There is a lot The Block can teach us about renovating in real life. But the lessons may not be what you think.
Here are my top 5 lessons The Block can teach us – to help you with your reno.
The Block wrapped up with auctions hitting our TV screens last Wednesday night, watched by almost 2 million TV viewers. Channel Nine are boasting that they’ve awarded the biggest prize pool in TV history, with over $3M in winnings handed to the 4 teams. The winners, Deanne and Darren, took out $935,000 in winnings, with the ‘losers’ still taking home a chunky sum of $665,000 (Ayden and Jess).
This is the first series I’ve watched in totality since the first airing of it 10 series ago. It was a very different program then. Much more renovating, much less styling, much more DIY, much less drama. Frankly, the way the program has developed since then has frustrated me – perhaps because we were in the thick of our own renovations and the TV series seemed so largely removed from what we were personally experiencing as ‘renovators’.
However, sitting in my intact home on my comfy sofa and not a construction site – it’s been much more enjoyable to watch this series and get caught up in the drama – and accept it for what it is: A dramatic reality TV show more about human behaviour under pressure and deadlines, than an instructional series on home renovation.
So, given I know some of us been glued to this series since January (I know I’m not alone here!), here’s my wrap-up of what I (as a seasoned renovator and industry insider) think The Block can really teach us about renovating … my top 5 lessons.
LESSON NUMBER 1: The bulk of the work occurs behind the scenes
The nature of a 10 week renovation is that only so much work can occur in 10 weeks. Even with the massive days, the super-sized crews, the non-standard delivery times and the pressure of it being a TV show, 10 weeks is 10 weeks.
What we’re not seeing is all the pre-work. The time in sourcing the property and negotiating the purchase (this property was purchased in March of last year, for example). The architectural design and planning approvals to get the building ready for the teams and TV cameras. The time to prepare the building for the contestants. And the real lead times that exist for materials, supplies, suppliers and tradespeople.
This all may sound obvious and something everybody ‘knows’, however ‘knowing’ that – and ‘staying sane’ about it when you’re renovating your own home – can be very different things, because it all takes so much longer than it does on TV. What is shown is one small chunk of what it takes to actually renovate a property.
It’s a bit more like shop fitout than home renovating. Yes, there’s a bit of building work going on, demolition, new walls and reworking/installation of services. Some of that was within the apartments, but a lot of it was external and managed by the main construction team (not the contestants). So we’re seeing a sliver of what it takes to renovate a home, and seeing a super-condensed version of that sliver.
It’s like thinking you’ve seen what it takes to have a baby, when you’ve only watched the 10 minutes of actual delivery, but not witnessed (for example) the 6 months it took to get pregnant, the 9 months of pregnancy, and the 24 hours of labour. And of course, like renovations, all those components can have massive time variations in them. So whilst the baby physically exiting the body can be 10 minutes [renovation = 10 weeks], it’s just a sliver of the overall process of bringing that baby [finished project] into the world.
LESSON NUMBER 2: The importance of coordination, checking and pre-planning work
We all watched as the-most-talked-about-ceiling-on-TV got its airplay. Deanne and Darren’s decision to move the kitchen to a different location, not understanding the impact of that decision, was a fantastic demonstration of what can occur when you don’t effectively pre-plan, check and coordinate.
Plumbing requires additional floor space due to bends of pipework and required falls to get it out of the building. When planning multi-level homes, you’ll find it’s more efficient to put wet areas over the top of other wet areas – so bathrooms over bathrooms or laundries, or in this case, over kitchens. This helps with the efficiency of plumbing (so you’re not running a spaghetti of services all over your building) and because 2100mm is a minimum legal height in a wet area (as opposed to 2400mm for ceilings in habitable rooms like bedrooms and living spaces).
As was clear on the show, the architect had taken this into account with their planning, so when Deanne and Darren changed the floor plan design without then following up on coordination, they ran into serious issues. Rectification of this work included demolition of finished work, cutting of concrete, reworking of plumbing, and delays in work overall – not to mention additional costs.
