10 ways to cut the cost of an extension

By Laura Crombie, property expert and Real Homes Show presenter

If you’ve decided an extension is the best way to improve your home, then there are some simple ways you can bring the project in on budget. Before you start, it’s crucial to look at property prices in your area and check with a local estate agent that the amount you plan to spend on the extension won’t mean exceeding your home’s ceiling value should you decide to sell. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to start planning an extension, as it’ll be ready in time for summer, so use these tips to help you get a great-value extension that will transform the way you live.

Keep the design simple

It may sound obvious, but the more complex the design of your extension, the more it will cost. Aim to keep the floorplan as simple as possible, and locate the extension so that you’ll need minimal groundworks. For instance, try to work with the existing waste pipes and drains, rather than having to relocate them. Minimising the complexity of the build doesn’t mean you should scrimp on design fees, though, far from it. An architect will make sure your plans are right from the outset, which will minimise the need for changes, and therefore additional costs, further down the line.

TIP: Real Homes has a handy extension cost calculator, which will show you how much your extension should cost, before you start contacting tradespeople.


Negotiate trade discounts

Instead of asking tradespeople to buy the materials you need for you, find out where they shop and then aim to get the wholesale prices for yourself. It’s always worth negotiating at wholesale yards, and you can see if there are discounts available if you pay in cash or bulk buy, just make sure you keep your receipt. Buying items that have been discontinued will also save you money, especially on things like kitchen units, bathrooms and flooring.


Don’t be afraid of buying secondhand

We all need to shop more sustainably, and buying secondhand is not only good for the environment, it’s also good for our bank balances. There are renovators out there who’ve bought everything for their project preloved from eBay, and it is possible to find amazing deals on secondhand items, after all, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Items that offer the best value include internal doors, timber floorboards, fireplaces and kitchen units (even if you only use them in a utility). If the internet fails you, head to your local salvage yard, you might have to compromise slightly on what you thought you wanted, but you could save a fortune.


Stick to standard sizes

We’ve all seen photos of homes with incredible picture windows and oversized front doors, but anything that isn’t a standard size will cost you more. Instead, stick to standard dimensions for your doors and window openings to keep costs down. This doesn’t mean you need to scrimp on the finished space, in fact, there are plenty of standard rooflights out there that will flood the new space with light, just like a bespoke roof lantern would, but without breaking the bank. The same principle goes for your kitchens and joinery – the idea of going bespoke may be appealing, but it won’t come cheap.


Preparation is everything

Last-minute changes to your plans will cost, so plan ahead and make sure you know exactly what you want from the outset. Sure, planning plug locations isn’t the most exciting job, but your electrician will charge you extra for last-minute additions or alterations, so it’s worth thinking about upfront. You also need to make sure you’ve budgeted for all the little things you’ll need, from door handles to light bulbs, or you could find your budget spiralling out of control as you near the end of the project.


Be your own project manager

If you’re well organised and have time to spare, then it’s worth taking on the role of project manager. If you ask your builder or architect to do this for you, they’ll typically add 15 to 25 per cent of the total labour and material cost on to the bill for their time. An efficient project manager will find and hire tradespeople, liaise with your local authority’s planning and building control departments, order and manage the materials when needed, and control logistics, such as hiring a skip and scaffolding. Nobody will tell you it’s an easy job, but it can be hugely rewarding, as well as saving you money.


Make VAT savings

If you’re adding an extension to your home, you’ll usually pay 20 per cent VAT on labour and materials, but you can make savings by using self-employed tradespeople who turnover less than the threshold for VAT registration. Used materials sold privately online are also free of VAT. And don’t forget to check whether your project attracts a reduced rate of VAT – upgrading insulation and extending a building that’s been empty for two years are both exempt from VAT.


Reuse and recycle

It can be tempting to tear everything in your existing rooms out and throw it in a skip when you start an extension project, but think carefully about what you could reuse to cut costs. Could old kitchen unit carcasses be repurposed in a utility room if you added new doors? Old floorboards could be sanded and painted, radiators often have plenty of life in them, as do internal doors. If there are things you can’t reuse but that have plenty of life left in them, then sell them online. Free-to-use sites, such as Schpock and Gumtree, are fantastic for this and you’ll be amazed what people will buy – I’ve sold everything from old worktops to fireplaces.


Don’t get ripped off

It can be tempting to use the tradespeople with the cheapest quotes, but cowboy traders will underestimate costs — through incompetence or even deliberately — to secure a job. To avoid being ripped off, always ask for references and check reviews online. It’s always better to find tradespeople through a personal recommendation, so ask friends and family who they’ve used. For an extension, you shouldn’t make any payments upfront. Instead, agree payments at set stages or based on a list of labour and materials used to date. If a builder does not want to supply materials, then buy them yourself.


Learn to bargain hunt

You might be obsessed with that marble worktop you’ve seen on Pinterest, but the reality is that it will cost a fortune and is hard to maintain. Instead, challenge yourself to get the same look but for a fraction of the cost. Instead of a marble, opt for a composite worktop, which will be far more durable but look fantastic. The same goes for everything from flooring (opt for luxury vinyl tiles instead of wooden parquet) to paint (Valspar will colour match the more expensive paint brands so you get the high-end look on an affordable budget). If you shop around, it’s easy to save serious money without compromising on quality.


Main image credit – Resi.co.uk