There’s an epidemic afoot everyone. It’s called “first time home owner syndrome”. As we already know, people are getting onto the property ladder later in life. Renting well into your 20’s and 30’s, even 40’s is becoming the norm. House prices are mental and mortgages are a nightmare.
I was one of the lucky ones, I got my grubby mitts on my first house, a 3 bed, ex-council semi, back in 2003. It felt like a HUGE amount of money at the time. £38k. I have no doubt anyone would bite your hand off to be able to buy a property for that now. The current property climate has led to a high number of long term renters, many of which have never been hands on with a property. Maybe getting as far as hanging pictures, a shelf perhaps. But when it comes down to learning about the nuts and bolts of a house and how to look after a property, renters tend to leave that job to the landlord/lady. That’s what you’re paying for right?
I’ve had several consultations recently where individuals have finally moved from years of renting to owning and buying their very first place. They are giddy with excitement about what they can do with their new pads and rightly so. Their initial contact has been something on the lines of:
“Hi, i’ve moved into my first place, i’m not sure where to start. Please can you help me choose some colours so I can book a decorator and make the place feel like home.”
Choosing paint colours really is one of the last things they need to be doing right now. What if they need to re-wire, move radiators, block up door ways or open up a new one? What if all the walls need stripping? After working with several people over the past year, helping to get them on the right path to getting their homes refurbed and finished, it got me thinking about writing a post for those of you that have just bought your first home. You’ve got a set of keys to a place where everything inside and the walls around it is yours. You get to decide what you’d like to do with it all…. then the reality sets in… you have got no bloody idea what you’re doing. Where do you start?
To me, it all seems obvious, I mean, how can someone not know what a TRV is (Thermostatic Radiator Valve)? Surely everyone knows how to calculate what BTU your radiator should be? And how don’t they know they need to mist coat freshly plastered walls before painting? The answer? Because they’ve always rented. One of the benefits of renting is you don’t have to worry about this kinda stuff.
Black Thermostatic Radiator Valve – used in our loft bedroom
So, here are some pointers in the right direction. Not all of these pointers will be relevant to you and your place, maybe your new place is a new build or has been refurbed by the seller before you bought it, but for those of you that have bought somewhere that needs some TLC, chances are there is more to do than choosing paint colours. Some of these jobs can be done in a slightly different order and you’ll be able to skip some, but on the whole they’re a good place to start.
PHASE 1 – Your starter – Not really all that satisfying, but gives you a good baseline and lines your stomach for the courses that follow.
Here you want to be assessing and ripping out anything that doesn’t work, isn’t efficient or will affect the overall success of the end product. Get rid. Do not leave any of this work until the end of a project. You will regret it and find yourself repeating and paying for work twice.
- Take out ancient boilers and/water tanks
- Remove radiators that have seen better days/been painted over too many times to rescue with another paint job
- For efficiency and safety, replace old, outdated consumer boxes/fuse boards with a modern day equivalent.
- Disconnect any old gas appliances.
- Remove or refurb any single glazed or blown windows. If your budget allows, update them for something more energy efficient.
- Remove fireplaces, hearths and surrounds you don’t want.
- Old lining paper and/or blown plaster. Strip it out and knock it back. If you’re having rewiring done, this can’t be avoided, but be aware when working on older, period properties, you might end up stripping back to laths as the old plaster just crumbles.
Back to the laths during the Copper Bedroom project
- Pull up old carpets
- Repair or replace any floorboards ready for either sanding or new floor coverings.
- Unhang old painted doors and get them picked up to be stripped. A lot of old paint contained lead, so sanding these back can be a pretty nasty job.
- Basically, strip out anything that doesn’t function or detracts from the overall form.
- ALWAYS use a fully trained tradesperson for jobs that involve gas, plumbing or electrics.
Ripping out the old fireplace in the Sherwood Forest project
PHASE 2 – Main Course – You are basically feeding your house with everything it needs to function. Giving it the best possible chance of providing a fulfilling space to live. Satisfying but not always that sweet.
- Sometimes referred to as first fix, this is where you position everything relating to plumbing and electrics. Where are your radiators going? Which way do you want your door to swing? If you decide it would be best to open the opposite way then you light switch needs rewiring to the opposite wall.
- Sanding woodwork and/or repairing and fitting period features such as cornicing or ceiling roses.
