DIY home renovations – the good, the bad, and the ugly

Knowing what areas will pay for themselves when you sell your home is key to choosing your renovation projects. Picture: Craig Adderley/Pexels

Knowing what areas will pay for themselves when you sell your home is key to choosing your renovation projects. Picture: Craig Adderley/Pexels

Published Jan 10, 2023


More South Africans are expected to embrace home renovations this year, especially DIY upgrades that allow them to get the job done quickly and save money at the same time.

But experts warn that they need to be wary of the quality of the work, as well as spending money that will not be recouped on sale of the home.

The trend to tackle home renovation projects started increasing at the onset of the Covid pandemic in 2020, and has continued to flourish as people now see their homes as more than just places they eat and sleep – they want their living spaces to be extensions of their lifestyles.

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Difficult economic conditions, however, mean that many homeowners do not have the spare funds to have their renovations carried out by professionals, and so undertake home upgrades on their own, often with the help of Google searches and YouTube.

Whether you opt to go full DIY or use contractors for particular jobs, there are two concerns that property and building professionals share – the quality of the work, and the chances of over-capitalising.

Even if you have no intention of selling your home in the near future, Steve Thomas, secure estate specialist for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Cape Town, says you should still bear in mind the main areas of appeal to buyers and the value attached to them.

He advises that you concentrate funds and attention on improving your property’s ‘wow factor’ and functionality, but also avoid the trap of over-capitalising where the investment won’t be recovered.

“In other words just because you’re thinking of selling, definitely don’t rush out and sink thousands upon thousands into every improvement project you’ve dreamt of, but put off for the past decade.

“New owners often buy homes in order to make changes that personalise spaces according to their visions, which might not match the dreams you’ve had for your property. All that investment you’ve therefore made in those last-minute projects could end up being wasted expenditure.”

Echoing this, Adrian Goslett, regional director and chief executive of RE/MAX of Southern Africa says you should always consider the resale value of your property before undertaking renovation projects, both professional overhauls and DIY. Even if you have no intention of selling in the near to far future, it is always advisable to consider how the renovation could impact the resale value of your home.

“Shoddy workmanship could have a negative impact on your home’s value. Similarly, you might never stand to make your money back if you have overcapitalised on renovations.”

To avoid overcapitalising, he recommends having a real estate practitioner provide a professional evaluation of your property and suggest some guidelines around the potential price cap on the given suburb.

Being sure to not overcapitalise is one of the most important things to consider, emphasises Mike Greeff of Greeff Christie’s Real Estate.

“Homeowners who are not wanting to sell or, rather, do not envision themselves selling in the long-term, tend to want to use their excess money to make changes to their existing homes. There is no argument in maintaining your home, and making minor tweaks where necessary, but you need to think carefully when wanting to make big changes.”

Estate agents often recommend that, instead of spending money on renovating your home before selling, you rather drop your sales price to move the property quickly and allow the buyer to incorporate their own tastes by making their own changes.

Explaining further, Thomas says homeowners who are considering renovating may be caught between making improvements for their own benefit and comfort and making them for future buyer appeal. His advice in such cases is that you leave something for the new owner to do to put their own stamp on their new home.

“If you’re not intending to sell right away, invest in improvements that will pay for themselves and offer a greater return when you do decide to move, such as solar panels/inverters, boreholes, or new flooring.

The rule of thumb, however, is to never over-capitalise.

“Putting in a no-expenses spared kitchen might look great, but a R5 million house doesn’t recover the cost of a new R1m kitchen when it sells, and chances are you’re going to have to spend on upgrades to your new home as well to turn it into your new dream space. Rather save the big bucks for that,” he says

If you are planning on undertaking some home DIY this year, Thomas recommends starting with these things first:

  • fixing the broken gate
  • painting the front door and other areas of the home that need it
  • replacing the broken tiles on the path, patio and in the bathrooms
  • replacing cracked window glass
  • repairing or replacing broken cupboard hinges and handles, and dripping taps

It is also a good idea to take a critical look at your property from the street and, if necessary, smarten up fences and front walls.

“Don’t forget to update old or broken house numbers, as well as ensure that the intercom system is in perfect working order. Also check your property’s security system and, if necessary, replace faulty sensors or add more to cover blind spots,” he says.

