Hidden Potential: How to set up your renovation project for success

There is a certain romance associated with turning a derelict building in to a dream project which appeals to a lot of people. Consequently, we’re often asked to look at buildings in a poor state of repair, or even in ruins.

It’s amazing how enthusiastic clients can be when considering what, to other people, might look like a pile of rubble. It takes great foresight to see the potential in projects like this.  

But exactly how do you turn that tumble down pile of bricks in the woods into a forest hideaway? Should you take the risk and buy that old water tower and convert it into your dream home? How do you make the decision to turn that ruined chapel into a truly special business opportunity?

How do you know whether it will work, and whether it will be worth the investment? What does a successful project look like?

A successful project is one in which the vision for the project is compatible with the value that it creates.

Vision refers to the ‘big idea’ for the intended use and design of the existing building. The quality of this vision needs to be scrutinised; is the use right for the location? Is the building readily repairable, convertible or extendable to suit the use? Will the resulting development be appropriate, appealing, stunning?

Value refers to the benefits. How much will the property be worth on completion? What other benefits are there in bringing the building back in to use? Do these benefits overcome the cost of realising the project?

Not surprisingly, a successful project exists when the vision results in something of positive value (not always necessarily monetary). But what can be done to limit your risks and give you the confidence to press ahead?

From potential to ‘wow!’ in 8 steps:

1.    Work with an architect with experience of similar projects. Someone who can use their knowledge to help you answer the questions above and guide you through the process.

2.    Develop your vision in to a set of drawn ‘sketch’ proposals. Allow this to be ‘rough and ready’ so that it can be done quickly and help keep up the momentum. Illustrating the overall idea early on will reap benefits when seeking advice from other people and it will also help develop your own thinking.

3.    Create a ‘risk schedule’ for the project. Work with your architect to think through all of the potential issues that may need to be overcome such as planning, conservation, highways, structure, ecology, trees, contamination, neighbours etc.

4.    Establish whether any of these risks can be addressed quickly and cheaply. If so, do the work now and improve your understanding. Make ‘best case’ and ‘worst case’ assessments of the remainder.

5.    Seek advice regarding project costs. Renovation projects are notoriously difficult to price but a combination of reasonable assumptions and reference to costs from similar projects should result in a ‘ballpark' estimate. Don’t forget to allow for contingencies.

6.    Seek advice regarding the resulting financial value of your project. Again this is an approximate art. Allow for variation in the ‘end value’ due to changes in market conditions over time.

7.    Understand the other, non-financial, benefits of the project. It’s easy to focus on the monetary value but it’s also important to remember that value can be added in many other ways.

8.    Be flexible. You should be prepared to amend your proposals in order to make the vision/value equation work.

In our experience, this kind of project suits a certain type of person and requires a particular kind of approach. You need imagination to have the vision in the first place and you need great tenacity in order to see it through. But you also need to be flexible when the project demands a change of direction and pragmatic when it comes to resolving problems.

Projects of this nature can be daunting but they can be incredibly rewarding too. Getting a handle on the likely challenges and opportunities early on is key to setting up your renovation project for success.

This article was written by Andy Foster for the July 2017 edition of The Sherborne Times.