Do you live in a strata building? There are so many perks – it’s super convenient, more affordable than owning a house, and the building’s management takes care of day-to-day maintenance. What’s not to love?
Well, one potential downside is that you can’t do as you please when it comes to renovating. You’ll often need to obtain strata approval before you can do any upgrades, as, unlike with a freestanding home, work done in a strata building will have an effect on the neighbouring units. Your kitchen renovation upstairs could create havoc in terms of noise and vibrations for the residents below, or the tile flooring you install could echo loudly in their home – which is why your upgrades will be subject to the regulations of the body corporate and the approval of the owners corporation.
Cosmetic renovations are generally fairly straightforward and can be undertaken without requiring external approval since they only affect the inside of the property. However, it’s a good idea to approach the strata committee with your plans, as there may be rules dictating the materials you can use (eg flooring).
The biggest roadblocks arise when unit owners want to do work that will affect the exterior and/or structure of the property, including processes like waterproofing. This will require a formal request to the owners corporation, which necessitates a well-thought-out proposal that considers the project timeline and plans.
That said, while renovating a strata property requires very thorough planning, it is worth it in the end, as it’s possible to add significant value and appeal with a few strategic moves.
Step one: Get the commitee on side
Your fi rst step is to seek approval. “To undertake minor renovations, you usually have to apply to the owners corporation and receive approval of at least 50% by general resolution. Obtaining approval for major renovations will typically require a 75% owners corporation vote,” explains property renovations expert Naomi Findlay.
“Before you make your pitch, make sure you have an outline of your renovation time frame, info about what type of renovation you want to carry out and what contractors you intend to hire. Go in unprepared, and you may not get the answer you were looking for.”
The more concrete plans you have, the greater your chances of getting a positive response.
If you do get rejected, don’t despair – ask for detailed feedback, and work on refi ning your proposal. Maybe there are some parts of the project you can afford to let go of, or areas of the project that you can refi ne to fi t the owners corporation’s regulations? By staying professional and maintaining a good relationship with the committee, you increase your chances of getting approval in the future – and showing understanding and respect towards your neighbours never goes astray!
Step two: Categorise your project
Cosmetic work? Minor renovations? Or major renovations? These are the three categories of strata scheme renovations (as outlined by NSW Fair Trading), and you need to do your research in order to be clear about which category your project falls into before you begin. This is true regardless of your state or territory, as they each have similar guidelines.
“If you think your renovation is only a cosmetic one and it’s actually in the major category, you might fi nd yourself ordered to undo everything – and it won’t be cheap,” Findlay says.
Consult with experts to determine what the typical boundaries are of each type of strata scheme renovation so that you have an idea from the outset of what you should or shouldn’t take to the owners corporation. You may even be able to ask the corporation about previous renovations they have approved; it will give you an idea of their previous track record and may even give you inspiration for your own upgrade.
Step three: Opt for a facelift
If in doubt, keep it super simple, as “you can do plenty of cosmetic renovations to your strata property without needing approval”, Findlay says.
“These include banging in nails and screws, installing handrails, filling in holes and repainting the interior walls, as these activities don’t affect the common property or create significant noise disturbance. So if all your property needs is a light sprucing up, you’re golden!”
Findlay adds that “in some instances your owners corporation can pass a bylaw that allows you to do a little more and still be defined as ‘cosmetic’ – you’ve got nothing to lose by asking!”
Even if you don’t need to ask for 75% approval from the owners corporation, it’s wise to remain respectful of those who could be affected by your minor renovation. That means keeping the loud banging in your unit to a minimum and limiting the debris that will end up going into the common area. If you’ve hired somebody to do the work, keep watch over them to ensure that they do what they’re supposed to in a timely manner without affecting others.
Step four: Focus on the kitchen
When it comes to adding value – both to the underlying asset and to the property’s rental income potential after the uplift – the kitchen is where it’s at.
“Kitchen renovations can be one of the biggest projects you ever undertake, but revamping this room will probably still fall into the ‘minor’ category in terms of strata properties,” Findlay says.
“Your minor reno can include things like changing recessed light fittings, replacing hard floors, and can even allow you to change the actual internal walls. So it’s totally viable to plan a kitchen reno into your project.”
Look at how you can turn a major renovation into a cosmetic one. For instance, if you were planning a complete kitchen overhaul, is there a way to remove and replace the cupboards and add a new benchtop instead of doing a wholesale knockdown? This will save you money and achieve the look and appeal of a brand-new kitchen, without the approval headaches
Step five: Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Will your renovation involve structural changes, waterproofing, or the need for wider council approval? If so, it will fall into the ‘major’ renovations category.
“These are things that might affect how your apartment looks from the outside and can include your external doors, walls and balconies. Getting the go-ahead for this type of work is a little more tricky,” Findlay says.
