Home Owner Experience With Mark And Samina

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February 25, 2018

Mark and Samina share their renovation experience renovating an old Edwardian property.

Show Notes:

James:  So, welcome Mark and Samina to the Podcast. Thank you for coming on and wanted to talk to us about your project. So, I thought I’d just kick straight off with the questions really. With all the modern and new builds going up around London everywhere, can you just tell us why you chose an Edwardian home and what’s so special about it?

Samina: So, we’re both quite strong fans of period homes. I think their character, the kind of vintage look and those houses really were built to last and despite mass construction and houses going up everywhere, we both felt that extra care was put into building houses in the late Victorian and Edwardian era so, that’s what we were both quite keen to get our hands on from the outset I think.

James: Yeah, I think you’re completely right there actually. They used to build … They don’t build houses like they used to, do they?

Samina: No, exactly. Exactly.

James: All those partition walls, yeah.

Samina: Yeah.

James: So, tell us about your planning, your preparation to renovate the property. How long were you planning to renovate before you committed to the project?

Mark: Well, we got stuck in pretty much straight away everywhere. I mean, first things first, we had the plan to, sort of, the essentials first. So, the next day after getting the keys, we had a roofer in to make sure that the house was fully waterproofed and shortly after that, an electrician came in and we got the fuse box sorted out, because that was more than 40 years old. We just thought, well, it made economic sense really, to get him in and installing extra electric points around the house, because as you can imagine, the Edwardian houses were very little and we bought a pretty that needs a lot of work on it so it just made sense to get him in and do the whole lot.

James: Yeah, it’s always scary having a look at those consumer units and the old fuse boards, you remember where they had just the single wires in the fuses, that you could replace quite easily and then tie them back up again. That was a nightmare!

Samina: Yeah.

James: And it wasn’t … It’s a lot safer now, thank God!

Samina: Definitely!

James: Cool, good. And just to go off a little bit, with the whole installation of the consumer unit and everything, how long did that process take?

Mark: It wasn’t long at all, I mean, we had again, we did some research on the internet and I think that’s another key thing to tell people is that, really take your time looking over tradesmen. We saw a lot of reviews from this guy, who funnily enough just lives round the corner from Samina’s parents’ in Leytonstone, but he came in, he did a great job and we know full well that we’ve got someone to count on if there’s going to be electrical issues in the future and also, he knows the house as well.

Samina: Yeah. He was actually recommended by a colleague of mine, a colleague and friend of mine-

James: Okay.

Samina: So sort of, decided to check him out so I would say, trust the advice of friends and family who have the experience of trade people before, and listen to their recommendations. I would say that because we’ve done that every time and that’s worked out quite well for us.

Mark: Yeah.

James: Yeah, I mean, I know that you didn’t just use professionals to do the renovation because you got stuck in yourselves as well. So, did you end up asking friends and family to help out? Tell us the experience about that.

Samina: Yeah, so we did get some professionals in to do the essentials, as we’re not really experienced in doing stuff like that, beyond watching home renovation shows on the television, but … And actually, some of those served us quite a stark warning, where a lot of people take on big projects and then find themselves a fish out of water. So, we made sure we got in professionals for the things that were beyond our competence level. Other than that, yeah, we were really keen to make it out project and put our own stamp on it, so we knew from the outside that Mark and I wanted to do all the painting ourselves, and we’ve also been quite lucky, we’ve managed to rope in Mark’s father, my father-in-law, to come along and help as well. So, that’s been great really. It’s been a sort of family project, I guess.

James: I think it’s also a lot more fun when you can get your own hands dirty-

Samina: Yes, exactly.

James: And look back at it-

Mark: Well, you’re claiming the house as your own. I think it’s a little bit like a cat on its territory, you know. That sort of thing. So, it’s going round the areas and this is what we’re doing. And also, we’re freshly married as well, so we’re building our first home together, so it’s a fantastic experience for both of us to actually get stuck in.

James: Yeah, some good memories there.

Mark: Absolutely.

James: Would you say that … From my experience, home owners do try to take on maybe a little bit too much than they can handle rather than getting the professionals in. What’s your opinion on that?

Mark: I think it all depends on the house and the project. I think we’ve had quite a fine balance. I think if, looking back, we maybe have done things a little bit differently in terms of the order and maybe, I think actually, start at the top of the house and work down is a very good piece of advice I got, but that advice was half way through into the renovation! Just because, I was, fixated isn’t actually a too strong a word, in getting the front room sorted out so we just had a place to either watch TV or chill out and also get the bedroom done. But I think actually, looking back on it, probably we’d have started at the top and worked our way down at the bottom. It’s practical reasons as well. Building work is dusty, there is dust everywhere in the house and you can’t escape it, you know.

