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$20k out of pocket: Renovators cutting corners to avoid soaring building costs

·3-min read
Pouring paint for painting walls
Before you pick up the paint brush yourself, consider if you have the patience to do a good job. (Source: Getty)

It’s the stuff of nightmares: Finding yourself $20,000 out of pocket after the budget contractor you employed poured the slab for a granny flat too close to the property boundary.

These are the sorts of construction disasters that happen when homeowners jump on a quote that’s “too good to be true”, said Tracie Ellis, founder and chief executive officer of Renovators Directory.

Inexperienced renovators who go down the do-it-yourself (DIY) route can also find themselves with an expensive mess to fix, Ellis said.

However, these cost-cutting options are only likely to become more popular as people look to avoid soaring construction costs.

A surge in new builds and renovations has added to the material shortages and supply chain constraints already plaguing the industry, with national construction costs increasing by 3.8 per cent since September last year.

Floods in NSW and Queensland have only dialled up demand for tradies even further, with some flood-victims left with no other choice but to pick up the tools and repair their homes themselves due to labour shortages.

Bernadette Janson from the School of Renovating said her community of several hundred renovators were finding the trade shortage “extremely challenging”.

She said it had prompted renovators to do things they wouldn’t normally do, such as learning to use a caulking gun to do the siliconing.

Renovators were also “thinking outside the box” to keep costs down, such as sourcing used kitchen cabinets from Facebook Marketplace.

And, while she acknowledged DIY came with risks, she said it was amazing what people could do when they “really commit to learning a new skill”.

Dodgy DIY can drag down the value of your home

Done well, Ellis said DIY could be a great way to keep costs low. However, she said missteps were costly.

“It can often cost twice as much to take a few backward steps and get someone in to fix what you've done,” she said.

Some renovators also failed to consider how their DIY efforts impacted the value of their homes.

“When I go to buy a home, I would want the extension to have been done by someone who knows what they are doing,” Ellis said.

“It doesn't add value to the home. It actually pulls value out of the home.”

DIY do’s and don’ts

Janson advised renovators to leave it to the professionals unless it was a job they knew they could do well.

She offered some other tips to avoid DIY disasters:

  • Don’t jeopardise your safety: Never DIY tasks that are legally required to be completed by a licensed tradesperson, such as electrical, structural and plumbing work.

  • Do the grunt work: You can help tradies by moving materials around for them, removing waste and doing minor demolition work.

  • Get a headstart on flatpack cabinets: You can make up the cabinets and have the carpenter install them.

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