how to survive the emotional journey of renovating


There’s no doubt building or renovating can be a very stressful time. Budget constraints, time pressures and a never-ending stream of questions that need an answer as quickly as possible can seriously test the most even-tempered homeowner.

Ask any couple who has boarded the renovation roller coaster together and they will surely have more than a few anecdotes about times when things just didn’t go to plan.

“When someone is building a new home they are using their hard-earned money — and a lot of it — and making some very big decisions. It’s a very stressful time,” says builder Adam Dovile who, with partner Lisa, won Channel Seven’s House Rules in 2014.

“People always say the secret is to plan, plan, plan but in reality it’s inevitable that unexpected issues will come up during any project whether it’s the sudden discovery of old building rubble under your site or a bathroom fixture that arrives with a giant crack in it. And when things pop up like that, it can really add to stress levels that are generally already pretty high."

Expecting the unexpected — and building a contingency into both your budget and building timeline — will help minimise stress when unforeseen circumstances occur.

But it’s also important to keep your cool with family, friends, neighbours and contractors when things don’t go quite to plan. We asked the experts for their advice for staying as stress-free as possible during an otherwise anxiety-inducing period.


In times of high stress or anxiety, it’s often the people closest to us who bear the brunt of high emotions and bad moods.

If you’re renovating with a spouse or partner, relationships expert Alice Haemmerle says being absolutely clear about the desired outcome from the very beginning of any renovation or building project can help ensure both partners are on the same page.

“When things don’t go to plan — or even when they do — it’s important to know that you’re both working to the same goal,” say Alice who has worked extensively with the Housing Industry Association on builder-client relationships.

“Before you even engage a builder or think about which tiles you’re using for the kitchen splashback, I advise couples to go through each space of the home separately and write down two things. The first one is how they want that space to make them feel and the second is what they want their first thoughts or words to be when they enter the finished space for the first time.

“If you can reach an agreement on these two things then you will both be working to the same idea for the finished product so any mishaps or questions along the way can be resolved with confidence rather than an argument about the choice of paint colour or floor covering.”

Try to keep at least one room clean and free of clutter when you're renovating

If you plan to live in your home while you are renovating it, Alice recommends keeping at least one room completely pristine at all times so you have somewhere to escape to when it all gets too much.

“I also recommend people take a break completely from the process occasionally and go and stay in a nice hotel for the weekend or at a friend’s place,” she says. “It helps you disassociate from what’s going on at home and gives you a neutral space to resolve any disagreements about the renovation. It’s also great for getting a bit of perspective.”

Your builder

The relationship you forge with your builder is one of the most vital aspects of the building or renovating process.Adam, who has recently joined the team on Seven’s Better Homes and Gardens, says a “connection” with your builder is always a good starting point.

“You want to feel comfortable with your builder or tradesperson from the very start,” he says. “Trust is key in this relationship so if you have a funny feeling when you first meet them, go with your gut and find someone else.”

Lisa and Adam Dovile
First and foremost, choosing a builder you trust is of utmost importance.

“Choosing your builder is something you should take very seriously,” says a spokesman from the Master Builders Association. “Do lots of research about the type of projects they specialise in and make sure that matches up with the type of build or renovation you want to do. Ask for references when you contact the builder and get in touch with past clients to check not only on their work but also their communication throughout the project.”

Regular communication with your builder, contractor or tradesperson during your project will help iron out most issues before they arise.

“Be honest and upfront from the very start about your budget and your expectations in regards to time but always remember your builder is the expert,” says Alice.“Be open to suggestions from them about materials because, as the expert, they will more-than-likely have had experience with similar ideas or projects.”

The Department of Fair Trading suggests an honest conversation with your builder should be the first course of action should any problems arise.

“Following your conversation, confirm in writing with your builder what was agreed to be done and by when and date and keep a copy of this correspondence,” the Fair Trading website advises.If you still can’t reach an agreement, contact Fair Trading to assist with dispute resolution.


No one wants to be woken unexpectedly at 7am by jackhammers or noisy tradies gathering at a work site to get the day started. Keep your neighbours on side by keeping them constantly updated about the progress of your build or renovation and feel free to drop in regularly to ask if they have any concerns that can be easily rectified. Some renovators even go so far as regularly delivering “care packages” to neighbours including baked goods, chocolates or other treats.

If your neighbour does approach you with a concern, listen and do your best to find a solution. If mediation is necessary contact your local Community Justice Centre for advice.

First published Home, The Daily Telegraph 12 September 2015

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