James: Yep. People underestimate that sometimes.

Samina: Yeah. I was just going to say, I think also cost is a factor of course, when you’re trying to determine the balance between taking on work yourself and handing stuff over to professionals. So I think, if you’re looking to be a bit thrifty, it’s quite a fun thing to take on yourself within reason, you can put your own stamp on it as we said before.

James: Yeah. True. Okay. So, what was the first step of the remodeling process? Did you go through a stage of hiring any architects, designers? What was the whole situation about that?

Mark: We didn’t. We both have pretty much got a sixth sense on actually what we like and the internet is obviously the biggest source of our inspiration. We’ve been going on Instagram and Pinterest and there hasn’t been any, sort of, real major disagreement on what we want for the house going forward, all the big choices. We do have a private veto, so if someone really doesn’t like something, then we don’t go ahead with it.

Mark: So actually, that does force you to take a look at it, have a little bit of compromise, but actually, when it comes down to it, I think we both sometimes, we’ve walked into a shop and saw the same bit of furniture and thought, “Yeah, that’ll do for the house”. So, I know taste can sometimes differ in some couples in certain sections, but we are very, very lucky in terms of our home sense.

James: Yeah, I mean, you could spend absolute hours in shops that have old furniture and have a good look around. It’s always inspiring to actually go to shops like that. And there’s not too many of them these days, which is a shame.

Samina: No, not in London anyway.

James: No.

Samina: We were in Brighton a few weeks ago to meet some family for Sunday dinner, and we popped into town there, and there’s lots of old vintage and antique furniture shops there. But in London, they’re few and far between and if you find them, they’re really expensive.

James: Yeah.

Samina: But yeah, it’s a great source of inspiration and we like that kind of, vintage, period style anyway, so most of our inspiration has been more from the internet and our own sense, decorative sense, rather than hiring in any professional architects or anything.

James: Okay, so come on then, tell the truth. How many hours did you spend on Pinterest and Instagram?

Samina: We’re on it every day!

Mark: Yeah-

James: It’s so addictive.

Samina: Yeah.

Mark: It is addictive. That is the exact word. There is not a day, I don’t think, that has gone by since we’ve got the keys to the house, where we haven’t had a serious look at Instagram. That’s probably really sad to admit actually but it’s true. It’s a never ending source I think. Will this go, will that go? That’s a nice colour and you know, it’s been great. We’ve gone head and feet first so to speak into it and the boredom hasn’t worn off at all actually.

Samina: But it’s so useful. We found so many tradespeople through it, we found furniture through it where someone will post a picture of, I don’t know, a table. They have gone on and said, would you mind telling me where you got that from and they’ll tell you exactly where they’ve got it from and we’ve gone on and ordered the same thing. So, it’s so great for finding key pieces and information and people even, it’s such a good resource so I’d urge anybody to tap into that if they haven’t because it’s such a huge source of information and inspiration.

James: I was just about to say, you just mentioned you found tradesmen on social media platforms. I know that happens but I’ve never heard of someone hiring someone from there. Do you think it’s the new way of finding people?

Samina: I think it’s certainly, it helps build a bit of trust and transparency between the trade’s person and the client. Where before, you may just go on the internet or pick up the phone directory and find someone and ask them to come round and give you a quote, what social media does is it actually enables the trade’s person to actually showcase their work. So, if they’re regularly posting photos of the work they’ve done, you can see that and you can make a judgment call as to whether you think that’s good or not. You can hire them base don their visible portfolio rather than just word of mouth or taking their word for it.

Samina: And similarly, because they know that their work is available for anybody to go and see, they I think, are more likely to be more trustworthy, because they know that anybody can go on and see and hold you to account if the work that they then do isn’t up to standard.

Samina: So, I think certainly it’s definitely more of a platform, which enables trustworthiness and transparency, so perhaps it could be the way forward, yeah.

Mark: I’d certainly encourage any builders and other tradesmen to go onto social media and start videoing themselves and their work. I think it’s great.

Samina: Yes, definitely.

James: Good. So, how much research did you do before choosing products? I think we’ve pretty much answered that one, but did you choose or research how much renovation was likely to cost? So, did you think about, okay, I’ve got this budget, this is going to work, or did it just go out the water?

Mark: Well, we had an initial budget prepared when we moved in, but I can tell you now, what was written on that paper ten months ago, is very different to what actually happened. Certainly looking back on it and certainly what we did have is a contingency for the projects, and I would probably recommend to anyone else that is gonna be considering getting involved in home renovations, probably have about 30 percent, because you never know what’s going to happen. We’ve held back on some things and also re-prioritized due to not realizing how much things actually cost. We did get a quote for windows for the entire house, and it was a lot, lot more than I had expected. Sometimes, you do a budget and you are sticking your finger up in the air into the wind, so actually, there’s a bit of a reality check sometimes and you have to think to yourself, what is good for the house? What are you going to be doing every day in the house? Is that really needed? And you have to be tough with yourself.

