Our Property Story: Renovation Rookies

When we first started renovating we were complete rookies. While Caleb knew about property from his studies and beginning his career in project management, he had very limited understanding when it came to DIY or anything practical. And while I had a natural intuition with design and colour scheming, I had no idea about interior design techniques or where to source the products I liked. To sum it up - we had a youthful confidence which is probably best described as pure ignorance. Normally within a blog we would share details of our renovation to provide inspiration and advice - but this is more of an example of what not to do! Our first renovation project was our “boot camp” in renovating - and boy did we realise we weren’t “renovation fit”.

Before starting we created a budget ($15,000) based on no previous experience and hoped we could stick to it. We had talked with our parents and a few friends that had offered to help out, so free labour was looking promising. Our new abode came with stripped wallpaper walls, a bathroom that had been removed, smoke stains caked on the ceilings and some serious wear and tear but a whole lot of potential and great bones (although lacking gutters which were nicked just before we moved in). We worked on the house every weekend and free night over the next 3 months with a whole lot of help from friends and family. One of the moments I remember clearly was the day we settled on our house, we were officially home owners and had a demolition party that evening with a few of Caleb’s friends over to celebrate. Caleb showed the extent of his DIY skills by being on the broom for the night not knowing what to do, while his mates took the lead with sledgehammers and crowbars. We were determined to learn - I found a few of my now favourite stores in Auckland and Caleb got Renovation 101 advice from my dad on almost everything.

We can’t help but laugh now, because our reveal photos of our first renovation look more like before photos of properties we renovate now. As with any new skills learned, the beginning is always the steepest part of the learning curve – and it sure was a steep curve for us. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here is an overview of the whole project to show how the DIY journey started for us.

If I was to decide on one key learning for this renovation, it was that we learnt the importance of investing time. In a project where you are limited in how much cost you can invest and a lack of experiences means you don’t have the ability produce a quality finish - time can be your greatest asset. We were driven and determined to simply “get it done” and at time cut corners or went about things the wrong way. An obvious example was using standard paint in our bathroom – we learnt this was a rookie mistake when the mould started showing up 6 months later.

Invest time to Plan – If you are constantly asking yourself “Okay, what do we need to do now?” I’d suggest that the renovation is running you, when you should be running it. Without spending time planning - which includes budget, programming and design - you get into a pattern of making decisions only when it is urgent. We didn’t have a predetermined plan, so it meant we got whatever was available and within budget in the first store we walked into, therefore we never got the best product or the best price. We made design decisions without considering the whole overall look of the house and we would call trades when we needed them so we were left to wait for their next available time. Planning it when the time comes is the worst way to renovate, we know this now because that was exactly what we did back then.

Invest time in Preparation - Ever since I have known Caleb, he has always shown patience and a desire to do things the best possible way. Then Caleb started renovating and suddenly all he cared about was moving in as fast as possible. Maybe it was the kiwi male response of “she’ll be right” that emerged to the surface, whatever the reason - Caleb should not have been on quality control for that renovation (he has improved, but I still look after this department). After the renovation, I became a broken record of “I told you this would happen” as paint was peeling off all over the house. Preparation will determine the quality of your work, it may be tedious, but it is essential.

And yet with all the said, the greatest memory I have of this first renovation was just how completely and utterly proud of ourselves we were. Showing it off to everyone we could, and how we couldn’t wait to do it all over again!