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The hidden cost of home improvements

Save money on your renovation project by avoiding these eight common mistakes.

A man painting his home (© Getty Images)

Refurbishing your home... easy right? You've seen the DIY shows: changing this, 60 minute that... a cheap way of adding value to your humble abode. The truth is it can be - if you do it correctly. But fall foul of one of these common refurb mistakes and you could rack up hidden costs that will see your profit turn to dust. Here's what to look out for:

Plan properly or pay the price
It might sound obvious, but any home improvement project needs some well thought out plans before you go near your tool kit. It may be tempting to gut your property of all signs of its former life - especially if you've just moved in. But this gung-ho mentality can often lead to an insurmountable DIY black hole that'll leave you screaming for costly professional help.

Plan your schedule and budget, allowing for any unexpected surprises (see below), tackling tasks one at a time. And if you are contracting builders, agree a detailed project plan up front... and stick to it!

What lies beneath?
All jobs look easy on the surface... but when you dig deeper, be prepared for some surprises. That 70s wallpaper might be covering up some pretty patchy plasterwork. That rotten old lino could be masking floorboards that have to be replaced. Replacing a simple light fitting may reveal some dodgy wiring that demands some expert attention.

Sure, you can try uncovering some test patches before you embark on your DIY adventure, but whatever your plans, expect the unexpected. Allow an extra day and extra budget for rectifying any unwanted discoveries.

Any DIY may save you money in the long run. But it'll cost your time. And lots of it! Expect lost weekends, late nights and - crucially and potentially costly - days off of work to accommodate tradesmen.

When contracting tradesmen, set deadlines early - and get them into your contract. If they are late or miss appointments, call them for an explanation (remember, it might be a fully reasonable excuse!) and arrange a new one. If they miss this, or subsequent appointments, explain that they are in breach of contract, and if needs be go elsewhere for the work and claim any extra expenses back from them through the small claims court.

Remember - your time is valuable, and slipping deadlines can be costly.

Mess and mayhem
When it comes to home improvements, you know what they say... you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. And you'll break a lot of eggs - believe us.

Set aside costs for cleaning your newly refurbished house after your work is done - dust can get everywhere! And be prepared for the odd mishap - scratched doorframes, cracked tiles, stained carpets... you don't want them, naturally, but these accidents (and their associated costs) can often be part and parcel of large scale refurbishments.

Refurbishment regulations
Be aware of the various regulations that go with refurbishing your property, and the costs that may go with them. Houses of a certain age may require consultation from a local conservation officer - and if deemed appropriate, you may be bound to refurbish your home with certain (expensive) considerations in mind, such as the type of window you install.

Regardless of your building's age, make sure you read up on all building regulations regarding structure, fire safety, ventilation, electric safety etc. Better to conform to these standards early than pay to rectify later!

Be sure that any tradesmen you contract have the required certification before they start work - use a plumber or gas fitter with Gas Safe Register accreditation, for instance.

Check Directgov for more information, and contact your local authority for specific requirements.

Local planning authority fees
Every local government has its own set of specific rules and processes for major refurbishments and renovations. But even if your project doesn't require planning permission, smaller scale refurbishments may still come with a bucket's worth of bureaucracy, paperwork and - ultimately - fees.

Beware of fees for submitting plans, fees for site checks from local planning authority officials and various other payments depending on your project. These processes should also be factored into your original project plan to avoid wasted money on unused man-hours.

The government Planning Portal has lots of helpful info

Unwelcome visitors
No, we don't mean your annoying next-door neighbour. Lifting floorboards and pulling out skirting can often expose infestations - rats, mice, insects - that you'll have to take care of before you start work. Some tradesmen will require certification that any obvious infestation problems are treated before they begin work on your property.

More info on pests and infestations at Directgov

Frugal can be futile
In short - cutting corners can be costly in the long run. When it comes to choosing tradesmen or material, cheapest isn't always best! Be sure that your contractors all have the correct licenses, your materials all meet the correct regulations and your home improvements will stand the test of time with no unwelcome future surprises.

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