Renovating units – Cherie Barber

Renovating units – Cherie Barber

In today’s show our reno expert, Cherie Barber, from, tells us why not all renovations are the same especially when it comes to renovating an apartment. Cherie tells us about the experience she has had with doing up units and the some of the problems she has encountered.


Kevin:  Not all renovations are the same, as you’re going to learn in my chat now with Cherie Barber from
Good day, Cherie. How are you doing?
Cherie:  I’m really good. Thank you, Kevin.
Kevin:  Good to be talking to you again. You’ve just come back from the States, again, too?
Cherie:  I have, yes. I have my own show over there now, so it’s very exciting. I went over there for the launch show.
Kevin:  We’re used to seeing you, of course, on The Living Room on Channel 10. I look forward to catching up with you there.
I wanted to talk to you specifically about the renovation you’re doing right now, which is on a unit. It’s interesting that there are some complexities in renovating units, and I wonder whether you’d like to take us through a few of those.
Cherie:  Sure. First of all, I guess living in an apartment and renovating an apartment, the first thing is the neighbors. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t like change, and normally when you come in and do an apartment renovation, one of the first things people typically do is change the floors, so you have saws going on and all sorts of stuff. In my experience in the apartments that I’ve renovated, you always without fail get one or two or three neighbors offside depending on how big the block is.
I think the first thing is to be very courteous to neighbors and actually give a proper letter under their door just saying, “Look, we’re going to be starting a renovation in approximately two weeks’ time,” and give them the dates that you’ll start and dates that you’ll finish. In my experience, when you do that, you actually have less chance of neighbors actually getting offside.
I know in my one of my earlier renovations where I didn’t give the neighbors any notice, it became this messy war. They got really offside because you were disturbing their peace and quiet. That’s definitely one issue with apartment renovations, because everybody is so condensely packed on top of each other, so they hear the slightest ounce of noise.
Kevin:  I think, too, the other thing to bear in mind is that other owners could quite easily be on the body corporate, and body corporate do actually wield a lot of power and can actually hinder the renovation process, Cherie.
Cherie:  Definitely. Another issue is the strata body. Look, I think when you buy an apartment, one of the things that people need to research is how proactive the strata body are. In some units that you go into, the strata body are all over you like a bad rash – they won’t let you scratch yourself unless you get approval – and then in other blocks, they don’t care what you do.
A lot of renovators go buy an apartment, particularly a lot of younger renovators, who don’t have the money to actually go buy a freestanding house. They say, “Okay, we’ll do our first renovation.” It might be on an apartment, maybe something $300,000, $400,000, $500,000, and they go into these blocks and they either don’t get strata body approval because they don’t know to, or if do approach them, the strata body are notoriously slow.
I’m doing a renovation at the moment to the living room, actually, for an apartment that’s about $560,000. I said to the couple that I’m renovating to me, “Look, send an e-mail to the strata body manager. Say to them you’re doing these works, these cosmetic works – you’re changing the floor, you’re painting – and put a deadline on a response from them.”
What advise them to do is to say, “We’re doing these works, and if we don’t hear from you by Friday such-and-such a date, we’ll assume all is okay if we don’t hear from you.” As it turned out, they never heard from that person but at least they have it documented on e-mail that they approached it and it wasn’t their problem that the strata body was slow to get back to them.
Strata bodies, as I said, are notorious for being slow, and in the meantime, for renovators, you’re waiting, waiting, and waiting, and you’re racking up holding costs.
Kevin:  The unit that you’re renovating now, is this any structural renovation or is it purely cosmetic?
Cherie:  No. Purely cosmetic, and that’s the thing. I guess that’s another limitation of apartment renovations. You are limited with the works that you can do. Certainly in apartment renovations, you can’t do any external works, even doing things like painting the inside of your balcony that other people can’t see, you could have limitations on what you do in that regard, as well.
Typically, with apartment renovations, they tend to be 95% or 98% cosmetic works because you have to imagine, if you have two or three apartments living on top of you, it’s not as easy just knocking out walls because that can affect the structural integrity of all the apartments above you. The most you can do is really change the flooring, and even then, a lot of strata bodies won’t let you do that because of acoustic issues in apartments.
Kevin:  Yes, you have to be careful of things like floating floors and so on. Some really good words of advice there, making sure that you get everyone onside and do your homework before you do one of those renovations. Cherie Barber, of course. is the website to go to, and there is a free DVD there, as well, and also the upcoming seminars for Cherie.
Cherie, thanks for your time. Look forward to catching up again soon.
Cherie:  You’re welcome. Thank you, Kevin.

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