Why pre-sale renos could be bad planning

For any prospective home buyer with a skerrick of visual imagination, a rundown home is a massive canvas on which to express themselves.

That might apply to apartments even more than houses, given the cookie-cutter similarity of some units. So you might dream of renovating after you buy – but does that mean you should avoid tarting your flat up before you sell?

Everybody has their own theories about whether you are better to redesign and renovate before you sell, or just slap a splodge of paint on the walls, do a cheap and cheerful kitchen upgrade and let potential buyers work out the rest for themselves.

A major re-design in your apartment could put off just as many potential buyers as it attracts, to the point that you may never recoup the outlay, especially if the new owner plans to rip it out and start again.

The owner of one very swish apartment I heard about had replaced the wall between the bedroom and the en suite with glass (I know … I know) which presented so obvious an obstacle to potential buyers that the real estate agents began telling weekend tyre-kickers how much it would cost to restore some privacy.

An extreme makeover will inspire extreme reactions, so the pre-sale renovation sweet spot lies somewhere between the potential and the execution.

But living in apartments creates its own challenges for the average renovator not least because there are limits to what you can do to common property.

If you’re on the top floor, you can’t just remove your ceiling and annex a chunk of the attic space because “nobody is using it anyway”.

You could lift your carpet and polish the floorboards you find underneath, but only provided there are no by-laws or rules saying you can’t and there’s no chance of the downstairs neighbours dragging you off to a tribunal because of the noise.

Kitchens are pretty straightforward – despite the combination of gas, electricity and water – but bathrooms can be a nightmare.  Leaky bathrooms are probably the single greatest cause of damage and dissent in apartment blocks, and their floors and external-facing walls are common property.

Any strata committee worth its salt will make you jump through every hoop they can find to make sure your dream dunny isn’t an ongoing nightmare of drips, damp and other water-based disasters.

And as for hobby renovators, noisy work at night and on weekends – if it’s even allowed – will soon make you the most hated person in the block.

So perhaps the best way you can present a fixer-upper for sale is to do all the heavy lifting in terms of paperwork and approvals. Concentrate on preparing the by-laws and getting the permissions that the eventual renovator is going to need before they even prise a single tile off the bathroom floor or wall.

Sit down with your committee or building manager and devise a work schedule including civilised start and finish times, limits on noisy work and a plan for parking tradies’ vehicles and disposing of rubbish and rubble.

You could take it a stage further and even get architect’s plans drawn up and any council approval you might need to go with them.

You can’t lock down every detail before the plans get formal approval from the owners corporation (body corporate), but at least you can agree on what’s possible and point out what’s likely to lead to trouble.

In short, present your bright-eyed prospective buyers with a folder full of letters, emails and agreements that have taken care of all the bureaucratic stuff so that they can then let their inner designer run free.

That will get a smart buyer’s attention even faster than a glass-walled bathroom.

This column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.

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