Ultimately though, a balance must be found between investment and lifestyle, agents believe. After all, you still want to live in a property that works for you and keeps you comfortable. The home is a sacred place so making it work for your lifestyle is important. Keep yourself happy but be reasonable.

Good ideas for home upgrades

When carrying out DIY home improvements, real estate agents say you should focus on these areas:

  • House entrance and exterior

The main access to the house will give buyers their first impressions, so you should consider a splash of colour to revitalise the look and feel, Thomas.

You could also create a designated pathway, suggests Greeff, noting that the width should allow enough space for two people to walk side by side.

Trim down overgrown trees and bushes that block the view of your home and walkways, and install low-cost, low voltage outdoor lighting.

“This not only adds to the safety and security of the home, but it also adds accent lighting to the house and can illuminate a pathway.”

He says dingy-looking mailboxes, house numbers, and overhead lighting should be replaced.

“These elements work better collectively so instead of having a mix-and-match aesthetic, rather go for a similar style and feel.”

  • Garden

Reassess the functionality of your outdoor areas, Thomas suggests. There could be space close to the driveway where more off-street parking could be created without ruining the aesthetics of the property.

“Ample secure parking is a definite selling point for most buyers. Also tidy boundaries, improve your home’s access to natural light and sunshine by trimming trees, improve rainwater catchment systems and replace power-guzzling lighting with LED energy-saving equivalents.”

If the garden has dark corners at night, install some energy-efficient solar lamps, he says.

Greeff says a vertical garden is essential as it not only saves space but looks “uber-chic”.

He adds: “Everyone wants a lush front lawn, but it’s not the most financially savvy choice you can make – particularly if you live in an arid climate or struggle to keep your grass green and weed-free. An easy-maintenance ground cover is an excellent and cost-effective alternative to grass.

“When choosing an alternative, make sure that it can survive any climate and that it can spread quickly on the necessary areas”

Having a landscaped garden is great, but having a landscaped, water-wise garden is even better, he says.

  • Bathrooms

Greeff notes that a fresh coat of paint can completely transform the bathroom and does not have to cost a lot. You can also consider:

– Adjusting the pressure of the shower

– Adding stainless-steel taps to give it a classy, upmarket look and feel

– Re-grouting the tiles

– Removing and replacing silicone around the shower, bath, and toilet areas

Thomas says home owners can add water-saving features such as low-flow shower heads and if necessary, update taps and fittings. They should also replace cracked or broken tiles.

  • Kitchen

Focus on colours and textures when making upgrades instead of breaking the bank for appliances, advises Greeff. You can also upgrade countertops, paint or replace cabinet doors, and consider re-tiling the kitchen for a fresh and uplifting look.

“There’s just something about new doors, handles and stainless-steel appliances that excite people so making these minor, somewhat inexpensive changes will make the world of difference,” he says.

Agreeing with this, Thomas says the simplest way to give tired kitchens a facelift is fitting modern handles to cabinets and drawers after giving them a fresh coat of paint – preferably white to brighten the space.

“New splashbacks can also become ‘wow factor’ features and since their surface area tends to be fairly small they’re often surprisingly affordable.”

Not-so-good ideas for upgrades

Agents say you should not spend too much time or money on upgrading these areas:

  • Garages, although they should appear organised and not be a dumping ground for unused items
  • Laundry areas
  • Spare bedrooms
  • Store rooms
  • Bedrooms, other than flooring and fresh paint
  • Swimming pools

Renovation trends for 2023

One area that is keenly watched by enthusiasts, says Orlando Luis, chief executive of Brights Hardware, is home design, renovation, and DIY trends. In this respect, smart homes will be a popular home renovation this year as people create homes that are automated and controlled from their smart devices.

“We have already seen a spike in demand for such products...Automated homes are also more environmentally friendly as lights and appliances can be programmed to switch off when not in use, saving on electricity and reducing the load on the grid.”

Overall, he adds, consumer buying habits reveal that price is key, and manufacturer will need to be sure to keep bringing products to market that meet the needs of the budget conscious.

Start your search for a home that you can add your personal touch to at IOL Property.