Rock n Renovation: How to Buy a Project House

September 10, 2017

I’ve had so many messages since I started this series from people who are either buying their first house, or buying a renovation project, and are wondering if I have any advice. If you read my first post in this series you will already know that we had a DOOZY of a time trying to secure this place (I’ll tell you all about it over something alcoholic one day) so actually, I do have quite a few words of wisdom/ warning (delete as appropriate) for you!

I’m going to focus on buying a renovation project home here, as there is so much advice out there for first time buyers already, a quick Google session should set you right.

Do your research

Once you’ve found your dream home, ask the estate agent lots of questions such as how long it’s been up for sale, it’s history and if any previous sales have fallen through (and why). This will help you when it comes to negotiating. If the property has been on the market for a while it could mean the owner will take a lower offer, however if there’s been lots of interest it might end up going to sealed bids.

It’s also important to work out if you’re getting a good deal so look into house prices in the area (you can find what things have sold for in the past on Rightmove). Our house was on the market for at least £200,000 LESS than similar sized houses on the street. When we looked around inside we could tell why (because of the level of work) but another house went up a little after ours for nearly £800,000 and still had to be completely gutted. Funnily enough that one is still on the market now!

Get a builder’s estimate

The price of the house is one thing, but if a lot of work needs doing it’s important to figure out how much all that is going to set you back too. We’ve decided to go down the rather unconventional route of doing almost everything ourselves, but that didn’t stop us getting estimates from contractors to work out how much they’d be charging us if we were to hire them. This has really helped us figure out if a job is worth DIYing.

For example, replacing the joists in the ground floor was going to set us back around £5000 to get a professional in but when Gareth priced up the materials they came to less than £600 (including buying some new tools he needed!) Gareth is brilliant at figuring out how to do things like that himself (lots of forum and YouTube research) so for us, doing it as a DIY was a no-brainer. Yes it takes longer (wayyy longer!) but for us anyway, the huge saving made it worth it (one room down, two to go – ha!)

Be realistic

Gareth and I were very much driven by our hearts with this purchase. It was the only house we saw that even came close to being what we were looking for and as soon as we walked through the front door we were both smitten. However, having never taken a project of this scale on before we had to be realistic about a) What we could afford b) How long it was going to take and c) If we actually had the time to do it.

In the end we decided the risk was worth it. Luckily the house was perfectly liveable as is, so we were happy to take the leap! The electrics were old but functional, the heating turned on and warmed up whole house, and having a working kitchen and two perfectly functional bathrooms meant we would at least be able to eat and bathe properly during all the work.

Look beyond the decor

If you’re buying a project it stands to reason that you’ll be looking past the terrible wallpaper and dodgy carpet, but be sure to also look beyond that. What state are the walls in? Are there lots of cracks everywhere? Do the floors need replacing? Will knocking down walls solve any layout issues (and if so are they structural)? What about the electrics or the water? Is it connected to all the utilities? Is there excess damp?

Not only will sorting any of these things be an expense, but if you’re living in the place too you have to be sure that it’s going to be safe.

Get a full structural survey

After you’ve had your offer accepted it’s time to get a structural building survey (if its an older property your mortgage company may insist on one in fact). This will give an idea of the condition of the house, the extent of any necessary repairs and the likely cost. A survey may also highlight issues that you weren’t aware of that can be used to negotiate before you exchange.

Your mortgage company will do their own valuation too, but this literally just means someone will go in and have a quick look to check whether they think the price you’re paying is reasonable (so that if you default and they have to resell it they think they can get their money back). It does not replace a structural builder’s survey. A full structural survey will cost you somewhere between £600-£1000 but it’s vital! You could end up making a very expensive mistake if problems crop up that you could have known about before you bought.


Having home insurance is important anyway but particularly if you’re buying a renovation project. As soon as you exchange contracts you are responsible for the property so your building and contents insurance must begin from that date. If you are taking out a mortgage, this will also be a requirement from your lender.

I hope this post was helpful to any of you thinking of buying your own home to renovate! I’m no expert by any means but if you have any questions or comments on any of the advice I’d love to hear from you!