May 29, 2024

KMCKrell

Taste the Home & Environment

5 bathroom renovation rip-offs and how to avoid them


When done with proper planning and expertise, a bathroom renovation can be an excellent investment, with returns of $4 for every $1 spent added to the value of your home. More importantly, it can make a huge difference to your enjoyment of your home while you’re living in it.

But make the wrong call or fall into a renovation trap and your budget could spiral out of control, while you end up with a bathroom that adds no value to your property at all.

Here are five potential bathroom renovation traps to watch out for.



Trap 1: Spending too much – or not enough

How much you spend on your bathroom renovation will vary depending on your individual needs, the overall value of the property, the style of your home and the bathroom space.

In a family home there’s more demand on bathrooms, so they need a more practical design than, say, a bathroom for a retired couple in a small, one-bedroom apartment.

The style of your home will also be a factor in what you do to update your bathroom. Perhaps investing in a more opulent bathroom may be necessary to complement a home’s luxe appeal.

“It’s a very tricky balance between what you can afford and what you really want. And generally there will be compromises to be made to get the best solution,” says Kylie Mitchell, spokesperson for the Building Designers Association of Australia (BDAA) and award-winning building designer. 

If you really want a bathroom feature, then by all means get it. But if the budget is tight then try and offset the costs of the feature by using more generic items elsewhere…

Kylie Mitchell, Building Designers Association of Australia

Ultimately, she says, it comes down to how much you can afford. “If you really want a bathroom feature, then by all means get it. But if the budget is tight then try and offset the costs of the feature by using more generic items elsewhere, for example [getting] a feature freestanding bath but using a more standard range of tiles.”

She says it’s also essential to work out how important the bathroom is to you. 

“If your family uses it in a purely functional way then you should probably consider a more sturdy and economical design,” she says. “[But] if your bathroom is a haven you spend a lot of time in, then you would be more inclined to add in some special features and spend some more money on it.” 

However, while overcapitalising is a mistake, it’s just as important not to under-capitalise, which has the potential to devalue your property in the eyes of potential buyers.




Trap 2: Doing a full renovation when a cosmetic one would do

Renovation expert Cherie Barber says in her book Renovating for Profit that it’s a common renovator mistake to rip out and replace a perfectly good bathroom, when a new look could have been achieved with just a few cosmetic changes.

“There are lots of hideous bathrooms out there with wild and wacky tiles but, once you take a closer look, you’ll see that structurally you might have one in great condition,” she says.

A retrofit is often a great option for a bathroom, especially when the budget is tight

Kylie Mitchell, Building Designers Association of Australia

A major renovation may require changing the layout of your plumbing, which is costly and time-consuming. But a design that uses existing plumbing, where you might just replace the vanity, tapware and wall tiles, can potentially save you thousands of dollars.

“A retrofit is often a great option for a bathroom, especially when the budget is tight. Installing a new bath, shower and vanity, painting the walls a different colour and adding some new towels can make the space feel like it’s in a resort. And it’s a much cheaper way to go,” Mitchell says. 

“Once you start moving things around and changing plumbing configuration then the costs automatically start going up.”


A dated bathroom doesn’t always need a major re-haul – you might only need to replace the tiles and fittings.





A dated bathroom doesn’t always need a major overhaul – you might only need to replace the tiles and fittings.

But a word of caution – any cosmetic work that affects the floor may cost you more than you bargained for.

“Because the waterproofing can and will be damaged when things start to move around, then you move into needing specialist trades,” Mitchell explains. “This can also happen when changing tiles. Anything that will damage a wall or floor needs to be spoken about with trusted professional trades in order to get the best advice.” 

Mitchell says her advice is to always have a good look at what you already have before setting yourself a Grand Designs project. “You may be surprised by what can be achieved in the space you already have,” she says.




Trap 3: Contracting dodgy tradespeople

Although you may want to save money wherever possible on a bathroom renovation, there are some things that should not be scrimped on. And one of those things, according to Mitchell, is the people doing the work.

“We have all had that experience! And they are out there,” she says of dodgy tradespeople.

Select tradies who are licensed, insured and experienced in renovating bathrooms. Plumbing and electrical works should be done by specialised professionals.

You can choose to coordinate those tradespeople yourself to save money, or you can pay to have a specialised company or builder project manage them for you – but if you go down this path, make sure your project manager is experienced in bathroom renovations and connected with experienced and high-quality tradespeople.

Check with your state, territory or local government authority that your chosen tradespeople have a current licence.

A word about waterproofing

Getting a fully qualified waterproofer to install your bathroom waterproof membrane is absolutely essential to ensure it’s done correctly – waterproofing tops the list of the most common building defects in every state and territory in Australia, according to the Master Builders Association of NSW. 

