Surviving the trauma of renovation

Justin Brown emerges from the dark tunnel of renovation, more or less unscathed

Renovating a house is no different to having kids. 

The process can be painful, even traumatising, but at least there's a treat at the end.

There are four in our family - myself, my wife Amy, and our two young daughters. When we began the four month rebuild, we decided to live in the house for the first five weeks. During the third week a foot came through the kitchen roof and it wasn’t one of ours.

We got the message.

We moved on from two architects before we found one we liked. The first wanted to put a bathroom by the front door, which would be just charming should your friends stroll in for a morning coffee seconds after you’ve been on the can. The second architect must have bought a dud keyboard because the poor soul added far too many zeroes to the number.

Builders and tradies see you at your absolute worst. If they’re reliable, they’ll arrive before you’ve taken your morning leak. Problem is, you often answer the door in nothing more than your sleepwalking attire. Amy’s solution was to get up even earlier, get dressed, make coffee and be extra nice. My daughter thought her mum had the hots for the builder.

Be prepared to make 99 decisions on the fly. This may not come easy, but be assured, this is not child’s play, this is your home. Make a mistake at work and you may receive a surly email. Get the wrong height for your laundry cupboard and the decision will haunt you for eternity.

The last 10 percent of our renovation was hell, a tsunami of bills, eczema and grey hairs. Even the most ardent fan of such trauma will bore themselves with talk of tile colours, door handles and floor stains. Your new default setting is Super Stressed, but you’ll get used to it. It’s a little like being hungover and having altitude sickness 24/7.

"Costs do not have to balloon, but watch every cent."

Bills arrive in a flood reminiscent of a bulging Hunua Falls. It’s very likely you will write cheques for ‘twenty thousand dollars.’ (I am fully aware that numbers smaller than 10 should be written, while larger numbers should be expressed in figures, but this rule does not apply to renovation numbers, because renovation numbers can hurt and maim and end perfectly happy lives.)

Common questions during a renovation. Haven’t we paid for that? What’s a soak pit? Another skip bin? Do you think the concrete will arrive before Christmas 2019? The basin - it’s gone to the tip, how was I supposed to know it was brand new? Are you really seeing the builder?

During all of this your house is still a shell, a hurricane swept husk. Which is on point, because the backyard, littered with corrugated iron, leftover wood cuts and bricks, also looks like the BFG threw a party in it.

Like many Kiwis, for us renovating meant avoiding paying ridiculous amounts for the next unattainable property. Naively I went the TradeMe route. I sold blinds, a shower, a kitchen and our much needed oil heaters - at the beginning of winter. Then there was the old toilet, which sat in the TV room for five months before the proud owner showed up. Next, a man named Henry arrived in a sedan the size of a go-cart to collect a trailer-load of rocks. Perhaps I’d like to help move the boulders across town? Dollar reserve, Henry, delivery not included.

Peace at last - Justin Brown's slice of heaven

What we learnt: costs do not have to balloon, but watch every cent. Ours was perhaps 15 percent over budget. Bed sheets make superb makeshift curtains. People put their kebab wrappers in your skip bin just as you do to theirs. And without knowing it, you will slowly turn into your parents.

But the treat, ah, the treat. Once the noise stops and the builders evacuate you have your very own Taj Mahal. A bespoke pad. Your to-do list shrinks. Take great delight in unsubscribing from real estate agents. Enjoy a celebratory mojito and those sparkling floors.

But be prepared, for just as you begin to relax you might feel the itch to do it all over.

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