Should I engage an architect for my renovation?

For many Kiwis, our home is our biggest investment. Home is where dreams are dreamed, families are born and memories are created. When home renovations are on the cards, then, it's important to get them right first time – because there's a lot at stake.

counter levered house extension extending over swimming pool
ARTICLE Erin Reilly

For many, our home is our biggest investment. Home is where dreams are dreamed, families are born and memories are created. When home renovations are on the cards, then, it’s important to get them right first time – because there’s a lot at stake.
If you have never renovated before, you may be wondering where to start, who to talk to first. The language of the architect is all about creativity, not costs. The language of the trades is entirely about practical installation and does not consider design. But the renovation specialist balances the homeowners requirements of aesthetics and construction cost and communicates this to the designers, engineers, builders and sub trades.
This balancing has to go on from the initial concept and feasibility stage, through the detailed design and costing and finally throughout the construction phase. Design, cost and quality decisions are constantly being made and traded off. This is where the renovation specialist will make sure the home owners gets what they want with the best design and meeting the agreed budget.
When renovating, there are budgets to set, plans to design, building consents to get, and contractors to hire (and sometimes fire). Problems might appear out of the blue. Geo-technical experts might have to test your soil. Then there’s the building itself. Plasterers, painters and plumbers come and go at all hours of the day, and there’s a strong possibility you’re living right in the middle of it.
Fortunately, home renovations can be much more straightforward, thanks to a renovation specialist.
couple discussing house plans with renovation architect
Put simply, a renovation specialist is the one point of contact for an entire renovation, reducing overall hassle and making it easier to transform homeowners’ dreams into reality. A renovation specialist works with a homeowner from the get-go to discuss ideas, create plans, set budgets and ultimately decide if their original dream works with the money they’re willing to spend. From there, they pair each project up with the most suitable architect, designer and contractors for the job. They manage all the comings and goings on your worksite, keep an eagle-eye on your budget, then hand over the keys at the end of the project to a very happy homeowner who didn’t have to juggle managing their renovation with living their normal life.
Refresh Renovations director Chris Caiger says the most valuable benefit of any renovation specialist is that they hold the homeowner’s hand throughout the entire project.
“Renovating a home is a really complicated project, and in any large project communication is the number one issue,” he says. “You really need someone who’s the advocate of the homeowner right from the beginning.
“You’ll be surprised at how many languages are spoken on one worksite,” he says. “The renovation specialist not only speaks your language; they also speak the language of the experts onsite too. Many homeowners don’t know much about the building and renovation industries, so the renovation specialist effectively becomes their interpreter.”
architecturally designed house extension
Nicholas Leko, Refresh renovation specialist, says a renovation specialist is effectively a customer relationship manager.
“Any individual supplier generally has a huge number of issues they have to address, so it’s very easy for them to lose sight of the big picture,” he says. “The renovation specialist goes in to bat for the client from the very start of the project, offering a hassle-free renovation and an improved customer experience.”
So what does the renovation specialist offer a homeowner that another industry expert like an architect or designer can’t? One major benefit is forward planning.
“With home renovations, you’re trying to bring someone’s dreams to life,” Chris says. “From the beginning you’ve got to integrate design and feasibility. A concept plan incorporates every stage of the project into one overarching concept, and that’s where you get your first reality check – whether your dreams actually fit into your budget.
“The renovation specialist takes that concept and works out what materials will be needed and how the structure is going to work. They’ll choose an architect to develop a proper architectural plan, engineers will come in and make their calculations, builders will be consulted, and the whole project will get accurately costed.
“It’s not a free service, but you’d pay the same if you went out and got each expert to do their services independently,” he says. “The difference is that you’ve got an advocate on your side, speaking your language and guiding you through it all.”
The next step is deciding who gets their hands dirty.
“One of the biggest risk factors for DIYers is selecting an architect, designer, builder or any other expert in their field,” says Nicholas. “Refresh Renovations has a vast network of connections and suppliers. As part of our delivery, we can propose who we believe is the most suitable architect or builder, for example, for that particular homeowner based on budget, type of project, aesthetics, even personality.
wood panel cladding on home renovation
“We’re almost like a renovation matchmaker,” he laughs. “We’re very familiar with our network of experts, and we know how to match up the relevant skillset for our clients’ particular projects.”
From there, the renovation specialist puts on their project management hat. There could be 20 different sub-trades onsite at any one time, even for a small kitchen or bathroom job, so the renovation specialist liaises between them all and makes sure the right tradie is onsite at the right time. They keep everything running smoothly, and react in the interest of the homeowner if decisions need to be made quickly.
Chris warns homeowners to think twice before they jump head-first into a project without the help of a renovation specialist.
“The renovation industry is fraught with horror stories,” he says. “Everyone knows the typical stories where a project goes wildly over time and over budget, but about 40% of renovations end in a dispute, 20% of which end in a serious dispute involving litigation or arbitration. Without a renovation specialist managing the whole project, there isn’t really any way to resolve a dispute because no one’s in charge and everyone points the finger in all directions.”
“Even though renovations are often the smallest projects, they’re also the highest risk,” Nicholas adds. “Unless you involve professionals who are completely focused on renovations, it could all go pear-shaped.
“I recently read about some people who waterproofed their own shower, completely unaware that you need a building consent and a licensed waterproof contractor to undertake that work. If that was a second-storey bathroom and their work didn’t hold, the shower could’ve leaked and damaged the floor below. If they’d wanted to move on, their house would have been non-compliant so they’d have to get a professional to fix it before they could sell it.
“All of those problems could have been avoided if a renovation specialist had been involved from the beginning.”
For more information about how Refresh Renovations could help you turn your home renovation dreams into reality, minus the hassle, visit our enquiry page.

Refresh Renovations has been recognised for operating at the highest levels. Have a look at some of our awards.

*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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