Waterproofing requirements vary state by state, so it’s important to check what’s required for your renovation. Depending on the circumstance waterproofers may need to have a licence, or certification of the job might be required.

“The best way is to seek referrals from people you know and trust and only work with trades and professionals that have good reputations,” she says. “This is especially important when dealing with wet areas. Because waterproofing and plumbing can be so detrimental when they go wrong – even damaging the structure of the building itself.

“It’s vital to make sure the people you are working with are qualified for the job,” Mitchell says.




Trap 4: Choosing trendy over functional

Choosing a bathroom style is one of the fun parts of a bathroom renovation, but Mitchell says it’s important to keep a few things in mind. 

“What is the current style of the house? Are you planning on renovating the rest of the house? Are you constrained by anything such as a heritage order or overlay? And also, how do you use your bathroom?” she asks. 

“All of these answers will start to steer you in the direction you can take to create the right bathroom for the house,” she says.

Your choice in bathroom style should be dictated by the style of the home itself, and remain consistent with that

Bathroom styles and trends come and go, so it’s important to select a style that will age reasonably well, with an emphasis on functionality. Your choice in bathroom style should be dictated by the style of the home itself, and remain consistent with that. 

“Another important question I always ask my clients is are you planning on selling in the next few years or is this your forever home? If you want to sell fairly quickly then keep that bathroom in keeping with the rest of the house so it isn’t jarring to the potential purchaser. 

“But if it’s for a forever home then I’m much more likely to embrace my client’s enthusiasm for a certain trend or style, because if they aren’t selling or moving for 10 years or more then any new owners at that time will renovate it anyway.”


in built spa bath in bathroon

A spa bath may add an element of luxury to your bathroom but it can also prove expensive to purchase, run and maintain.





Styles and trends that cost

A major cost in a bathroom renovation comes down to style and subsequent fittings, which is why it’s important to do your research to ensure you’re getting the best price on what you want: 

  • If a desired brand or item is out of your price range, seek out similar alternatives to achieve the same look at a fraction of the cost. 
  • If you’re looking at buying imported fittings, make sure they comply with Australian standards.
  • Steer away from trends that will date or become technologically redundant relatively quickly. 

While a jacuzzi or spa bath may add an element of luxury to your bathroom, it can also prove expensive to purchase, to run and may require ongoing maintenance. 

Additionally, adding novel high-tech gadgets, such as smart toilets, will require specialised servicing and the lifespan of the product may be limited by its technology.

High-tech gadgets, such as smart toilets, will require specialised servicing and the lifespan of the product may be limited by its technology

Unless you expect to live in your home for a decade or more before selling, intend to use these bathroom items regularly and are prepared to foot any ongoing maintenance costs, consider spending your renovation budget elsewhere.

That’s not to say trends should be avoided entirely; depending on your project and the style of your home, energy-efficient smart lights or a programmable thermostat, for example, can be a significant drawcard for environmentally and financially conscious buyers and prove a worthy investment.


Try before you buy

Mitchell says if you are considering an investment in a bathroom trend, it’s a good idea to try before you buy. 

“Some bathroom styles may look good in magazines but not suit your lifestyle at all, and the wetroom-style bathroom [for example] is one of those. You either love them or hate them once you’ve lived with it,” she says. 

“I normally recommend people wanting one of these to spend a few days in a bed and breakfast or hotel that has one to see how it works for them. A few hundred dollars spent this way can save you thousands if the style doesn’t suit you.” 




Trap 5: Doing it all yourself

So, you don’t have trade qualifications, but you’re feeling confident enough to tackle your bathroom renovation on your own?

For cosmetic renovations, such as replacing wall tiles and grout, building storage shelves or painting, DIY is possible. But renovations become more complicated when plumbing, electrical and waterproofing work is involved, and these require skilled and experienced tradespeople.

“If you are an experienced tradesperson or have someone close who is, then by all means take advantage of that and save some money. Just make sure that you get the correct approvals and the specialist skills where you need them, like the waterproofing,” Mitchell says.


woman doing DIY bathroom

Installing your own wiring and plumbing without a licence is illegal and can be dangerous.





“But if you don’t have that magic combination of skills and friends then I’d think twice about going it alone. When a bathroom goes wrong, it can go horribly wrong and damage a lot more things than just a few tiles. And that could cost you much more than the original budget for the bathroom.

Installing your own wiring and plumbing without a licence is illegal and can be dangerous, not to mention the essential care to be taken for the floor waterproof membrane to avoid serious problems down the track. 

If you DIY, Mitchell says there’s every chance something will go wrong, which could potentially cost you even more money to repair.