Mark: So, there were things that were more expensive in certain things, so those projects have been deferred. So, I think we both found that you really have to be flexible in these situations.

Samina: Yeah, definitely.

Mark: I was going to say, was there anything in particular that you’ve sacrificed on? Not being able to have right now?

Samina: The windows, probably.

Mark: Yeah, the windows.

James: The windows.

Mark: And we really want to get it restored to like it was when it was built in 1903 and want the wooden sash windows and we want the … The front of the house has been painted actually, not that recently as well actually, and I want it back to brick. We’re going full circle. We had pebbledash in the 80s and stone cladding and all of those sort of horrors, and now actually, people with their Victorian houses are thinking, right, let’s get underneath that pebbledash and let’s bring it back to its former glory.

Mark: So, things like that are nice to have but they’re not integral to actually living in the house. So, you have to be hard on yourself and say, “I’m sorry, that’s going to be for another day”.

James: Yeah. It also depends, like with the windows, it depends on when you’re starting your project as well and whether that’s going to fall over the winter. Is it going to have an effect as well, because sometimes that is something you have to consider I guess?

Samina: Yeah, no, exactly that, but I think the biggest reason for deferral there was certainly the cost because for the same price, we’re pretty much renovating the entire interior of the house, so it just made logical sense to reprioritize that money towards doing to interior and then working on windows and the exteriors afterwards. Yeah.

James: Good, okay. So, tell us the best thing that happened during the renovation?

Samina: I’d say the most exciting thing really is seeing the rooms that we’ve decorated then come to life. I think personally for me, the kind of, the amazing wooden floors that we found underneath decades of mould carpet. You lifted that, you found these floors, you get them redone and it’s restoring it back to its former glory and giving that house real character. So, that was the best thing. The worst thing certainly, although it was funny at the time, well, it’s funny since it wasn’t that funny at the time, was when part of the dining room ceiling fell through due to a botched job that someone had previously done when the chimney breast was removed around 30 years ago. That was the worst part, but it certainly does make us laugh now!

Mark: Yeah, basically, I went into the dining room and Samina went into the bedroom and we both took a photo of each other looking through the floor and ceiling respectively and it did make us laugh but to be honest, you have to in those situations otherwise you can let things like that get on top of you. So, we took a photo, had a laugh about it since and then just got on with repairing it.

James: Was you underneath it when it fell down?

Mark: No, we weren’t. Basically what happens was, the concrete infill in the floor and the hearth, in the chimney breast, there was nothing supporting that underneath, so when the workmen took the concrete out, it just fell through the ceiling and the plaster-

Samina: I don’t think that we were actually in the house, we had just popped out to B and Q and we came back and there was a great big hole in our ceiling, and that was fun.

Mark: Exactly. Other DIY manufacturers are obviously available. So, we came back and it had fallen through and to be honest, there’s no time to get angry, there’s not the time to get frustrated, you just have to say, “Right, how do we solve this?”.

Samina: Yep.

Mark: And actually, it’s worked out okay.

Samina: Yes, and that’s precisely why you need to build in a contingency in terms of money but also time and plans because you should expect the unexpected really when it comes to tackling a big house project like this.

James: Yeah-

Samina: Especially if you’ve got a very old property.

James: It’s completely underestimated. To hear sometimes, when I speak to builders and they’ve been asked to quote on a project and it’s quite an extensive project like yours, but they’re being given a very short time to do it in, and it’s just not realistic, you know?

Samina: No, no. And especially if you’re, kind of, working on it yourselves and you’ve got full time jobs as well, so you’re trying to fit in doing all this work in your spare time really, in the evenings and weekends and it will end up taking longer than you initially planned, so you need to build in time for that.

James: Was it difficult to find a building company? I know you mentioned that you found one on social media but, talk about how you found them, yeah.

Mark: Yeah, I think that unless we’ve been really unlucky, I found a lot of trade’s men unreliable. And I’m sure that’s not reflective of the whole sector, but we’ve had people that we’ve asked to turn up and quote, we’ve arranged the time, the day and we don’t hear from them again. They don’t even bother to turn up. So, it goes back to what we were talking about earlier with Instagram, these are putting themselves out online, they’re confident of their work, they’re proud enough that they can show it off in front of people that are watching online, so we did purposely go down that route rather than hitting the phones.

