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Auction Finance

Our top tips for renovating on a tight budget

Picture of a t with a blue dot next to it, in front of a purple background.

Whether you're renovating your home or 'flipping' a development opportunity (when profitability is everything), you might be wondering where it's safe to save a few pounds – and where it's really worth investing. Here are our top tips to help you make the right call.

1. Get the basics right

Having to make repairs down the line can be an expensive, messy and dispiriting business. So before you start in earnest on introducing new finishes and floorings, make sure the electrics, plumbing, windows and roof are up to scratch – there's little worse than seeing your hard work undone by a leak or urgent wiring repairs.

Even if you're planning to sell the property on, your buyer's survey will pick up on issues – so head those off at the pass, and you might secure a better purchase price.

2. Invest in touchpoints

Cheap items can wear out quickly, so spend good money on things you touch and interact with (like light switches, door handles and taps) and scrimp on things you only look at, like paint, wallpaper and wall tiles.

These higher-quality items should not only last longer, but they can also elevate the appearance of cheaper doors, sinks and baths – meaning you can afford to save on those too.

3. Make a plan and stick to it

One sure-fire way to burn through your budget is to change your mind mid-renovation – which is a passport for spending twice on something that could've been done once. Decide what you want to achieve before you get started, and see it through.

Rethinking things like taps and wallpaper isn't the end of the world (they can always be returned) but when it comes to the layout of kitchens and bathrooms – with all the associated plumbing and electrics – it's a case of 'measure twice, cut once'.

4. Fake it 'til you make it

Panelling is one of the big trends in interior design at the moment, but real panelling is very expensive.

Assuming you're not afraid of a glue gun, you can creating the look of panelling with MDF and decorative moulding (good if you're working with older walls that aren't completely flat), or simple strips of timber (which works well on perfectly flat walls, to add character in new-builds).

If done right, panelling can make a room feel very grand (as well as correcting the proportions of an oddly shaped space). Aim for panelling to be one- or two-thirds the height of the room, if not full-height – but avoid half-height panelling, which can trick the eye into lowering the ceiling.

5. Consider an 'unfinished' look

Plastering is something of an artform, and good plasterers command a pretty penny for their skills. If you've got an internal wall that needs a fresh skim, consider instead taking it back to bare bricks – especially if your home is solidly built from beautiful red pre-War ones.

Removing the existing plaster and cleaning them up is a messy job but one you can do yourself, and confident DIYers can, if needed, repoint the existing mortar to give a smart, clean finish. This professional bricklayer's tutorial is easy to follow:


If you do decide to go down this route, you'll need to seal the exposed bricks to protect them and prevent dust. A 5-litre bottle of dustproofer can be picked up for under £40; each litre should cover about a square metre of wall.

6. Prioritise period features

A period property is often a solid choice, as it's already stood the test of time and likely offers spacious rooms with high ceilings.

However, period features haven't always been as desirable as they now are, and ripping up carpets in an older home may reveal beautiful original floorboards that can be sanded back to their former glory.

Professional sanding is not cheap, so you can often hire sanders from local hardware stores. You may not get the same perfect finish, but paint – as well as giving a trendy Scandinavian vibe – can hide a multitude of sins.

Sash windows may be prohibitively costly to reinstate, but other lost details that add character and charm can often be affordably renewed. Ceiling roses, picture rails and plaster coving can often be purchased for less than £200 per room, depending on the level of detail you choose.

7. Repair, refresh, recycle

You can save significant amounts by making the most of the things you've inherited when buying.

A good clean may be all that's needed to return something to its former glory; a high-pressure steam cleaner is a great way to reinvigorate grout and tiling, and can also improve the appearance of uPVC doors and windows. Equally, a pressure washer can make decking and paving slabs look almost new.

Some things are worth repairing, and can make a big difference to how your property is perceived; a blown (misted) pane in double glazing can be replaced for under £100.

Other items can be cheaply given a new lease of life. Replacing a kitchen can cost thousands, and cupboard carcasses can make up a large chunk of the cost. If you're happy with your kitchen's current layout, retain the carcasses and simply replace the doors and work surfaces to give your kitchen an entirely new look.