Before buying a property requiring restoration or modernisation, you should consider the alternatives. An extra few thousand punts spent on a purchase may represent much better value for money than spending the money on building work. It’s often cheaper to buy a restored or partly restored property than a ruin in need of total restoration, unless you’re going to do most of the work yourself.
If you aren’t into do-it-yourself in a big way, you may be better off buying a new or recently built property, as the cost of restoration can be double or even treble the price of the original property. If you’re planning to buy a property that needs restoration or renovation and aren’t planning to do the work yourself, make sure you obtain a realistic estimate of the costs before signing a contract.
Bear in mind that, if you buy and restore a property with the intention of selling it for a profit, you must take into account not only the initial price and the restoration costs, but also the fees and taxes included in the purchase, plus capital gains tax if it’s a second home.
It’s often difficult to sell a renovated old property at a higher than average market price, irrespective of its added value. If you’re buying for investment, you may be better off buying a new home, as the price of most restored properties doesn’t reflect the cost and amount of work that went into them (and many people who have restored a ‘ruin’ would never do it again and advise others against it).
Inspections & Surveys
It’s vital to check a property for any obvious faults, particularly an old property. Most importantly, a building must have sound walls, without which it may be cheaper to erect a new building! Almost any other problem can be fixed or overcome (at a price).
A sound roof that doesn’t leak is desirable, as ensuring that a building is waterproof is the number one priority if funds are limited. Don’t believe a vendor or agent who tells you that a roof or anything else can be repaired or patched up, but obtain expert advice from a local builder. Sound roof timbers are also important, as they can be expensive to replace. Old buildings often need a damp-proof course, timber treatment, new windows and doors, a new roof or extensive roof repairs, a modern kitchen and bathroom, re-wiring and central heating.
Electricity and mains water should preferably already be connected, as they can be expensive to extend to a property in a remote area. If a house doesn’t have electricity or mains water, it’s important to check the cost of extending these services to it. If you’re seeking a waterside property, you should check the likelihood of floods and, if fairly frequent, you should ensure that a building has been designed with floods in mind, e.g. with electrical installations above flood level and solid tiled floors.
It may well be worthwhile having a full structural survey carried out, as major problems can even be found in relatively new properties, and spending a few hundred punts on a survey could save you thousands in repairs.
If modernisation of an old building involves making external alterations, such as building an extension or installing larger windows or new doorways, you may need permission from your local planning authority.
If you plan to do major restoration or building work, you should ensure that a conditional clause is included in the contract stating that the purchase is dependent on obtaining planning permission. You should allow at least two months for planning permission to be obtained and a further month for any objections to be raised, compared, for example, with just four weeks in the UK and Germany. You should never start any building work before you have official permission.
DIY or Builders?
One of the first decisions you need to make regarding restoration or modernisation is whether to do all or most of the work yourself or have it done by professional builders or local artisans. Note that, when restoring a period property, it’s imperative to have a sensitive approach to restoration.
You shouldn’t tackle jobs yourself or with friends unless you’re sure you’re doing them right. In general, you should aim to retain as many of a property’s original features as possible and stick to local building materials, reflecting the style of the property. When renovations and ‘improvements’ have been botched, there’s often little that can be done except to start again from scratch. It’s important not to over-modernise an old property, so that its natural rustic charm and attraction is lost. Note that, even if you intend to do most of the work yourself, you’ll still need to hire artisans for certain jobs.
Finding a Builder
When looking for a builder, you should obtain recommendations from local people you can trust, e.g. neighbours or friends. Note that estate agents or other professionals aren’t always the best people to ask as they may receive commissions. Always obtain references from previous customers. It may be better to use a local building consortium or contractor rather than a number of independent tradesmen, particularly if you won’t be around to supervise them (although it will cost you a bit more). On the other hand, if you supervise it yourself using local hand-picked craftsmen, you can save money and learn a great deal into the bargain.
If you aren’t on the spot and able to supervise work, you should hire a ‘clerk of works’ such as an architect to oversee a large job, or it could drag on for months or be left half-finished. This will add around 10 per cent to the total bill, but it’s usually worth every penny.
Be extremely careful whom you employ if you have work done in your absence, and ensure that your instructions are accurate in every detail. Always make certain that you (and your builder) understand exactly what has been agreed and if necessary draw up a written agreement (with drawings). It isn’t unusual for foreign owners to receive huge bills for work done in their absence which shouldn’t have been done at all!
Before buying a home in Ireland requiring restoration or modernisation, it’s essential to obtain an accurate estimate of the work and costs involved. You should obtain written estimates from at least two builders before employing anyone. Note that for quotations to be accurate you must detail the eact work required, e.g. for electrical work this would include the number of lights, points and switches, and the quality of materials to be used. If you have only a vague idea of what you want, you’ll receive a vague and unreliable quotation.
Make sure that a quotation includes everything you want done and that you fully understand it (if you don’t, have it checked by someone who does). You should fix a date for the start and completion of work and, if you can get a builder to agree to it, include a penalty for failing to finish on time. After signing a contract, it’s usual to pay a deposit, the amount of which depends on the size and cost of a job.
The cost of restoration depends on the work involved, the quality of materials used and the region. As a rough guide, you should expect the cost of totally renovating an old ‘habitable’ building to be at least equal to its purchase price and possibly much more.
How much you spend on restoring a property will depend on your purpose and the depth of your pockets. If you’re restoring a property as an investment, don’t be tempted to spend more than you can hope to recoup when you sell it. On the other hand, if you’re restoring a property as a holiday or permanent home, there’s no limit to what you can do and how much money you can spend. Always keep an eye on your budget (which will inevitably be 25 per cent more or less than you actually spend – usually less!) and don’t be in too much of a hurry. Some people take many years to restore a holiday home, particularly when they’re doing most of the work themselves. It isn’t unknown for buyers to embark on a grandiose renovation scheme, only to run out of money before it’s completed and be forced to sell at a loss.
Note that, if you make major improvements to a property, you should be sure to obtain evidence of your expenditure (i.e. quotations, invoices and receipts) so that you can offset some or all of the costs against tax.