Mark: And we’ve been very lucky. Brian from Flay Boys, we got him from Instagram, and he’s been a real find. A real find for us.

James: Brilliant. Yeah, I’ve seen the images, they’re fantastic on your Instagram page actually. Now, I agree with you. I cannot understand building companies that just don’t turn up. It’s a bit weird. At least provide an explanation I think.

Mark: Yeah, I mean if they’re pressed for time or they literally, they don’t fancy the project, just tell us. We’ve got slightly thicker skin. If they don’t want to plaster the walls in our house, then fine, we’ll find somewhere else that can.

James: Yeah, yeah. So, I’m just looking at the questions because you’re going faster than me, you’ve answered a few more. What was the biggest challenge that you faced during the project do you think?

Samina: I think it has to be money really. It does dictate how quickly you can do things and what the end result of your project’s going to look like. As well as the quality of things you can afford to purchase. We still haven’t finished our house yet, but we’ve been lucky that my parents are very generously letting us stay whilst we’re renovating the house, so we’re not living in a building site. And we’re quite lucky in that respect, I appreciate not everybody’s in that position. But yeah, I think certainly money, as we’ve said. We had a budget, we kept some contingency aside, we’ve been making some good, flexible prioritization but even so, it’s the one thing that, at the moment, we’re spending more money than we ever have in our lives, and it’s just keeping that in check and keeping budgets balanced really.

James: How long is left?

Samina: So, I think at the moment, we’re just in the process of getting our bathroom done. That’s the last stage of the first stage of renovation, so once that’s done, we can definitely move in full time. And then after that, there’s the second stage where we may try and tackle the windows and the exterior. Third stage, at some point in the future, perhaps loft extension, something like that. But in terms of the first stage, I’d say maybe about another month or so to go.

James: Okay.

Mark: Yeah, I would have thought so. And I think there’s a sudden realization when you walk round the house and you’re thinking about the future and family and other things, it hits you that it’s never finished.

Samina: Yeah.

Mark: There’ll always be a job.

Samina: There’ll always be something.

Mark: Because you’ll go full circle and do the same job again that you did when you moved in when you moved into the house. It’s like the Humber Bridge, you know, you’ll keep painting until you drop.

James: And that house that you’re going to be living in has got tons of stories behind it, and I think that’s one of the best things, you know.

Samina: Yeah.

James: If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Mark: I think what we’d do is, you plan for milestones because at the start, I’d think, “Right, we’ve gotta be in before Christmas”, and then it was, “Right, we’ve got to be in before the end of January” and then February and then. So actually, you’re on the road to permanent disappointment there. So, what you need to do is just have a plan and say, “Right okay, we’re going to go through these certain stages but we’re not going to put a time limit on it. We’re going to actually do the job to the best that we want it done and then we’ll move onto the next milestone”. I think that’s a better way of approaching any sort of project.

James: Good. And any other tops for a renovation beginner? Someone that’s going to do the same thing?

Samina: I think really, the biggest thing is to expect the unexpected. Plan thoroughly, don’t let the bad days grind you down but continue to persevere, prioritize, re-prioritize if necessary, and then just persevere because the finished product will more than make up for it. But you know, don’t get downtrodden by things not going to plan or things going a bit wrong. Just be prepared to be flexible in your expectations and yeah, just keep on persevering until you reach that end goal and it will definitely be worth it.

Mark: Yeah, because sometimes it will be a slog and you’ll be up a ladder and you’ve been painting for three hours and your questioning your sanity, but actually, once it’s all finished and you can take a step back, you can look back at what you’ve created and it’s something special.

James: That’s fantastic. Really good. Really, really good. Thank you very much, guys. I just want to finish off by asking, we’ve been doing the property renovation Podcast since June last year. I know that you’ve actually listened to a few episodes, but I wanted to get your opinion. What do you think about what we’re trying to do here?

Samina: That’s a good question. I think it’s a really, really excellent thing actually because I think, particularly if you are brand new to this game, you’ve never renovated before, you really don’t know anybody that has. It’s a really, really good way of reaching out to people that may be in a quandary, maybe stuck, may have questions and also, just might want a bit of inspiration and might want to hear from people that have been through it and have been through those experiences and might have those tips.

Samina: So, I think it’s a great way of spreading that message and getting that advice and information out there.

Mark: I agree if you’re any … I would have loved to have had lots of friends that have done previous renovations in the same style, because we would have listened to them on Podcasts or something and just, soaked up like a sponge the information that they’re giving out so anything that actually helps the renovation community because it means they’re going to save time and going to save money as well.

James:  Absolutely, absolutely. Well, we will continue to do it. Thank you very much guys, for coming on.

Samina: Thank you.

Mark: Thank you.

Abi Bacon