Leading reno expert Cherie Barber takes the spotlight to answer some questions about renovations

Question: When you first started renovating, what were the biggest surprises, pleasant or otherwise, that you encountered?

Answer: My first professional renovation was around 15 years ago – I was so green back then! I lacked confidence and, as a female operating in a bloke’s world, I was really unsure about how to ‘mix’ with tradies and speak their language. I felt like a stranger on my own building sites. And I definitely overpaid for materials and got ripped off by tradies. I’d just accept a quote was fair enough and not shop around to compare prices.

And I got a slap over the knuckles in my first year with council, because I really wasn’t across all the rules and regulations when I erected a small deck without the proper consent.

It was also really hard to know the correct order in which to do things – what should be ripped out when, which trades to get in first, that kind of thing. It was a steep learning curve, and I’d say it took about three years of solid renovating to really work it all out, by myself, so I wasn’t making mistakes that could cost me lost profit.

Question: If you had to do it all over again, what part of your strategy would you change, if any? Why?

Answer: I would have educated myself a whole lot sooner! I’ve always said I’ve never lost money on a renovation, but I’d have to concede I wasted money in those early years through overpaying for things, and losing valuable time because I was trying to wing it.

You just can’t afford to do that. If I knew everything I know now about buying properties and renovating, my profits would have been a lot bigger. I’d say 90% of my knowledge was acquired through on-the-job learning – and that’s an expensive way to learn, when it’s your own project. My advice to anyone starting out would be to get some formal training before you start – through a course or workshop, such as mine – and learn what you need to know, up front, so you can avoid costly mistakes.

Question: What tools can’t you do without? Why?

Answer: My project plan, my measuring tape – and my sense of humour! No matter how experienced you are, not everything always goes to plan. The important thing is to keep your cool, so you stay in control of the situation and get things back on track as quickly as you can. When dealing with tradies, I’m always open and honest in my communication. These days, I’m very comfortable interacting with ‘‘my boys”. Getting frustrated and angry when something goes wrong only makes the situation worse. Focus on solutions – getting overly caught up in who or what is to blame only wastes time.

Question: What’s the biggest misconception about renovating to make big profit?

Answer: That people think they can wing their way through the renovation process. Watching the renovation TV shows doesn’t give the correct reality of how things should be done and realistic timeframes. There are a lot of steps in the renovation process that people are totally unaware of. The three Cs are: time control, cost control and quality control.

The other misconception is that doing all the work yourself (DIY) saves money. It’s often a far more effective use of your time and money to hire professionals who know what they’re doing. That leaves you free to focus on running the renovation, and making sure it comes in on time and on budget.

Question: What’s your dream reno project and why?

Answer: To buy a whole apartment block and renovate it as one project. In fact, I’d love to compete on The Block, but only go head to head with the country’s top professional renovators. We’d have an entire apartment block each to renovate (not just one apartment) in only four weeks! I’ve actually bid on a couple of apartment blocks over the years, but the price has never been right.

I wouldn’t fit out each apartment differently; they’d all have my ‘cookie cutter’ fittings, fixtures and colours. It’s the production line mentality that makes money in renovating. If you stick to a classic look, rather than slavishly following the latest trends, then your property shouldn’t date. I always say, I’m not interested in winning design awards. I’m in the renovation game to make money.

Cherie Barber is the director of Renovating For Profit,

a company that teaches everyday people how to

buy and sell/rent old properties for a profit.