“Make sure you give the strata committee 14 days’ written notice to check over your plans, and then there will be another vote that requires a 75% nod of approval.”
It may take some time, but going through the proper channels will save you a lot of trouble at the back end!
There are some instances where a major renovation is actually contained within a minor renovation, such as kitchen renovations in which waterproofing a wall is part of the process. In such cases, it’s best to iron out the finer details with the owners corporation to ensure that there’s no misinterpretation of the type of approval or resolution you will need.
Step six: Talk to your insurer
Owning a strata-titled property doesn’t mean that you will automatically be covered by standard building insurance for any mishaps that happen during your renovation.
“If disaster strikes, you really don’t want to be thousands of dollars out of pocket, right?” Findlay says.
“Not only do you need insurance but you’ll need to notify your insurer of your renovation plans or your policy may become void – and then if something goes wrong during the renovation, you won’t be able to claim. It’s best to check with your insurance provider before you pick up the tools. That way you can kick off your reno project with the peace of mind that any catastrophes will be covered.”
Your insurance policy can be voided if the property is vacated for a period of time, so if you’re renovating an important room like the kitchen or bathroom and you or your tenants plan to move out while that’s being done, you may need to speak to your insurance provider. Moreover, once you’re done with the renovation, your home and contents policy should factor in the increased value of your property so it won’t be underinsured.
Step seven: Check your contractor’s insurance
It’s not just your personal insurance that’s important – you also should not make the mistake of assuming that all of your contractors are going to be covered for strata renovations.
“What they need is more like public liability insurance,” Findlay explains. This works by allowing a third party to collect on damages su ered to the property or to the persons as a result of the contractor’s work.
“Ask to see their up-to-date certifi cate of currency, because accidents can happen, and if someone from your building makes a claim, it could be you footing the bill.”
Timing is important when it comes to insurance coverage for a renovation. For instance, unit owners may not be covered if there hasn’t been any reno work done in 30 consecutive days. The builder’s insurance may not cover this situation either. Nature can also be a factor that affects whether your work gets done in an acceptable time period. Try to schedule the renovation for a dry season so that nothing gets interrupted.
Step eight: Get friendly with the neighbours
Much confl ict in apartment buildings results from neighbours sniping at each other over renovations, which can delay the process if any serious objections are made.
“I highly recommend you befriend your neighbours before you start your renovations,” Findlay says. “It’s really important to be on side with your neighbours when you’re renovating and to let them know you’re planning to do some work. They’ll more than likely understand the need to update your property and will be less likely to put up a barrier in the owners corporation meeting.”
By cultivating a positive relationship with other people in the building, you’ll foster a better connection all round, while boosting the chances of your project being approved.
If your reno has strewn debris all over the common areas, or the process is getting noisy, take the initiative and apologise to your neighbours and clean up after yourself. This shows you are conscientious about the welfare of the building as a whole, and will help encourage friendliness with fellow unit owners. The owners corp will also be more likely to permit any future renovations if you have a good track record.
Naomi Findlay entered a joint venture for this project, which saw a tired old apartment rejuvenated to its former glory
Naomi Findlay collaborated with a project partner in a joint venture agreement when taking on this apartment upgrade, which aimed to uplift the property’s look and appeal, with an end goal of adding value.
With an apartment you don’t have too many opportunities to create a wow factor, so it was all about making the kitchen as beautiful as it could be, Findlay says.
The previous kitchen was boxed in and had hardly any natural light. Complete with peach-coloured tiles and green cupboards, it was in desperate need of an upgrade.
Findlay’s approach was to completely rework the space by knocking out a wall and reconfiguring the layout as a modern galley kitchen with an island benchtop. The end result is nothing short of spectacular.
“The entire upgrade of the whole property took around 10 weeks, with the phenomenal kitchen renovation only costing around $7,000,” Findlay says.
While Findlay and her partner took all the necessary steps to ensure there were no hitches in the approval process prior to the commencement of the renovation, there were some stumbling blocks with the renovation itself, as it was completed during an active storm season, which set back timelines on poor weather days.
“There were also some struggles with the previous owner’s DIY renovation mistakes, which included electrical work,” Findlay says.
“Part of the renovation involved rectifying these mistakes to ensure it met both legal and safety standards.”
Regardless of the road bumps, the overall transformation of this strata-titled property was stunning.
“My biggest piece of advice for any renovation, but especially one needing strata approval, is to plan ahead,” she says.
“Decide what you want to do in your renovation, and then make yourself aware of the approval process so you can meet all the conditions and breeze through this initial part of your project.
“Elements like the weather can be a little harder to control, and so it helps to be responsive to the conditions so that they don’t impede you too much. Timelines can always be reconfigured. You can’t control everything, but you can be prepared and reactive.”
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