When it comes to renovating a home, one of the first precautionary tales to always keep in mind is to expect the unexpected, especially when it comes to budgeting.
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That’s the opinion of renovation old hands, handyman Dan and hairdresser Carleen, who are contestants on this year’s offering of the popular reality TV show The Block on the Nine Network.
“If you think you can totally budget beforehand or come in under budget, you’re probably dreaming,” says Dan. “Things do happen that you can’t foresee. You really do have to make a budget and double it. But, after you’ve done a few renovations you do become aware of the pitfalls.”
“You have to look at what you paid for the property as well,” says Carleen. “You have to look at what is happening in your area and whether the market is growing. You don’t want to buy something for $800,000 and spend $800,000 on it.”
Dan, 55, and his wife of 30 years, Carleen, 52, hail from Perth, WA, and first fell in love with tarting up a house back in the late 1980s. “We bought an older 1930s style house in Subiaco. It needed renovating. We put our hands to it. We did up the kitchen and laundry and put in an extension at the back of the house,” says Dan.
Since then, they’ve bought and done up eight houses, selling each of them for profit. So they know a thing – or 100 – about what works and what doesn’t.
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Like with many things that requires money, skill, dedication and patience, it’s quite hard to know where to start if you’re a novice renovator, but this experienced couple would encourage anyone that’s interested “to have a crack at it” even if you’re not feeling especially confident.
The first thing to do is think about the big picture, advises Dan. “You’d look at the house for its structure,” he says.
“Renovating homes is all about budget at the end of the day,” adds Dan. “You have to make sure you’ve got enough funds to be able to finish.
“A grand plan is probably the most important thing. You need to look at the house’s bones and say ‘What’s the best way to do this the cheapest’?”
Husband and wife team Dan and Carleen are renovation experts!
While being economical is vital, the pair agree that there are some reno jobs that will require a bigger budget than others. While bedrooms can often be upgraded with not too much expenditure, kitchens and bathrooms remain big ticket items.
Carleen says one of the reasons for this is that people are used to seeing sleek houses on TV reality shows, but also in magazines and on social media sites including Instagram where there are so many design ideas nowadays.
“In a bedroom, nine times out of 10 a lick of paint and some new floor covering is often all you need to do to make a difference and you can liven it up with furnishings, but in a kitchen you really do need to spend some money to get the look,” says Carleen.
Both she and Dan say that what they’re noticing is that the kitchen is very much seen as the hub of the home these days and it’s also perceived as one of the main socialising areas.
“Sure, it has all the appliances that you need but you can make it look like an entertaining area. The last few kitchens we’ve done, we’ve incorporated more of a wardrobe look, less handles. Sleek-looking designs with beautiful appliances that don’t stand out. They are hidden away,” says Dan.
Dan and Carleen on set for The Block 2016
“Everything functions,” they add. “Having the right lighting in the kitchen is very important too. Lighting that attracts the eye to the parts of the kitchen that are features but not so much the cooktops, fridges or the dishwashers, they are hidden back. The cabinetry is what you see and you push that forward.”
So how do you make a kitchen stand out from the crowd? “Probably by spending a lot of money,” says Carleen and laughs.
She agrees that one area that can be daunting for people is the amount of choice that is out there when it comes to choosing what products to use. “There is such a great variety these days of finishes,” she says. “You can marble in any colour, you can get tiles in any colour, shape and size, same with splashbacks. Laminate is back in demand too.
“It can be overwhelming the amount of choice there is, it can be stressful, therefore you have to decide on one thing and build around it. Your kitchen needs to look like a nice piece of furniture rather than just cupboards and sinks. There is a lot more design involved these days.”
Similarly doing up a bathroom can stretch the budget, as can landscaping, but they are both crucial to the finished look.
Nowadays the focus is on entertaining areas, such as dining, they are very important and in particular in relation to outdoor living, says Dan. “To have a great functional landscaped area or second dining area outside is very important. That will sell your home twice as quick.”
It also comes down to the Australian lifestyle, adds Carleen. “It’s how we like to live. Our love of barbecues and entertaining outdoors, it has become a big part of the home.”
2016 'Blockheads' Dan and Carleen (Image: Facebook / The Block)
While Dan says that becoming a proficient handyman over the years has undoubtedly saved him large sums of money, there are jobs that he is not qualified to do and anyone renovating needs to keep this in mind. “For things like plumbing and electrical work, you have to have qualified, licensed tradesmen, you are simply not allowed to do this work yourself,” he explains.
“We’ve developed relationships with some of them along the way. You have to get your quotes, prices are important, too,” says Carleen. “It’s better to go with people you know and get on with. Word of mouth [for recommendations of who to use] is very important here.”
While Dan, generally speaking, looks after the practical side of things, Carleen turns her eye, and her skills to the home’s design elements. What are some of the current trends she’s liking?
“I love the look of linen and velvets in the bedroom,” she says. That is really nice and soft. I like the muted colours, but also the stronger raspberry and teal colours,” she says.
“I’m also quite big on having tiles through the living/dining and kitchen areas with layered rugs on top,” she says. “Two rugs in one space, one bigger and one smaller. It can look really terrific.
“Timber furniture is back in vogue as well as mixing that with metallics. Another thing that’s huge is greenery – draping plants – inside.”
So given the pair are both in their 50s, would they say renovating is a physical job? Well, on the 10 weeks that Dan has been filming on The Block, he has lost 14 kilos! So, yes.
Does he regret any of the blood, sweat and tears along the way so far? Most definitely not, he enthuses. “We will be inspired to continue our journey as renovators [after the show ends],” he says.
His final tip on renovating is to do your homework along each step of the way.
“The most determining factor of a renovation is of course the real estate market and it can make you money or not,” says Dan. “If it’s a good ‘product’ you will always make a profit.”
*Dan and Carleen are one of five couples appearing as contestants on The Block. They will be working on a heritage restoration of a building in Port Melbourne. It will first require a lot of demolition work before the renovations begin. But when complete, this building will have apartments with larger floorplans and higher ceilings than anything shown in previous seasons of the show.
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