There’s something about DIY culture that sits nice and ‘flush’ with us Aussies. The satisfaction of knocking up a cheap, practical no-fuss solution to a domestic problem using little more than our bare hands, a few recycled odds and ends and a lick of paint has long appealed to our resourceful nation’s ‘make-do’ attitude and ‘battler’ spirit.
Beyond our sheds and shores, the DIY phenomenon tends to peak in tough economic times, when financial constraints (or perceptions thereof) encourage us to look inwardly for domestic solutions; from a return to home-cooking and recycled fashion, and now, by extension (pardon the pun), larger-scale home improvements. And it’s all screening now in a living room near you: home improvement programs such as Better Homes and Gardens and Changing Rooms are bread-and-butter weeknight viewing for many Australians, and it comes as no surprise to me that Channel Nine’s top-rating reality show The Block has tickled, sanded and varnished our fancies since its on-air debut in 2003, and again post-hiatus revival in 2010. After all, what better way to appeal to our cultural identity by getting involved ourselves as viewers and making a cheeky competition of it?
There’s no doubt that these home improvement reality shows make for some very entertaining, if not educational viewing. The only rusty nail I can see, embedded sorely within many a layman’s thumb, is that the show’s often confidence-inspiring outcomes perpetuate more than a few unrealistic expectations about the time, money and skillsets required for a quality DIY home reno:
For those of us ordinarily one-step removed from the physical and logistical process of renovating a property, it can be difficult to comprehend just how long ‘things’ can, and should, take. As with any reality program, The Block’s timelines are sped up, giving us couch-bound carpenters a false sense of an accurate timeline required to complete a major project.
In reality, there are many obstacles to completing a project as speedily as our televised counterparts. Aforementioned ‘things’ can include the supply and delivery of materials (it’s funny how quickly those speciality fittings turn up on telly!) and something as simple and uncontrollable as weather behaving badly.
Often the contestants in these renovation challenge programs are working with a strict budget in order to fire things up a little, adding to the game. While saving on costs is always appealing and a common motivator to get your hands DIY-dirty in the first place, you want your work to last well after the camera stops rolling. According to Gumtree Australia’s Top Tradie Trends 2013 report, 75% of Australian homeowners have attempted their own repair or renovation, with one in five coming off a little worse for wear with Australians spending $380 million in tradie repairs for their bungled DIY jobs.
And the pressure we apply to ourselves to achieve so much with so little trickles down to those we enlist to help us. Qualified tradespeople now feel pressured to work at a cheaper rate, and for longer (often around-the-clock) hours.
Often the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of the televised home reno process are highlighted, when in reality there’s often a grubbier, grittier and potentially deadlier underside to renovating your home.
While certain cosmetic finishes such as DIY internal painting, kit-kitchen assembly and some plastering work are well within reach for most of us, it’s just not safe to undertake certain works yourself. Asbestos is a recurring guest-star in many Australian homes constructed before 1987, and given the dangers involved it should go without saying that any electrical or plumbing work should be carried out by a licensed professional, who should be more than happy to show you proof of their qualifications.
In the quest to achieve Logie-worthy results, a few DIY enthusiasts among us could be overcapitalising on their homes and spending money where it needn’t be spent. While it’s difficult to apply a set figure or percentage, in today’s market it’s advisable to try to only spend around 10% of your property’s current value on cosmetic (as opposed to structural) renovations.
High housing prices all-round are encouraging a certain savviness in increasingly educated buyers who are more likely (or at least encouraged) to request a pre-purchase building inspection. Any low-quality, rushed workmanship will be shown up, affecting your retail price when you go to sell.
The bigger picture:
The macro effect of these sorts of programs has proven quite significant. For young cash-strapped first home buyers and DIY hobbyists alike, the appeal of a run-down house is understandable, particularly in areas where house prices are otherwise staggeringly high. Ironically, the increasing competition on rundown properties means people are paying a higher price to purchase low quality investments. Despite any cosmetic improvements to their homes, they’d see a reduction in their profit margins when it comes time to sell. It’s advisable to consult a reputable local estate agent who can assess whether a renovation is likely to increase your home’s value in the long run.
While most of us can quite comfortably grasp that a home improvement beyond a feature wall requires an element of skill, if not a qualification, the magic of television has skewed our perception of exactly what it takes to achieve the bigger, deeper tasks. So, before you get stuck in, I recommend you chat to a reputable property advisor about how to invest in your home in a way that’s meaningful, financially viable and in a way that will provide comfort and security for you in your home now, and when you go to resell down the track.
Nicholas Morrison, Buyer’s Advocate