Can cosmetic renovations really make money? Q&A with Cherie Barber

Can cosmetic renovations really make money? Q&A with Cherie Barber
Can cosmetic renovations really make money? Q&A with Cherie Barber

A portion of property investing is often related to creating equity in a property – through developments, subdivisions and even renovations.

It's unsurprising, especially with shows such as The Block and House Rules, that renovating is a much discussed aspect of real estate for both home owners looking to improve their properties, and investors looking for bang for their buck.

Our Tuesday Q&A is with Renovating for Profit’s Cherie Barber,  where we ask about essential renovation skills, the experts you can’t do without and whether you can really make money from a quick cosmetic fix up.

Which skill is more important for renovating – a good eye for design or good management skills?

I’d say good management skills are essential, whereas a good eye for design is definitely an asset, but you can always call on professionals to help out with that.

In the renovating game, it’s those with exceptional time management and organisational skills, who are great negotiators and communicators, and who know how to accurately set a budget and stick to it… they’re the ones most likely to succeed and make money.

A creative eye, without all those skills, might get you a beautifully renovated property, but it could send you broke!

If you could choose just one professional as your “go to” for a renovation project, who would they be?

I rely heavily on all my tradies, so choosing just one is difficult, but I’d say a really skilled carpenter is your biggest asset. They’re a jack of all trades who can turn their hand to most things, whether it’s putting up a stud wall, putting in a kitchen, making built-in seating for a courtyard or just smart shelving.

You really need a second in command on a project that you can depend on, so a carpenter would be my “go to” guy if I had to choose just one.

Do you think there are any difficulties for women renovating?

To be honest, it took me a couple of renovations to gain my confidence working as the only female on a building site – and not just the only female, but the one in charge! Not all blokes are comfortable with that, especially in a male-dominated industry like the building trade.

I’ve found the key is to be calm, assertive and very clear and direct in my communication style.

Never get emotional. You’ll minimise misunderstandings and disputes by having everything in writing, so if there’s a disagreement over an aspect of work or money, you have your written contract and detailed scope of works to fall back on. “Firm, but fair” is an approach that tradies understand and respect, whether you’re male or female. 

Friendliness goes an awfully long way on a building site. No one likes a dragon lady!

Can buyers really make money with a cheap cosmetic renovation?  (Must read: What is a cosmetic renovation?)

Absolutely - loads of my students have done it! But you have to target the right properties.

If you’re looking for a two-bedroom apartment to renovate in a certain suburb, and you find that renovated and unrenovated two-bedders are pretty much selling for the same price, then it’s unlikely you’ll make money on the renovation.

You need to find decent “pricing disparity” – suburbs where buyers are willing to pay a premium for smartly renovated properties. That’s why careful research is so critical.

Buy the right property, in the right suburb, at the right price, and yes, you can definitely make money on a cosmetic renovation.   

During your shows you often point out that there are many ugly properties across, what are your most hated design features in a property?

There’s a few thing buyers really don’t like. “Popcorn ceilings” are definitely one. They’re the spray-on ceilings that were especially popular throughout the 60s and 70s, and often contain asbestos. Visually they’re ugly and people don’t like the idea of asbestos in their home. Skinny little skirting boards and architraves always look cheap.

I hate bad layouts that don’t make the most of the available floor space, and unruly landscaping that was never properly thought out in the first place. And anything terracotta coloured – whether it’s tiled roofs, pavers or brick houses! Speaking of brick (especially those terracotta and blonde ones), rendering them is absolutely compulsory in my book.

Are there any people who should not renovate a property?

This probably relates back to question one, and the importance of excellent organisational, budgeting and negotiation skills. Those three cornerstones are just such a big advantage in the renovating game.

If you don’t have a single one of them, well, then you’re really going to struggle. Renovating isn’t an automatic road to riches. It takes time, focus, dedication and a lot of hard work to be successful.

Unless you’re willing to put in the hard yards to educate yourself about what’s required and then get out there and do it, you might be better off sitting at home. Trying to “wing it” is simply a recipe for disaster.

Cherie Barber is a public speaker, TV renovator and the owner of Renovating For Profit, a company that teaches everyday people how to buy and renovate properties for a profit. Cherie Barber’s next three-day Sydney workshop is August 21.


Three reasons you should renovate for profit: Patrick Bright

To renovate or not to renovate? That is the question: Jo Chivers

Jennifer Duke

Jennifer Duke

Jennifer Duke was a property writer at Property Observer

Renovation Q&A

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