Home Renovations: How to avoid the pitfalls
Renovating, extending or developing a property is both exciting and overwhelming. Get it right and you can maximise the return on your investment or create the home of your dreams. However, just because you own a property doesn’t mean you have free reign to change or develop it as you see fit. In fact, if you don’t follow the rules, you could face significant heartache and financial difficulties.
Before renovating, it’s crucial to understand the laws, codes and planning restrictions that relate to your property. Without these, you could be left facing costly court proceedings, not to mention seeing your property dreams hopelessly tangled up in red tape.
Councils are relied upon to ensure the safety of the community and monitoring building practices is one way of doing this. It may seem unfair, given that you are the owner of the property, but there are many reasons why your home renovation plans are subject to intense scrutiny by local councils and other relevant agencies.
All buildings need to comply with the Building Codes, including the National Construction Code (NCC) – 2022. Volume 2 of the NCC applies to residential buildings. Essentially it sets out the minimum requirements for the design and construction of homes.
One of the considerations that the Building Code covers is to outline your obligation to ensure that local conditions that might foreseeably pose a danger are factored into your plans for development. For example, in bushfire-prone areas, you must take measures to mitigate the risk, such as the fitting of fire attenuation screens. These are the sorts of ‘risks’ you may not consider if you were to go it alone on a renovation. No matter what your plans are for your property you must comply with the Building Codes.
All extensions require both planning and building approval. You may find that extending your home out or up is not solely your decision to make due to heritage restrictions or council planning. For the most part, your local council regulates what you can and can’t do with your property and whether you have to get permission first. There are several key reasons for this approach. You may need to follow this up with your local council to see if any further restrictions apply.
Your local council highly invested in ensuring that any changes to a property are in keeping with their plans for future development in that local are, such as population density and infrastructure planning, for example. It also ensures that residential, commercial and industrial areas are kept separate to ensure residents aren’t adversely affected by factories, noise and pollution.
In many cases, the size of your land can also affect what can be altered and whether you need to get planning permission from your local council. Your council can also inform you of the latest restrictions on making use of your lot; for example, pools, patios or backyard sheds may need to be a specific distances from neighbouring fences.
The area where your property is located might also be subject to a neighborhood plan, depending on your council. These plans related to styling can put some restrictions on the colours and styles of any renovations, and height limits on multi-storey builds including the exterior design. This might also affect whether you need to obtain approval from the council before commencing work on your property.
If you’re looking at making minor alterations to your property that don’t affect the shape, structure or height of the property, in most cases you won’t need to get approval before proceeding. However, if you’ve got a large-scale renovation or extension in mind, chances are that you’ll need to approach your local council first to ensure you have planning approval and all relevant permits. Sometimes, this can be a long and frustrating process when you’re in a hurry to bring your vision to life, but avoiding this process can be much more painful in the long run.
As the owner of the property, the responsibility rests on you to ensure that you obtain all necessary permits and approvals before proceeding with work on your property. You can contract out that responsibility to a builder or other relevant party, but you need to take steps to ensure that it is absolutely clear whose responsibility it is to do what in your contract. Additionally, if you choose to contract out this responsibility, always follow up with your builder and obtain copies of everything related to planning approvals and permits before any work commences.
The consequences of not following due process doesn’t just affect the people who makes the changes to a property. It also affects any subsequent purchaser of the property who fails to check on the legality of any building works previously carried out. They might have put in an offer on their dream home only to find themselves burdened with something that’s built without council approval. In some cases, they might even be directed to tear it down.
If you’re in the market for a new home, it’s important to protect yourself from potentially dodgy home renovations. The best ways to do this is by ensuring that you use an experienced and professional conveyancer who orders the necessary searches, and of course, by obtaining a thorough Building Inspection to check for any physical signs that building works may have been carried out without Council approval or in a manner that doesn’t comply with the National Building Code.