When a bathroom goes wrong, it can go horribly wrong and damage a lot more things than just a few tiles. And that could cost you much more than the original budget for the bathroom

Kylie Mitchell, Building Designers Association of Australia

“Get the experienced and skilled professionals and trades, and at least that way if something goes wrong, you will have their insurances to fall back on instead of your retirement fund!” she says.

How long it takes to renovate your bathroom will depend on the extent of the project, the availability of trades and, if you’re doing the labour yourself, how motivated you are to get it finished. It’ll prove more convenient to get it done sooner rather than later so you can functionally use your bathroom.




The costs of renovating a bathroom

In its Kitchens and Bathrooms Report 2020–2021, the Housing Industry Association (HIA) noted a 2.9% increase in bathroom renovations from the previous period, which saw the number rise to 241,180 renovations in that 12-month period. 

The report suggests that this increase is a direct result of the pandemic and lockdowns in recent years, as households diverted funds normally spent on holidays, dining and entertainment to home renovations instead. 

Archicentre Australia recommends you allow between $14,000 and $32,000 to fit out a bathroom or ensuite

The report also noted that the average cost of a bathroom installed in 2021 increased by 1.7% to $21,484. However, the actual cost of a bathroom renovation can vary dramatically from the average. 

Archicentre Australia recommends you allow between $14,000 and $32,000 to fit out a bathroom or ensuite.

In her book, Barber suggests a formula to determine your bathroom renovation budget, which is to attribute 2% of your current property value to the job.

According to Wesley Sinclair from Highgrove Bathrooms, a rough budget breakdown for a full bathroom renovation is to spend 40% on fixtures, 35% on tiling, 20% on plumbing and 5% on electricals, with an additional 10% buffer for any unforeseen expenses.

You can avoid financial blowouts by sticking to your budget and seeking out the very best deals you can find on items such as tiles and fixtures.




Permits required for bathroom renovations

Depending on your state or territory’s rules and requirements – and the extent of your bathroom renovation – you may need to ensure you’ve applied for permits and received approval before you start. 

“If you’re simply changing a few taps and adding a coat of paint then no permit is required, but if you’re moving plumbing and doing a full renovation then permits are definitely required to ensure that things like waterproofing, plumbing and electrical are all monitored and installed correctly,” Mitchell says. 

“The best place to start is to contact a building designer, bathroom designer or bathroom renovating specialist, an interior designer or architect. These professionals can guide you through what’s required and also provide the drawings and design expertise that will get the council permits required, as well as the quotes for completing the work.” 

The best place to start is to contact a building designer, bathroom designer or bathroom renovating specialist, an interior designer or architect 

Kylie Mitchell, Building Designers Association of Australia

Mitchell says you’ll first need council permits, which will differ according to where you live, and the builders overseeing your project will collect certificates from the relevant trades that state that their completed work is compliant with the necessary codes. 

“If you are an owner-builder then keeping track of these different requirements and regulations can be tricky, so I’d always recommend at the very least speaking to a professional first as well as your local council,” she says. 




What to do when things go wrong

If you’ve been let down, are in financial dispute or disappointed with the quality of the workmanship of an Australian tradesperson, the consumer agency in your state can point you in the right direction for getting a resolution. 

If the agency can’t help you come to a resolution, or you’re not satisfied with the outcome, you can take your complaint to the appropriate tribunal or court in your state or territory. These have the power to make a trader (or you) pay money, rectify services or excuse you from having to pay the full amount. 

You may also have rights under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), which applies to all businesses and may cover your situation.

Services up to $40,000 are covered by ACL irrespective of the type of work done, while costs greater than that are also covered as long as they are normally bought for personal or household use. 

The ACL requires that the services provided by tradespeople are done with due care and skill, fit for a particular purpose and completed within a reasonable amount of time.

For further information, visit the ACCC website and for specific advice relating to your situation, seek appropriate legal advice.

ACT

When things go wrong: ACT Government

Search for licensed tradies: Access Canberra

NSW

When things go wrong: NSW Fair Trading

Search for licensed tradies: Service NSW

Northern Territory

When things go wrong: Northern Territory Consumer Affairs

Search for licensed tradies: Licensing NT

Queensland

When things go wrong: Queensland Building and Construction Commission

Search for licensed tradies: Queensland Building and Construction Commission

South Australia

When things go wrong: Government of South Australia

Search for licensed tradies: Consumer and Business Services

Tasmania

When things go wrong: Consumer, Building and Occupational Services

Search for licensed tradies: Consumer, Building and Occupational Services

Victoria

When things go wrong: Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria

Search for licensed tradies: Victorian Building Authority

Western Australia

When things go wrong: Government of Western Australia Consumer Protection

Search for licensed tradies: Commerce Western Australia




Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.