The work you do in the getting ready for your renovation is so essential to your renovation going smoothly. Apart from the fact that changing things on site is expensive and time-consuming, pre-planning and coordination is where you build in all your efficiencies, cost and time-savings and maximise your design opportunities. I still believe the architect had it right with the floor plan, taking into account what was possible with ceiling heights, room sizes, existing structure (remember the goal posts to the kitchen?) and connection to outdoors.
LESSON NUMBER 3: Renovating is a mental game
There’s no doubting that a lot of what goes on in The Block is a mental game and a great observation of human behaviour under pressure and deadlines, sleep deprivation and no privacy. This is condensed into 10 weeks of total immersion designed to test the contestants and add drama to the show.
Real-life renovating – well it’s a mental game too. Considered one of the top 10 of life’s most stressful events, renovating can be significantly disruptive to your life, and generally (unlike the TV show), you’re not taking time off everything else to focus on it.
Whilst you won’t have a camera in your face every second, you will have a home that’s a construction site. You may be living in amongst dust, mess, chaos, with other people needing you to make decisions and choices, and money disappearing from your bank account. Or you’ll be staying elsewhere, modifying your lifestyle for that all to occur. It’s disruptive either way.
It is rare that something unexpected won’t come up – a small issue or a big disaster. And if you’re doing a sizable renovation, it will be taking a lot longer than 10 weeks. So, maintaining sanity – playing the mental game – is just as relevant. And it’s much more of a marathon than a sprint.
Having time out every once in a while is useful to maintaining sanity. Like the contestants had challenges and days out to keep their spirits up (and boozey nights off!), taking a weekend here and there where you can escape will certainly be mentally helpful!
To speak in game terms again – keeping your eye on the prize is the key.
What’s the prize? Your finished, renovated home, and the life you’ll get to live in it. Be motivated by that, and keep it in your sights to sustain your sanity throughout.
LESSON NUMBER 4: The exhilaration of completion
What I do love about The Block is seeing how they complete it room by room. So there is this sense of achievement each and every week with mad shopping trips and cleaning and beautiful styling to finish things off.
This rarely occurs in real-life renovating, because you’ll be having trades come through sequentially, doing their scope of work as required in the overall project.
Consequently, the finished result appears much more gradually. However, the exhilaration of completion is still very real! It may just not be as readily realised.
Take regular photos to track your renovation progress – because sometimes progress will feel VERY slow – but when you look at the photos you’ll realise how far your project has come.
Don’t let your sense of achievement be diminished because work happens more slowly, and don’t lose motivation during the project because you’re impatient for that finished result. Celebrate the small achievements throughout the project too. I remember our last renovation, which was particularly gruelling, these small celebrations (like achieving practical completion from our certifier) definitely felt great and sustained us.
LESSON NUMBER 5: The money to be made (vs what was spent)
There has been widespread commentary on the prices achieved by The Block apartments in this series. Opinion is divided on whether they were sold well over their market price, with one article I read suggesting that (to stack as an investment), the maximum value was $2 million.
Some experts suggest reserves were set far too low. Given that previous series have left some contestants with no or little prize money for their involvement, the longevity of The Block series overall is dependent on that equation being improved. Imagine the interest in the next series if potential contestants think there’s $700K on offer for 10 weeks work?
“Renovating for profit” is a big area of discussion and learning online, and whilst my husband and I renovated our homes for profit, it’s not the main focus of my advice and guidance. Of course, with your home often being your biggest asset, my position is that any work you do to it should be considered an investment that stacks (ie makes financial sense and doesn’t overcapitalise the property) so should you need to sell it tomorrow, it sells quickly and sells well. However, it’s equally important (for you and for future owners of your home) that it works, is well designed, and functional and enjoyable as a home.
And as far as The Block goes in a real-life assessment on renovating investment vs profit made, it’s not a very truthful reflection.
