Adding Value to Property Refurbishment

From Buy-to-Let to student accommodation, what do you need to know when taking on a property refurbishment project? Julian Maurice of Icon Living gives us his tips, from design principles to scheduling

What is the main cause of renovation projects going over schedule…?

In truth, it’s the lack of a schedule that is the problem. Most people assume, wrongly, that it’s the contractor’s job to provide a fully itemised quotation…On any large commercial project an architect and Quantity Surveyor will first assess and then provide a fully itemised brief when work goes out to tender.

In my 20 years’ experience working with property investors and private clients, only once was I handed any sort of brief that made any sense. When dealing with a contractor, some sort of drawing showing a layout with an electrical overlay and a schedule is basic communication.

… or over budget?

Same thing, you don’t know what you don’t know… So without a knowledge of costings, it’s impossible to know whether a quote is genuine good value or badly over or underestimated. Also the lack of clear instructions means you won’t be able to get like-for-like quotations, so prices will vary widely.

Why is it a mistake to settle for poor finishes on a renovation project?

I understand the fact that once a contractor is on-site it’s hard to throw them off for poor workmanship. But if a workman can’t even do their work to an acceptable level, then what is the point? If you want a cheap job, then don’t expect anything great, but poor workmanship will greatly reduce the shelf-life of an interior. In rental properties, this can very quickly erode into profits as properties fall quickly into disrepair.

What are the differences in approach to say a student/HMO, commercial or show home project?

The famous brand designer Massimo Vignelli said ‘if you can design one thing, you can design anything’. That is so true if you understand and work to some very basic design principles.

To a great designer the approach is always the same… create the best product for the end-user. All iconic design, all great designers like Ilse Crawford and Sir Terence Conran and all design-led companies, like Apple and Porsche, operate in that way.

Everything revolves around the customer and the customer experience. When you work in that way your product is easy to sell, you win the loyalty of your customers and business is so much more profitable. As a property investor it’s vital you understand the numbers, but to make the numbers really work, you have to know your customers too.

What is the importance of the 3-viewing system in project planning?

I call it the ‘3-viewing system’ just to give it a name. But basically you need to attack a refurbishment in 3 stages if you want a project to run smoothly.

  • Stage 1: Initial viewings prior to making an offer.
  • Stage 2: Taking site notes and preparing a ‘Contractor Pack’.
  • Stage 3: Site meeting with contractors and obtaining quotations.

What is the importance of colour schemes in project planning?

When planning a project in the early stages, nothing, but when it comes to creating an interior that stirs the emotions, colour choice can add huge appeal to a property and differentiate it from the competition.

Most investment property types will largely have a neutral colour palette. I like to use darker neutrals and blacks to give a property more interest. I also use different decorating techniques, like the One Colour Technique, which gives the illusion of space a gives sense of calm.

An interior designer will have a natural instinct and total confidence when it comes to colours and accents.

What details are most often overlooked in project planning?

Pretty much all of them, in my experience! The major problem with most commercial and investment property projects is time, or lack of, when it comes to looking at the details.

Everyone, from the architects, to the property owner are so fixated on regulations, timescales, profits and budgets that the details and functional elements that effect the wellbeing and living experience of the end-user are totally overlooked.

In the product world, companies who focus on the detail and their customers are always the ones who excel in their market space long-term. It’s the same in property.

Can I source design solutions from familiar brand suppliers?

Hmmm, interesting question. A designer’s main source of income comes from their list of supplier and their team(s) of contractors. A designer will always attend trade shows and have a panel of suppliers they will be familiar with.

A designer will know their suppliers’ product ranges and will be able to mix and match different items from the same set of suppliers to create different interior themes.

What will I learn from an Icon Living training workshop?

Where do I start? To sum it up in nutshell… Confidence. The ability to think like a great designer, to have a greater awareness of good design and how it is achieved and to have the curiosity and bravery to try new ideas without fear of messing things up.

What other services does Icon Living provide and how can I find out more?

As far as I’m aware Icon Living offers a service unique in the property investment industry. Our 1-day Zoom Design and Refurbishment Masterclass brings advanced design knowledge and techniques within the grasp of anyone who is willing to learn. The knowledge can then be applied the very next day.

We also work with property investors on project design. Obviously every project is different, but over the years we have worked on all types of investment property projects, helping clients maximise potential, not by cramming as many flats or rooms into a small space, but by helping create premium product, that attracts the highest price and lasts the test of time.

To find out more visit our web site at, or email us at . You can follow Icon Living on Facebook; we run free webinars, a Zoom property surgery on Tuesday evenings, and we post lots of inspirational ideas on Pinterest and Instagram too.

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