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25 Sep 2020

Six tips to stop your home improvement project going over budget

Keep costs on track whether you're building an extension, loft conversion or having a kitchen or bathroom renovation
extension at the rear of the home, showing foundat

Kitchen and bathroom renovations are the most likely to go over-budget, according to our research,* while converting your loft or extending your home can cost tens of thousands. Keeping costs on track is crucial to the success of your project.

Spring and summer have been popular for home improvements this year, with more than 60,000 homeowners in Britain applying to extend or convert their home during the 13 weeks of lockdown.

These homeowners added an average of 25mu00b2 to their homes, according to research carried out by Santander. Plus nearly a third (32%) said they plan to complete large-scale home improvements or renovations in the next year, up from 18% before COVID-19 struck.**

We reveal the most common reasons why costs of home improvements spiral, plus how to stop this happening to you.

Use our dedicated home improvements advice to find out how much you should budget for major home improvements including loft conversions, double glazing and refitting your kitchen or bathroom.

Why do home improvement projects go over-budget?

Costs for home improvement projects tend to get out of control for three main reasons, according to Philip Thomas, Head of Quality Assurance at Which? Trusted Traders:

  • The trader hasn't priced the job properly
  • There are hidden costs that neither you nor the trader would have known about
  • You change your mind

Our key tips will help you get an accurate quote for your home improvement project in the first place and keep costs on track throughout.

1. Be clear about what you want upfront

Make sure you are clear about what you want in your project before approaching traders to get quotes. Be as specific as you can so that traders can provide an accurate quote.

If your project requires plans to be drawn up, again make sure that these are detailed and clearly reflect your project requirements. A good plan will help traders to price accurately.

architect's drawing of a house
2. Get three quotes

It's 'vitally important' to get three quotes for any work you are planning to have done on your home, says Philip Thomas.

This will give you a sense of the going rate for your project in your area.

Ignore a very cheap quote as it may the result of a mistake or the trader may have underquoted to get the job. They may then find ways to make up the difference later, for example by asking you to pay in cash or buy materials yourself.

There's no harm in telling traders that you are getting quotes from other companies - this will show that you're doing your research and will be able to compare their price with other firms.

Use our online price guides to get an idea of how much your project could cost:

3. Make sure you get a detailed quote

Getting a detailed breakdown of the costs upfront means you can see how the different elements of your project add up to the total price, and query any unexpected costs.

A detailed quote might talk about different phases of the work (for example 'excavate'), include examples of quantities of materials to be bought, and state details and specifics. It should also include a payment schedule setting out when payments are due and how you know that you have reached that stage.

4. Use a reputable trader

Only approach responsible and reliable traders to work on your home. Never choose someone who knocks on your door out of the blue.

If you use a substandard trader and they make a mess of your project or walk away, you may end up paying double to get the job completed, or to meet their required standards. Renovations must meet Building Regulations. If they don't, then you will have to redo the project.

See Which? Trusted Traders in your local area - our tough application process means that only the best become Trusted Traders.

5. Look for ways to cut costs - but only if you're comfortable

Some traders can get better deals on appliances than you can if they're bulk-buying. This can be helpful if you're replacing your appliances as part of your fitted kitchen upgrade, for example.

Do your own pricing research to check you're getting as good a deal as you expect. Also check that you are getting the product you expect and it is coming from a legitimate source.

Project managing your home improvement yourself can help save money by hiring traders separately rather than paying one company to deliver the whole project. You'll also have oversight of the project and be able to monitor the minor details, checking everything is exactly as you want it.

Bear in mind that project-managing a major home improvement can be a significant amount of work. You will need to buy the materials and arrange traders. Poor co-ordination can cause delays and increase costs. If you buy the materials you can be liable if the product is incorrect.

Consider whether you are comfortable taking on this role or whether it's worth paying for a company to take the responsibility for you.

walking on wooden flooring
6. Protect your money

Home improvements can cost tens of thousands of pounds so it's important to make sure your money is safe in case a company or trader goes bust or the project isn't delivered.

You'll usually have to pay a deposit upfront, often this is around 25% of the total costs, though varies by type of project and company.

If the total cost of the project is between £100 and £30,000, paying for part of it by credit card means that your money is protected under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. This allows you to claim against the creditor if you have a claim for breach of contract or misrepresentation against the supplier. This is useful if the trader or supplier you chose for your home improvement stops trading.

Some companies are part of deposit protection schemes, where your deposit is secured and you can get it back if the firm goes bust. Check how much of your money is protected by this. Builders often don't offer this so you have less protection for your deposit. Some schemes, such as that provided by the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) are currently suspended so check carefully how best to protect your deposit.

If the total cost of your project is more than £30,000 then you could consider an escrow account. This is a third party account which holds funds until payment is due to the trader.

For any project, don't make full payment until the job is completed to your satisfaction. You can withhold a 'reasonable' amount until completion. The onus on you is to check that there are no problems and then make the full payment

*Online survey of 1,492 Which? Connect members in early 2018.
**Opinium research for Santander. Survey 9-11th June 2020 of 2,002 UK homeowners, and survey 7-13th February of 2,082 UK homeowners.