5 Renovation Rules

Renovating a house or apartment looks like an easy way to make money, and with all the renovation shows on TV at the moment, it seems almost as simple as cooking a gourmet meal. A splash of paint, a bit of tiling, a new kitchen or bathroom. How hard can it be?  Renovation can be a great way to add value to a property – as long as it’s done in the right way.  Follow some basic rules and avoid your renovator’s delight turning into a renovator’s disaster.

Do Your Sums

Before you buy a property to renovate, it’s important to decide if you’ll be living in it, renting it out or selling it.  If you’re planning to rent, talk to a property manager who knows the local market for a  market rental estimate in its current and renovated condition.  Talk to a sales consultant who will be able to give you comparative prices of similar unrenovated and renovated properties so you have an idea of potential capital gains.  Our Forsyth sales and management teams are always happy to help with this advice.  If you’re not doing the renovation yourself (remember that all plumbing and electrical work must be carried out by a Licensed tradesperson), get at least three quotes, then add a bit for rain delays or unforseen changes. The most common mistake that renovators make is to spend too much money, so do your sums before you start. Will the costs of renovating turn into the rewards you’re expecting?

Who are you renovating for?

When you’re renovating a property, to gain the maximum financial advantage from tenants or resale, it’s important to ensure the finished product will appeal to your potential market.  One strategy is to become a “suburb expert”, so you know the prices and the style and quality that people moving into that suburb are looking for.  For example, if the median price for the area is comparatively low, then it’s unlikely that buyers will pay the premium for an ultra glamorous kitchen with top-of-the-range appliance or a marble bathroom , but a basic renovation to create a bright, clean and immediately-liveable or rentable property may reap higher rewards.

What Are You Allowed to Change?

In general, when renovating a house, you can change the interior of the property without gaining approval from your local Council.  However, if you’re planning to extend or add other features, you might need Development Approval.  Recent law changes have made the approvals process easier under the “Exempt and Complying Development” guidelines.   These guidelines mean that low impact changes like decks, balconies, carports, garages, driveways and fencing can be carried out without Council approval.  Changes like one or two-storey additions, major internal alterations, freestanding studios etc may come under the Complying development fast-track approval process, providing they meet Building Standards and the property is not affected by additional planning controls such as heritage, building height, bush fire prone or flood affected zones.  You can check out whether you need planning approval for your proposed renovation here or use the Interactive Building Checker to find out if there are any specific planning controls applying to the property you’re considering renovating.


If you’re planning to renovate an apartment, check with the property’s by-laws whether there are any restrictions on what work you can carry out, and what permission is required before you start.  For example, you usually can’t make changes to common property such as external walls, windows, balconies, floors, ceilings, and you’ll need to check that walls aren’t load-bearing before you take a hammer to them.  If the building work will cost more than $1000, you must use a licensed builder under Strata laws and plumbing and electrical work must be done by a qualified tradesperson.  Many apartment buildings have additional by-laws that may affect your plans, such as not allowing timber floors due to noise concerns.  There’s some great information on renovating an apartment here. Start out on the right foot with the Building Owner’s Corporation and your renovation is likely to run more smoothly.

Have a Thought for your Neighbours

No-one wants to wake up to the sound of power tools at 5am on a Sunday or be kept awake by someone hammering and sawing at 11pm.  That’s why there are time restrictions in place for when professional builders are allowed to work on building sites and apartment buildings usually have similar restrictions.  This is usually between 8am and 5pm on weekdays, with no building work on weekends.  In apartment buildings, consult the Building Owner’s Corporation about restrictions on when you can carry out the work or other requirements such as when you can use the lift. 

What if You Change it Anyway?

In the worst case scenario, the Council or the building owners corporation can demand that you have the work redone to an appropriate standard or tear down an extension.  In addition, carrying out work without approval and certification on completion may cause issues with insurance and safety, and will certainly impact the saleability of the renovated property.   


There are many examples of highly successful “professional renovators” who buy, renovate and either sell or rent out.  Follow their example and get to know your market, do your sums from purchase price to renovation costs, and produce a quality finished product that’s got all the paperwork in place. Happy renovating!

James Snodgrass
Passionate about real estate and an esteemed sales veteran, it is no wonder James Snodgrass is one of the most successful real estate agents on the North Shore. He lives and breathes real estate and his passion shows in everything he does.