Would you like to change the tiles? Knock down a wall? Do up the facade? Making a minor touch-up is one thing, but if you’re planning on making major changes, you need to set a proper plan in place. Finding some time to answer these five questions will help you make sure your costs don’t skyrocket, the works get done well, and that you stay out of legal trouble.

  • Do you need planning permission?

Some refurbishment projects don’t need a planning permit. Unless you live in a listed building you are pretty safe changing your  tiles, bathrooms, internal doors, kitchen cabinets and paintwork on the inside. But woe betide you if you touch the outside without contacting the PA first!

If your house is in a UCA

Houses in UCAs (Urban Conservation Area or village core) cannot have changes or additions to their frontages without Planning Authority approval. Nor can you add to or otherwise change your roof without it anywhere.

If you have a garden

If you are lucky enough to have a garden you will need permission to remove trees or change a soil area to hard surfacing, though not the other way around unless that would include the removal of some feature of historical of architectural importance. Any changes to drainage infrastructure will also need a permit. So your first action should be to contact the Planning authority to find out if you need a permit.

  • Do you need an architect?

If the answer to number 1 was, “yes”, then the answer to number 2 will also be “yes”. All planning applications have to be submitted to the PA by a certified architect. This is not a requirement in some other countries but here you will just have to bite the bullet and swallow the cost.

  • Who should you hire?

Realise you need not just a technician, good with a pencil, CAD, and the PA, but someone in sympathy with your views on life and aesthetics. Ask around among your friends for recommendations but it’s important you meet and like this person. They are going to be central in decisions on the details of the most important place in your life.

You will meet with your architect many times over the next few months and, if a planning application is to be made, they need to believe in your project, especially if you’re trying something a little different from the norm. Your architect is your front line representative with the Planning Authority. 

  • How will you show your idea?

If you can make some drawings, either digital or on paper, of what your end vision is, you will be able to communicate your ideas much more clearly to both your architect and the tradesmen you use (Search online for free design programmes for help with this.) 

If drawing is a no go

If you feel you lack the digital, artistic or graphic skills for this it’s even more important that you have a simpatico relationship with your architect. He/she will usually have the appropriate contacts to recommend a selection of tradesmen for you to choose from. While prices might be similar, some have better reputations than others, for tidiness, or skills, finishing or snagging. (Snagging is the last process where any little issues are sorted out after the project is seemingly complete.)

  • How much do you have to spend?

Costs have a way of spiralling out of control unless you have a very clear idea of where the money is going to go. So the number one rule is always get at least 3 quotations from every trade you intend to use.

Tilers and plumbers/electricians usually have fairly standard pricing but you need to know exactly what it covers. Some expect you to supply some or all of the materials. For example a socket price quotation usually includes the wires and box but not the cover or switch. This is because any items visible on the surface would be subject to style and taste variations and you need to choose them yourself. Tilers charge a rate for the work but the tiles, sub base, cement and grouting are usually priced and purchased separately. 

Remember that if your architect introduces a tradesmen he will get a cut of their costs, both for materials and the overall service price as well as the fee you will be paying him, this cost will be ultimately passed onto you. A spread sheet of costs is a good idea so you have a clear idea of where the money is going to go.

  • Do you need a project manager or can you ‘Do It Yourself’?

Sometimes an architect will act as a project manager, however If you are using workers unknown to your architect he might prefer it if you employ a project manager, but if you want to keep a closer eye on things you might consider doing it yourself, if you have the time and are confident of your own skills.

If you have good DIY skills yourself or are knowledgeable about how things are done, particularly quantities and costs, then by all means go for it yourself. If you are less sure, you can agree a price with a Project Manager and it becomes his job, not only to ensure that quality work is completed in a timely manner but also that costs are kept down, as the less it costs the bigger his rake off. Also work of this kind is notoriously messy and somebody has to ensure that all that mess is contained, with cover sheets where possible and cleaned up afterwards. Some tradesmen are better at this than others and its worth finding out if the people you intend to use clean up after themselves, otherwise you end up doing, what can be a long and tedious cleaning job yourself.

One take away to take home with you:

By following these five points you can guarantee your restoration or refurbishment project is enjoyable and, as much as possible, hassle free.  There are plenty of people out there who can give you help and advice. Your job is to choose carefully to get the best advice to achieve the restoration of your dreams.

Our team at House Malta is always on the look-out for spaces, places, and things that are being built up, torn down, modernised, restored, or re-purposed – be it by a big team or a one-man(or woman)-army.

Share photos of your restoration project with us!

Leave a comment, message us on our Facebook page or send an email to [email protected]

We may feature your comments and photos in our upcoming guides!

More Articles featuring Giovanna Ħammet: