How to: Save the pennies and pounds

It's a big decision, but you've decided to take the plunge and upgrade your home. Perhaps it's an internal reconfiguration, or maybe a loft conversion, basement or side addition. Soon, you will realise that the figures add up and you end up quantifying daily spends with thoughts such as ‘that shop would have just bought me 16 bathroom tiles’.

As a rough estimate, builds are expected to cost around £2,000 per sqm. Let’s say, a client, living in a Victorian terrace (at about 5m wide) takes advantage of permitted development rights and plans to extend by 6m. The basic cost is therefore going to start from around £60,000. There will be VAT, charged at 20%, on top, so add another £12,000 and professional fees to consider too. Bear in mind that these costs are for a straightforward build, no expensive fittings or fixtures, or bespoke joinery included. For a double storey extension, you can look to add an additional 50% to the figures above and if things like access or trees are problematic, or additional drainage or services need to be run, you’ll need to add more still.

With all of this in mind, build costs can quickly spiral out of control so it is important you set a budget at the very start and are strict with the decisions you make along the way.

Over the years, we have picked up a few top tips from clients and professionals on how to save the pounds here and there. We thought it would be useful to share our Top 10 ideas here:

  • Check permitted development. It may be that you have a couple of feasible schemes to consider. If either meet the permitted development criteria, or can be tweaked so they fall within permitted development, you won't need to go through the planning process and you'll save money on submitting an application. Your permitted development rights can be found here:

  • Simplistic saving. Keep designs simple. Essentially, simple, rectangular footprints, with flat roofs will be cheaper to build than a design incorporating a more complex footprint and apex roof. Similarly, keeping things simple when it comes to material choice will help save money. For example, look at roof lights instead of dormer windows and consider cast concrete for sub floors and concrete blockwork for walls. If drainage and other services can be left in situ, or if part of the existing building can be incorporated in to the design, this will also make a huge saving.

  • Consider a surveyor/builder team. As London housing is so dense, there is a fair chance that someone on your road has carried out a scheme similar to the one you are considering. This provides an adequate footprint and good starting point for the design and planning process. Whilst some prefer to hire an architect from concept to completion to manage the design and build process, if pennies are to be watched, then a Chartered Surveyor and good builder will be able to work together to design your scheme and see it through planning and building regulations. This will make a saving on costly architectural fees.

  • Golden recommendations. Recommendations of good, reliable builders are valuable. Once the plans are created, ensure at least three builders (ideally five) are asked to quote - and make sure they do so on a like for like basis. The best way of doing this is to draw up a comprehensive tender, whereby builders price on each item included in the works. Such meticulous attention to detail at this point pays off and avoids 'wooly quoting', which gives companies the chance to price low to win the business and as the build progresses, add on ‘necessary extras’ that were not included in the original quote. When you meet the builders, make sure you ask them about their problem-solving skills, their team, any wider issues and ask them for specific examples; don't just stick to chat about the 'costs'. A positive, forward-thinking builder will solve you many a headache and make the building process much easier down the line.

  • Get friendly. We talk about this more in our party wall blog: but essentially, if you can get your neighbours on side, then there is less chance of them dissenting to any works. If this can be avoided, this can save thousands.

  • Go 'off the shelf'. We have had clients that have spent in excess of £50,000 on a kitchen, and those that have ordered from a high street brand for around £10,000. Again, some clients have spent a small fortune on windows and others have chosen Velux and saved hundreds. If money is tight, there really are some excellent 'economy' options out there.

  • Go bargain hunting. Sites like Freecycle are super for finding bargains, from fireplaces, bricks and tiles, to appliances and furniture. We have had clients that have sourced ex-display kitchens and bathrooms for a fraction of the price with a bit of clever hunting. The added bonus of buying second-hand goodies from individuals is that you won't be paying the VAT that would usually be incurred from retailers.

  • Become 'trade'. By setting yourself up with a trade account at a local builder's merchant you will save on materials for the build, typically in the region of 20%. Buying in bulk is best and free delivery is also often included. Don’t be afraid to haggle and paying in cash will also help negotiations, just make sure you keep any receipts!

  • Save on 'waste'. The hire of skips is one of the costs that often surprises our clients -companies can charge in the region of £600 per skip per week! Therefore, any measures you can take to reduce waste will make a real difference to the overall spend. If possible, incorporate what you have already (i.e. could you remove a chimney stack but retain the chimney breast internally) and look at taking some of the rubbish to the tip yourself . Be aware though that construction waste is not accepted in a van, so it may mean quite a few car loads!

  • Muck in. If you are hands on, then do bear in mind that labour costs are often charged in the region of 15-20% of a builder's quote. It may be worth discussing with your builder if there are any areas that you can help out with, or even the possibility of project managing a build yourself. Just do be aware that being the 'foreman' can be a full time job so please consider the time commitment before taking this on.

Bearing these ten top tips in mind, you are well prepared to go ahead and save some pennies and pounds. Perhaps those pendant light fittings may just fit within budget after all…