The first home Belinda Smith bought with her husband Brett was “tiny, dirty, and smelt like baby’s vomit”. “I still remember my mother-in-law crying at the thought of her son living there,” Belinda recalls.
After lots of scrubbing and painting, replacing the carpet and blinds, and improving the kitchen, Belinda’s mother-in-law was crying again, this time at how lovely the little unit had become.
“I just thought that renovating was what everyone did, so planned the upgrades and just expected Brett (a diesel mechanic by trade) to be able to do it. And he did. And he was really good at it!”
Belinda and Brett soon moved to a bigger house and have been renovating properties ever since, and offering advice to family and others. They will soon embark on yet another project at their latest home near Cronulla, south of Sydney.
“I just love property investing and the way it enabled my family to live a life way beyond expectations and what we should have been able to afford on our incomes,” Belinda says. “I love all of it – the finance, research, negotiation tactics with agents, buying, selling, adding value, and styling. Love it!”
Belinda not only loves working on her own projects, she also really enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with others, including appreciative Workshop members.
“People think that it’s expensive to renovate, but it doesn’t have to be. It is very easy to create a designer look for less, simply by choosing the right products and putting them together cleverly D.I.Y.”
After working as a policewoman for over 20 years and realising that many people struggle with renovation projects, Belinda partnered with her best friend Belinda Westblade, a talented renovator and property flipper in her own right.
“We began answering people’s questions on social media and our reputation quickly grew,” Belinda says. “We wanted to open an online shop selling homeware, but as soon as we started our Facebook page, all people wanted to know about was renovating and decorating, what product to use here, what paint colour to put there, so we began a renovation consultancy and are super-busy.”
Belinda, a cancer survivor, loves helping people “get the best-possible result for each renovation dollar spent and alleviating the day-to-day stress of their project”. “Oh, and seeing their faces when a project is finished and they are totally in love with their home is joyous! Completely rewarding.”
When asked about what frustrates her about the average Australian home, Belinda says “so many existing Aussie homes don’t make the most of the outdoors”. “Every Aussie home should have an entertainment area out the back and a seamless way to access it. A great value-add strategy is to add a deck, then open up the kitchen, dining and living areas and create flow from inside to outside.”
Belinda’s top tips for renovators can be found below, while her advice for people preparing their house for sale is equally straightforward.
“Declutter and clean the entire property, including garages, storerooms and side lanes. Ensure that every room is styled beautifully, aimed to attract attention and spike the emotion of potential buyers to keep them viewing the home for longer. The aim is to have people picture themselves living in the home and fall in love with the property so much they are willing to fight for it!
Belinda also stresses that the first impression is crucial. “Pay attention to the façade, landscaping, front veranda, entry-way and front door. Make people want to see what is inside.”
Belinda loves being able to help save people from making costly mistakes and share her experience. “Unfortunately we’ve made a few over the years, as we learnt a trial-and-error, by reading and by asking other people for tips. I wish we had the Workshop community and YouTube when we first started!”
Belinda is a founding member of Workshop under the username @2Belindas and “loved it immediately”. “I know that people like to see before and after (photos) so I posted a couple and they were warmly received. Belinda Westblade and I have been helping people with their renovation dilemmas for a long time, starting with family and friends, so it is a natural thing for us to want to contribute. And there are amazingly talented people within the Workshop community and I love admiring what they are able to accomplish.”
While the Workshop community is full of talented females, Belinda thinks it is a lack of confidence that holds more women back from tackling renovation projects themselves. “Women are very capable of organising a renovation project and supervising it from start to finish, dealing with day-to-day issues, budgets, product selection and working with tradesmen onsite. Sadly, many find it daunting and so never give it a go.
“However, I’ve noticed a shift in recent years brought about by TV shows, and the acceptance of women working in building trades, so I am optimistic that things will continue to improve and that more women will be willing to give hands-on renovating a go.”
Belinda says some of her D.I.Y. and decorating skills were learned at a young age from her parents.
“Growing up, Mum and Dad spent most weekends improving their house. I got to witness first-hand how painting and a little hands-on attention had the capacity to totally upgrade the look of a room for very little money. I loved coming home from school and Mum had changed colours, flipped the furniture plan around, and totally refreshed a room, sometimes in a matter of hours. She still does and just turned 80!”
If you hit a snag during a project, Belinda advises to “keep calm and carry on”. “I’ve learnt to expect the unexpected in every renovation and always set aside a 15% contingency to cover it. It is not until things are pulled apart that hidden issues are discovered.
“Almost every project turns up a problem that requires finding the best possible solution under the circumstances. I’ve learnt to be flexible, trying to deal with issues as they arise in a calm business-like manner and not becoming emotional about the small stuff.”
Belinda describes her latest home as a “1970’s Mediterranean mansion”. She has obtained a dual occupancy development approval to convert it into two properties. Each will have four bedrooms, three bathrooms and two living areas. “We are opening up internal space, knocking out about eight walls and reconfiguring many of the existing rooms. It will be a challenge, but I can’t wait to see the final result.” The pool is already rejuvenated.
Some of Belinda’s favourite past projects have included renovating a beautiful period home for an older couple, splitting a residential unit in country New South Wales into two fully renovated properties, and “up-styling” a five-bedroom display home, which included converting an old garage into a stylish pool cabana.
When she isn’t working, Belinda says she values the “ordinary things” in life. “Time with my husband and grown up kids, walking the dog, going out with friends, movies, the sun, the beach, the pool, snow skiing in winter….and coffee. I really enjoy coffee.
“And I still love to paint - walls and furniture, not artwork! I find it relaxing. I enjoy it right from the first minute I crack a new tin open, stir it and admire the colour. I also think it’s one of the most economical ways to transform a home and very rewarding when it’s finished.”
1. Establish what your property is worth now and predict its value after renovation. (Research previous sales of highly renovated properties in the area to predict the equity gain.)
2. Set a sensible budget, be realistic about what can be achieved within that budget and never overcapitalise.
3. Plan. Plan the look you are after, what properties are sought after in the area, the people you are appealing to – and target that specific demographic. Plan the renovation. Schedule the trades. Select product early.
4. Don’t make emotional decisions when choosing fixtures and fittings, even if you are upgrading for yourself. Remember that everything goes out of fashion eventually, so keep a cool head and watch the pennies.
5. Find good tradesmen through recommendations and ask to view their work and speak to previous clients. Get quotes.
6. Keep your trades happy. Pay them on time, give them lots of praise and coffee when they work well. It makes it easier to approach them for discussion when something is not up to scratch. Also, keep notes in a log or diary.
7. Keep up to date with your paperwork, and keep all of your receipts together.
8. Style to sell, or enjoy your hard work and stay in a home you love!
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