What you need to know if you are planning a renovation

What you need to know if you are planning a renovation

Tips and Advice

planning a renovation

If you are planning a renovation, the right advice and considered preparation can make all the difference to the end-result.

Deciding to embark on a renovation is a bold undertaking. So what gems of wisdom can we offer to assist you on your journey?

We receive numerous calls with enquiries about renovations every day. The questions can range from design processes and time frames to approval processes and budget requirements. While the answers to these questions will be unique to each project, some standard explanations may help you as you consider your renovation.

Planning a Renovation

The most important message is to plan. Proper planning can ensure that your renovation runs smoothly, so here’s some planning advice for your renovation journey.

  1. Understand your financial situation before you begin planning the design
  2. Get to know your site/property,
  3. Choose a design team to collaborate with and
  4. Ensure your construction documentation is reliable enough for the build process.
  5. The Finances

1. The Budget

Understanding what your budget truthfully is, and how you intend to fund your renovation should be the foundation of the discussions among all those involved.  Throwing a ballpark figure in the air and hoping the bubble does not burst is not the way to approach your renovation. Get advice from professionals like financial planners or lenders, and understand what financial considerations may affect your project’s budget.

Your budget will need to cover the building and construction costs, approvals, permits, professional fees for services provided by architects, surveyors, engineers, soil testers, and any rental expenses if you have to move out of the home during the renovation. Having a realistic budgetary position from which to commence your project will allow you to set a realistic goal for the end product (i.e. helps you to choose the standard for finishes, and prioritise certain areas).

Talking about money with strangers is not something a lot of us feel comfortable doing. However, being bold enough to share this information your lender or financial advisor will enable you to lock down a figure that will ensure the next stages of the renovation can progress without budgetary concerns.

2. The Site

The site specifics such as location, orientation, slope, size and soil type all affect the renovation and will inevitably affect the construction costs for your project, and therefore the budget.

Consider the real estate market in the area you are thinking of renovating. Is there sufficient growth to back up your proposed investment? How long do you intend to stay in the property after renovating? Are the number of people residing in the home likely to change, or are their lifestyle needs expected to change, and thus affect location needs?

Town planning and zoning considerations, heritage and character overlays, environmental guidelines and infrastructure plans from your local authority may place particular restrictions or have special requirements for your renovation. So get advice from your local architect or town planner to understand what influence these provisions may have upon your home.

3. The Design

The design and discovery phase for your renovation project will encompass a collaborative discussion with your architect. You will discuss your project budget, the site, your physical requirements for the home (e.g. three bedrooms, a new kitchen, outdoor entertainment area, etc.), the number of people the home must accommodate, the lifestyle requirements for the inhabitants, and the style influences for your renovation.

Your architect will investigate the site’s unique characteristics, optimise the potential of your site, and provide solutions to challenging areas of the home. Through collaborative discussion, your architect will help you identify the difference between what you imagined, what you asked for, and what you need to ensure the design ultimately reflects your lifestyle needs. Your architect will have the knowledge to resolve any distinct challenges that may relate to the site, zoning, orientation or budget.

The development of solution-based design options for your consideration occurs in the masterplan sketch design concept stage. Your project’s construction costs are approximated during this process. Further design development will continue once you have selected the option which best sits within your means.

Approval application drawings are required for most projects, so keep in mind that the design process can take several months to progress. If Development Approval is needed, the Development Application will be required to be assessed by your local council authority. Once lodged with council, the application is checked for compliance with legislation and may be referred to other specialists to seek more information. On occasion, a public notification may be required before a decision is made to approve or refuse the application.

A private building certifier undertakes Building Approval, and this process can be completed in weeks, as opposed to the Development Approval process which can take months. So it is best to have these time frames in mind so as not to be disappointed. Development Approval time frames vary from region to region, so it is best to check with your architect what these may be as they can change due to various factors specific to your project.

Architectural services tailor a home specifically to your needs and will require a longer time frame than purchasing a project home or standard off the shelf design. The result is a one of a kind design with high-quality materials and sustainable design features that can save you money in the long run.

4. The Build

Once the local council grants the Development Approval (if it was required) and/or your private certifier grants Building Approval, there are two roads that your renovation can take. The first will be for you to find a builder using the building approval drawings provided by your architect. For some, who have renovated or built before, you may have a relationship with a building professional who you know and trust. For others, the task of locating a builder is more tedious.

Taking your building approval drawings to a builder for quotation purposes requires some level of guesswork by the builder to define the construction intent and all inclusions. When the builder quotes from the building approval drawings, without a proper set of construction documents, omissions are likely to occur during construction. This is often where the costs can blow out, and thus the end product will not exactly be as designed. 20% to 30% variations are likely if the construction documentation is not supplied.

The majority of our clients choose to follow our process of having the construction documentation completed. So what is the value in doing this?

Construction documents have a level of detail which removes any guesswork that the builder may inadvertently introduce through their appraisal of the building approval drawings. The extension of construction documentation will ensure a very low variation in building costs as they contain the specific detail and materials, both internal and external, for your project.

Having a detailed level of documentation in the form of construction drawings and written specification eliminates the guesswork. It is a clear and precise scope of works as to what is included in your project. Once you have the construction documentation, a tender process allows different builders to quote on the construction costs for the project, resulting in greater control over cost and quality.

Quotations arranged through a tendering process from suitably qualified builders can provide a level of financial certainty for you. Having a builder’s licence as well as being an architect, I am proud of my firm’s capabilities in delivering valuable and practical design solutions for clients. I ensure that the construction documents and specifications provide clarity from which accurate quotations can be received.

If you want to make life easy and execute your build with impeccable precision, a complete Project Management solution can oversee the build. Contract administration services in this regard ensure attention to detail and quality are managed throughout the build.

When planning your renovation, make sure you prevent budget blow-outs and unpleasant surprises from the beginning. Formulate a realistic budget and understand your site and develop a thorough brief that reflects your financial situation and lifestyle requirements. Remember that renovation projects can be staged through a master-plan, therefore, choose to get professional advice and ensure your documentation is clear. Working with an architect is not just about the end result; it’s about the overall experience of creating your dream and transforming that dream into reality. Therefore, choose your team wisely.

This post has been updated and was originally posted on 1st August 2017.

Dion Seminara Architect


We are experts at home design, renovations and new homes and ensure good value for money outcomes.

Hi, I am Dion Seminara, practicing architect and licensed general builder for 30 years as well as an environmental sustainable design (ESD) expert. I graduated from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) with honours, QLD in 1989. Registered as an architect in 1991 and registered as a builder in 1992, I am also a fellow member of the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA). Having received 12 ArCHdes Residential Architecture Awards, LJ Hooker Flood Free Home Design Award and the 2016 AIA Regional Commendation for Public Architecture, my expertise with both residential renovation (to all types of houses, especially Queenslanders, 50s/60s/80s), new contemporary homes and luxury residences has earned me a reputation as one of Brisbane's architectural specialists in lifestyle design architecture, interior design and landscape design.