Of course, this is not what the show is about at all. It certainly does (particularly through the judges’ assessments) seek to inform you about how to design to market and sell a property – which is great. And that (as well as just being dramatic, watchable TV that makes big advertising dollars for Channel Nine) is probably its chief aim.
So what are the sums?
- Channel Nine reportedly paid $5.7 million for the building in March last year. So, divide that by 4, is $1.425 million cost for each apartment.
- Add in stamp duties, consultant fees, planning costs and general building works – I’m guestimating, but I’d suggest it averages around $150-200K per apartment at least.
- Each couple was given $150,000 in cash, and $150,000 in vouchers, as well as prize money along the way. Are you adding it up? We’re up to just under $1.9M.
- So we’re close to the sale values and haven’t accounted for any labour yet to cover all the work done by the couples, or the upscale on all the discounted trades and supplies they bought with their cash.
So if you are renovating for profit, working out what it will cost you vs what you will sell it for, is certainly an important exercise – as well as renovating in a non-directional style that enables as many buyers as possible to envisage (and lust after) living in your renovated home.
And if you’re just not wanting to over-capitalise on your own home renovation? Well, it’s still important to consider spend vs return and renovating in a non-directional aesthetic style. Then add your unique tastes and preferences as layers over the top: layers than can be easily removed or adjusted by future buyers (or you, when your taste changes).
You can still make a home uniquely yours and be appealing to lots of future buyers – and this is what I always recommend and guide the UA Community to do.
SO WHERE TO NOW?
There’s no rest for the wicked – with offerings from both Channel Nine (Reno Rumble) and Channel Seven (House Rules), there’s lots more reality-TV renovation for your viewing pleasure.
I suppose my biggest issue with all that we see on our screens in renovating reality TV shows is that, whilst they’re fun to watch, they are far from real-life representations of renovating for most of us. But if you’re here reading this – I expect you are super clever and already know that! It can just be hard to remember when you’re in the thick of your own reno and tearing your hair out.
Whilst series 11 won’t start filming until later this year, the property for it was purchased in June last year, and a development approval has already been achieved. (The timing of pre-work!)
Brenchley Architects have been the architects on every series of The Block since it started. The next project is the old Hotel Saville on Commercial Road in Prahran, and is proposed as six apartments above a café. TV Tonight reports that each apartment is on its own level, and contains 3 bedrooms, ensuite, study and north-facing terraces, with a seventh level having a theatre, bar, sunroom and gym!
Roll on Series 11, with more drama and more delight.
And meanwhile – remember real-life renovating means doing at your own pace and focusing on creating a liveable, quality home that will be durable and a beautiful place to live and enjoy.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog, or know someone who’d find it useful – please share the love. And I’d love you to leave a comment below if you’ve been an armchair fan or critic with this series, or learnt different lessons to what I’ve outlined here.
The thing that annoys me when watching the block is the sense of unreality of the properties to most peoples experience . . . . just how many of us would buy, or even want a 3 bedroom apartment costing $2 million.
Amelia Lee says
Hi Brian – thanks for your comment. I think the unreality of these properties comes with the speed and intensity with which the renovating occurs. Most of the design strategies and concepts could be achieved on lower budgets, if you think about them in terms of improved planning, flow of spaces and natural light, etc. Yes, your average renovator does not get that kind of budget to renovate or shop with, but I don’t think that’s the biggest trap for viewers of this program. Having worked at Mirvac for many many years also, I know plenty of homeowners who wanted and bought 3 bedroom apartments for $2 million 😉 My intention is to explain to homeowners that it’s not the money that makes the home great – it’s the design – and great design can be achieved on any budget.
BLOCK=BORING DRAMA so little renovation is actually shown as compared to manipulated dramatic scenes Sadly Home Rules seems to be heading the same way but a bit slower. I think your review is very accurate. Thanks for real reality reno insight.
You’re so welcome Su … it is a lot of drama and a little bit of renovating isn’t it LOL! So glad you enjoyed the blog. You might also enjoy Season 9 of the podcast – “Keeping it Real” – where I dived into this topic in more detail. You can start listening here.
– Amelia, UA