vice versa. In other words, you can use four colours in one room to get the effect of one colour.
Don’t be shy, ask for discounts I got 20% off all my paint and wallpaper by simply asking. Trade discounts can be generous, so offer to pay for the materials your plumber, carpenter, decorator etc needs direct to their suppliers. The tradesman doesn’t have to purchase stuff on credit and you pay less, sometimes, much less.
Lastly, if you are about to move to a new house, I’m pretty confident you’ll like my comprehensive checklist.