Reno Q&A with Cherie Barber

By
15/05/2015


Every month, leading reno expert Cherie Barber answers your questions on renovations. This month she tackles questions on how to find good tradies, choosing a custom-built kitchen or flatpack, and whether blinds or curtains are best when window dressing your rental property

HOW DO I QUICKLY TELL IF A TRADIE WILL DO A GOOD JOB?
Question:I’m about to embark on a major kitchen reno for the first time and I want to make sure I do it right. How could you tell if a tradie would do a good job? How can I protect myself (ie recoup my cost if the tradie ends up doing a shoddy job)?

Answer:In short, you’d need a crystal ball to know for sure that a tradie you’ve never used before will do a good job. That said, there are many basic checks you can do that will greatly increase your chances of finding a reliable, skilled and honest tradie. There are also insurances and warranties to cover you should something go wrong or you feel the workmanship is not up to scratch.

First up, if you’re about to embark on a major kitchen reno, check if the work will be covered by your tradies’ home warranty insurance. This insurance protects you from shoddy workmanship or if the builder goes broke. It’s the amount you’re spending that will trigger the requirement for insurance. In NSW, for example, “home warranty insurance is required to be obtained where the contract price is over $20,000 or, if the contract price is not known, the reasonable market cost of the labour and materials involved is over $20,000”. In Victoria, the threshold is $12,000. 

In Queensland, the threshold is just $3,300, so you need to check what applies in your state. And remember that it is the tradesperson (which in this case might be the kitchen supplier/installer, if the company is project managing the whole reno for you) or builder who has the responsibility to take out the insurance, not you. To find a good tradie, get recommendations from your network of friends, family, neighbours and colleagues. 

Even if your builder comes recommended, always ask if you can speak to their very last client. If all is well, there should be no issue with this. Make sure you get at least three quotes for any job. And for any tradie you’re hiring for any project, big or small, always do a basic check of their licence on this government website: licencerecognition.gov.au/authorities.aspx. The licence they have needs to be specific to the actual work they’re doing for you. Tick all these boxes and you may not need that crystal ball after all.

CUSTOM BUILD OR KIT?
Question:What are the pros and cons of using a custom built kitchen versus installing a kit? For a rental property, what would you recommend?

Answer:The biggest difference is price. You’ll always pay more for something custom built, as it has to be made up specifically for you. Getting something off the standard production line always works out cheaper, whether it’s windows, benchtops, doors or kitchen cabinets. They generally come in standard sizes, and you choose according to your allocated space. 

Unless your rental property is an upmarket high-value home, I would recommend a kit – otherwise known as flat-pack – kitchen. You might even find something that suits at the likes of Bunnings or IKEA. 

Choose hard-wearing finishes that stand up to the rigours of renting and neutral colours that won’t date. Kitchens aren’t cheap, so you want something that will last at least 10 years without dating. There are some terrific laminates on the market these days, so you have a lot to choose from that won’t break the bank. You might even consider a kitchen bought from an auction site like GraysOnline. 

I’ve found some great bargains online (either showroom stock or virtually brand new kitchens people don’t want) and simply had my carpenter chop and change them around to fit the space I’m working to. 

With the benchtops, you could either stick with laminate or spend a bit more for one of the stone composite benchtops like Caesarstone or Quantum Stone that look fantastic but can be pricey.

WINDOW DRESSING
Question:What’s a better way to dress up a window for a rental property: blinds or curtains? When should you opt for one against the other?

Answer:I have to admit I’m a fan of blinds. They’re modern, cheap, low-maintenance and come in every kind of look and finish. And you can generally find an off-the-shelf option to suit most window sizes. In really cold climates, a quality curtain probably provides superior insulation, but on the downside, it absorbs smells and dust and needs to be taken down and washed every so often. For most of my renovations, I choose slim micro-venetians from Bunnings that look good and offer good value for money.

The Expert
Cherie Barber is the director of Renovating For Profit.

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