- Plastering – giving your final wall covering the best possible finish.
- Varnishing floorboards
- Mist coating plastered walls ready for painting (I swear by this product)
- Decorating – read this post if you’re new to decorating!
PHASE 3 – Dessert – the best bit. Although you don’t necessarily see all of the groundwork from Phase 1 and 2, they prepare you for the best possible finish. Unfortunately, some people jump straight to desert, only to feel satisfied for a short while.
- This is now second fix – all those pipes and wires you placed get their new fittings. Radiators are now hung, sockets and switches and any lighting is now fitted. No trailing cables, extension leads, doors opening onto the arm of the sofa etc. Everything is where it needs to be.
- Any built in joinery, shelving, cabinets etc..
- Carpets fitted now if you’re having them. Don’t fit these until all of the work above it done, in particular prepping and painting your skirting boards.
- Window coverings now fixed and fitted
- Furniture. Try not to order this to arrive before all the works are done, otherwise you will be moving and working around them for weeks. But do check on lead times. Some sofas can take 12-20 weeks to arrive, so plan your work schedule and book the delivery for a week or two after you are due to have finished, just to be safe.
Shelving being fitted as part of the Sherwood Forest project
I already know I will have missed a million things from this list, it’s impossible to list every possible thing you might need to deal with or encounter on a house refurb, but for a newbie home owner, it’s a useful list to get your head around. Also, the likelihood of doing absolutely everything in the right order is rare, there will be things that happen at slightly different times, but as long as you’re not having your walls painted the day after you’ve had your new carpets fitted or windows fitted just after you’ve wallpapered, you’re on the right track.
- Check any furniture you order will make it into the room you’d like it. Period properties, especially terraced properties often have narrow winding staircases. You might get that two seater sofa through the front door ok, but it’s not going up two flights of stairs to the loft bedroom. If you’re 100% committed to getting large pieces of furniture into a room, then it’s time to co-ordinate the furniture delivery with the removal of the windows. Yes, some people do that. Especially people who want heavyweight, roll top baths in their loft bathrooms.
- Most properties rarely need just a lick of paint. There is always something that needs sorting first. So don’t rock up with 3 cans of emulsion and a roller tray on your first day. Make a list of what needs doing first and then try and work out the best order of works.
- Don’t buy random pieces of furniture you see online in the sale without knowing exactly where they are going. Even something that’s 50% off is a waste of money if it’s not used.
- Do plan a room layout, whether that’s using an app online, masking tape on your floor, drawing on a piece of A4 paper, or like me, I use Mac Pages for all of my design work including floor plans. Once you’ve got your room layout nailed, you can then work out where you want sockets, switches and heating.
- Plan your projects in the right order. Most recommend working from the top of a house and work down. Crap falls right? Make sure you do as many of the messy jobs as possible before splashing out on the nice stuff. Or your nice stuff will just end up being nice stuff covered in dust.
- Ideally, the last place to decorate is always the hall, stairs and landing.
- Focus on value not cost – THIS, so much this. I can’t stress enough that the foundations of every house are worth investing in. You can always save up for a posh cabinet, a fancy headboard or that floor lamp you’ve had your eye on. The savings you’ve set aside now should be used to nurture and revive the biggest purchase you’ll ever make – your house.
- Don’t spend your money on the easy stuff – instant gratification doesn’t last long. Another excellent post to read (if I do say so myself) is this one, where it lists what to spend your money on at home and why. It was even published in ‘The i’ newspaper it was.
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My very first article in today's @theipaper. Yay! My words and images. Images I took myself of my own projects. Including one of our gaff. Feeling VERY grown up right now. Aged 38. Happy too. Feeling happy too. Time to celebrate with a home made Nandos and a glass of something nice and cold. Cheers! And big thanks to @mad_about_the_house for being super supportive and an all round lovely lady 🤓
I could probs carry on with this post for another three hours (years) i’m sure, but i’ve written over 1700 words now so am gonna leave it there for today. In the meantime, I want to wish you all the very best of luck with your home projects. Don’t lose heart, embrace the learning curve and enjoy seeing your home come to life the way you really want it to. And if you really feel you need help, then maybe you could enlist the help of an interior designer 😉 i’ve heard they’re rather good at these house renovations.