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Interested in a renovation? Top tips to help you tell if it's the route for you

Ahead of a first-time buyer series of events in Cork and Dublin, we speak to architect Karen Brownlee about the merits of choosing an older property to renovate

Buying your first home is an exciting process and choosing an older property that requires some work can be rewarding and challenging in equal measures. It can also let you consider a place that is closer to your dream home but comes with the responsibility of bringing it back to life.

Karen Brownlee is an architect with extensive knowledge of renovations on older buildings. We asked her to outline the merits of choosing an older property that is in need of some love and she gives us her top tips on what to look out for before you buy.

To help those who are considering getting their feet on the property ladder, Bank of Ireland and Myhome.ie are hosting a series of events for first-time buyers, in Dublin and Cork.
They will take place on Friday, March 22nd at 6:30pm in The Irish Times building (ground floor), Dublin, and on Wednesday, March 27th at 6.30pm in The Imperial Hotel, Cork. To attend the Dublin event, register here. To book your place at the Cork event, register here

It is important to do your research and seek advice and support from the right professionals to help you gather as much information on the property before you make that decision to go for it, she explains.

“I would recommend researching the local neighbourhood services and transport and any future proposed development that could potentially impact on the property and affect your enjoyment of it, your quality of life and/or its value. Planning applications, council development plans and local area plans can be viewed online on local council websites,” says Brownlee.

Here are her top tips when considering a renovation project:

Planning permission

Check if the house is a protected structure or located within an Architectural Conservation Area. Planning permission is required for any works that would affect the character of a protected structure. The advice of an architect with conservation skills should be sought to guide you on this.

History

Ask the sales agent if the house has been extended before and review previous planning applications made on the property, if any.

Know the property

Review the house and gardens; consider where the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening. Google earth is a useful tool and will give you a clear view of the orientation of the property. Establish if there is ample parking provision or potential to park off-street. Consider if there are opportunities to extend over time, convert the attic space, build a separate garden room or add a garage. Regarding attic conversions, there is a loft conversion leaflet by the Department of Housing which is informative and available on their website.

Access

Review the boundaries of the property and if there are any rights of way or wayleaves. Check if the rear garden has side or rear access - this would impact on build costs for an extension in the rear.

Look at the general condition of the property; brickwork and render, rainwater goods, roof tiles or structure (sagging may be evident), condition of windows, floors, evidence of cracks in walls, mould or damp. Inspect the attic, presence of insulation to roof, attic hatch, water tanks, lagging to pipes. If there is a boiler, check when it was last serviced.

Know your budget

It’s important to put together a broad wishlist and establish your budget, timescale and what can be carried out now or at a later date. The most cost-effective approach is to complete the works in a single phase but this is not always feasible.

Consider your lifestyle now and how life may change in the future; babies, teenagers, and retirement and ask does the property have the potential to adapt and change as you will need it to. Factor in ample time for design, planning, tender and construction stages where applicable. If there are extensive works required, this may lead to a longer period in alternative accommodation before the house is ready to move in to. You must also allow 10 to 15 per cent contingency in your budget for unforeseen costs.

Consult the experts

Talk to an architect before you purchase and ask them to look at the house with you and discuss your aspirations for the property, particularly if you would like to renovate an old house, or feel that modification is required to the layout. Depending on the scope of potential renovation works, be aware that you may require the services of consultants other than an architect, such as a structural engineer, a quantity surveyor, a mechanical and electrical engineer.

Get a survey

Arrange a structural survey and get a recommendation if possible. The survey is a detailed investigation of the condition of the property and will include a report identifying areas where repairs or remedial works are required, including heating and plumbing installations and budget costs associated with these works. The survey is a visual inspection only, therefore deeper investigation/opening up of the structure can only take place post purchase. Following purchase, depending on the age of the property, it may also be prudent to get a camera survey carried out of the underground drainage system to establish the condition of the drains and if any works are required in this area.

What’s the BER rating?

Note the BER rating of the property and ask the sales agent for a copy of the BER report. Seek advice on insulation, air tightness and ventilation. If the house is in an urban setting where there are high volumes of traffic close to the house, a heat recovery system may be worth considering. This system will clean the air and redistribute air around the house; it can reduce heating bills significantly.

Are grants available?

Look in to Government grant opportunities, the Deep Retrofit Grant scheme is significant with up to 50 per cent being granted for retrofit works associated with bringing the BER rating of a house up to an A-rating. There are conditions to this scheme, but information on this and others is available on seai.ie.

Let your imagination flow

Lastly, go back to see the house more times than once, try to see it on a grey, wet day and visit the neighbourhood at various times of the day if you are unfamiliar with it. Try to see the possibilities of the property beyond its current appearance and condition. Let your imagination flow, it is amazing what can be achieved.

To help those who are considering getting their feet on the property ladder, Bank of Ireland and Myhome.ie are hosting a series of events for first-time buyers, in Dublin and Cork.
They will take place on Friday, March 22nd at 6:30pm in The Irish Times building (ground floor), Dublin, and on Wednesday, March 27th at 6.30pm in The Imperial Hotel, Cork.
To attend the Dublin event, register here. To book your place at the Cork event, register here