From raiding dumpsters and stalking online markets, to calling favors and even copying neighbors, resourceful homeowners save a bundle on their renovations.
With a growing family, Mark O’Connor and his wife Niamh sold their Ashtown duplex in August 2020, buying a three-bed semi-flat in Glasnevin that needed updating.
“We wanted to build a rear extension and renovate the existing house as soon as possible,” says O’Connor. With a toddler and baby in tow, speed was key. With a budget of €120,000, the house had to be redone, redone, insulated and completely redecorated.
The 1950s house had a cold BER E2, and so, curious about government renovation grants, O’Connor requested a quote for the renovation, renovation and extension from a ‘one-stop-shop’ supplier. “.
“One quote was €235,000 plus VAT and didn’t include a new kitchen or paint job,” he says. It was way over the family’s budget and included things they deemed unnecessary.
“We weren’t going to be able to just hand over the keys to someone and leave, we didn’t have the budget for that and we probably didn’t need to either.”
In the end, they went with a builder who had done work on a similar house nearby. “He came up with pictures of what he had done basically on the same house, a road away,” O’Connor says. He contacted these neighbors who were happy with the result.
By using their plan, they saved on design costs.
“We had already hired an architect to design our extension, but the plan presented by the builder suited our needs and budget better,” says O’Connor. Pleased for O’Connor to arrange the electrical, plumbing, glazing and painting work himself, the builder began work in May 2021.
O’Connor had already gotten ahead with the windows. “I thought to myself, what can we do before construction? What can we do that isn’t really related to anything else? The windows at the front of the house were fitted in February with amenities for the insulation of the interior walls that would follow.
Twigging that the house across the road was unoccupied, O’Connor approached the owner with a request to rent it for three months. “It meant we didn’t have to rent storage space for our furniture, we just transported it across the road,” he says. Moving on a Sunday, O’Connor and his brother spent the three days before the builder arrived.
“We demolished the old kitchen and cupboards so that when the builder came he could start right away. It didn’t save any money, but in terms of timing, he was able to get a head start. We were paying €2,000 in rent per month, so I did everything I personally could to speed things up.
Working from home meant O’Connor could keep tabs on things and was ready to make decisions.
“Before, I would have been gone at 7 a.m. before the builder arrived and decisions had to be made over the phone, which certainly helped.”
He liked to intervene.
“If they were two tiles missing, I could fly out and pick them up on my lunch break. I liked doing that to be honest with you.
He was also responsible for ordering the interior doors and sanitary facilities.
For the kitchen, he obtained three quotes, the most expensive of which was €33,000, excluding household appliances.
“We ended up spending £21,000 on the kitchen, appliances and worktop,” he explains, which included discounted white goods. As the couple splashed out on new sofas, having the house painted was a big deal. “My brother is a painter, he owed me money years ago, so he burned that money painting the gaffe,” O’Connor says.
The couple returned in mid-August 2021, only two weeks late. The total cost was €190,000 including VAT. The work included a 35 sq ft rear extension with kitchen and underfloor heating, new radiators and new extended family bathroom upstairs, loft insulation, patio and new doors and floors throughout . Based on contacts, neighbors, partner rates, finding bargains and a bit of elbow grease, O’Connor believes the couple saved around £70,000.
“I can see people getting discouraged because they’re getting massive quotes that are way over budget,” O’Connor says. He believes in the power of neighbors with similar homes sharing information.
“I would like to tell them, come to our house, see what we have done. We have done all the research.
Doing things your way can also be satisfying.
Tina de Faoite bought a period red brick house in Glasnevin in 2008 with her brother Joe Whyte. Built in 1923, they knew the three-bed tractor-trailer would eventually need some work. Bought at the height of the boom, they lived there for a while before moving. After a decade of renting, they decided to reassess things around 2019.
“Do we sell it and get rid of it and cut our losses, or do we see how bad it really is and what kind of work is needed?”
They loved the area, but if de Faoite were to live there with her daughter, the house would need to be renovated. A school mom friend who is an architect was called in to take a look. She advised de Faoite to hang on to it. That Joe was a plasterer by trade would help.
Two years and a pandemic later, the renovation of the house is underway, but the long road has been satisfying and profitable.
“We still haven’t finished because we’re doing it at our own pace, literally using our monthly salaries. We haven’t borrowed or anything,” says de Faoite. Replacing single-glazed windows has been their Biggest expense After researching quotes, she made further savings by opting for sash windows in the front and a simpler style in the back.
The plastering was going to be the big job. The walls are made of “Dublin rubble”, says de Faoite, and external cracks have led to water and damp infiltration. With job sites closed during the pandemic, Joe was happy to stay busy doing individual plastering work on the house. The internal insulation panels were all salvaged or purchased second hand.
“My brother is like an advertising professional at this point, it’s like his hobby,” says de Faoite. “Some people have Netflix and he has that. Even if he wasn’t the highest bidder or was late for something, he would say, ‘Look, I have a van, I’ll be there in a few minutes.’
Spotting the renovations while driving, he approached the builder for the scraps. “These builders just want to get rid of stuff and he could get a bunch of boards for nothing.”
The ground floor floor joists, riddled with woodworm, also had to go. “We salvaged joists from different construction sites, we didn’t buy anything. These were things that all went into dumpsters that other people took out of their homes. There was nothing wrong with them,” de Faoite said. The stair pins were purchased online for €50.
“Otherwise these things go to the landfill and I think it’s such a waste.”
With a day job in finance, de Faoite was aware of rising costs after Brexit. When hiring a plumber, she insisted that materials be purchased before customs regulations changed. “I’m glad I did, because I saved a lot by buying things up front. It’s just about being aware of what’s going on and trying to hedge your bets.
The new boiler was installed by a retired local craftsman. “Its price was much lower than any other we had quotes for,” says de Faoite. “I intentionally try to find people who are retired and want to work part-time – you might find someone who is out of the game but happy to do something where they’re not under pressure for a big job. “, she says.
The tiling, carpentry and electrical work were done by barter with his brother’s friends. “Joe works for his trader friends and in return they give me their time for free,” says de Faoite. “Each of them had a key so they could just drop in and work on it at their own pace. There’s no foreman on site saying you have to be there at a certain time. Everyone was just digging.
The meandering pace of the project relieved the pressure, says de Faoite. Not having a strict deadline also made buying decisions easier. She enjoyed smothering the bargains in the process. She found an almost new suite of furniture online for €650, the same thing is now selling for €2,000 with a waiting period of several months. She bought a second-hand, but never used, bed for a quarter of the price.
“There is a lot of value to be had. It goes to the economy and does not waste everything that is already done. Time is money.
“The tiles I got at a sale. It was 40% off, I just waited.
A refrigerator for which she had paid a deposit last year had doubled in price. “I said, ‘no, you can keep it. I’ll just take something else instead’. I’ll look for something online and even compromise and get something that will make the affair.
A downside to taking such a long-term approach, however, is the cost of rent.
“I often thought about the economy and would it have been better to bring in a team and do everything? But I just know that it would have cost and they wouldn’t have been able to set a price they could afford, and where would they even get the materials? ” she says.
Going this route, the cost was about a quarter of what it could have been, she estimates.
De Faoite hopes she and her daughter will move in by July.
“Once the shower is in place, I will be there, but it depends on when the plumber comes back to finish it. And the tiler wants us to buy his dinner: “Give me my dinner and we’ll be square.” It was very relaxed. It was not a stressful project. Can’t wait to go back, we love the area, we have a fabulous back garden so hope the sun comes out and we can enjoy it.”