What are the things we can learn from The Block to help us with renovating and building our own homes?
This is my thank you letter, to the contestants of “The Blocktagon” series, for the specific things they taught us about how to get it right when renovating or building.
I’ve written before about how this reality TV show is far from real life renovating.
Oh – it’s not something I could do – renovating at that pace, permanently being recorded (and edited to be presented in a certain way that works for television audiences), dealing with sleep deprivation and other personalities you might not necessarily click with. That sounds like the best way to bring out the worst in people.
I also would struggle with being on the receiving end of the judging process. Whenever we’ve renovated a property for sale, and when I’ve been involved in development work at Mirvac, we would never produce something so ‘directional’. Fitted out in such a specific style that could potentially polarize.
There was an in-house joke at Mirvac that “benign is fine” … meaning, make it generally appealing, so it appeals to many. So you sell to more.
Some of The Blocktagon rooms have been so jam packed with furniture … so styled and so particular and so ‘on trend’ … it honestly doesn’t make good property development sense to me.
My experience with renovating too, is that the work they do on The Block is not really this, but moreso refurbishing.
The rooms are fairly fixed. Their functions are pre-determined. Yes, there were a couple of instances of flipping uses, removing parts of walls … but nothing dramatic. External window positions can’t be changed (or even frosted!) So contestants are coming in, and essentially fitting out.
That’s not to say it’s not grueling. Force anyone (especially someone with no experience or sleep) to do so much work in one week, and at some point things will go pear-shaped.
I also think that the contestants teach us an enormous amount about who to be when renovating and building our homes. In watching their challenges and successes, and how they manage their teams and executing their work, we can learn big lessons in how to successfully carry out our own projects.
As they put their tools down and start to cross their fingers for great auction results, I’ve been thinking about what these contestants have taught us about renovating and building.
Personal drama aside (of which there has been plenty), let’s take our hats off to the contestants for showing us how to be, and who to be, when we build and renovate our homes.
Each of them have done an amazing job to get this far, but done it in their own unique ways. So here’s my thank you note to the contestants of The Blocktagon.
Dear Suzi and Voni,
I’ll be honest … I have balked several times at things I have heard you say, and seen you do.
I think the pinnacle moment for me was when you, Suzi, said …
“People have to use the tools available to them. Some people may be good on the end of a hammer, and others may be good at batting their eyelids.”
I agree (because I’ve seen it over and over in this industry) that there are two approaches to getting things done. One is to rally a team, get yourself informed, and figure it out.
And the other is to bat your eyelashes, buy everyone coffee and food, and tell them how gorgeous they are, asking if they have girlfriends (or a version of this).
You have displayed a combo of both. Great efforts in getting stuck in, and keeping your site clean, organising your trades, and keeping true to your design style.
And then not so noble moments. Moments that made the feminist in me cringe. And moments that showed you hadn’t been learning as much as others, or being as self-reliant as was possible. (Like the heater debacle on their wet area screed in this latest challenge, and the blame game that went on about not being told by other contestants it needed to get put on).
Oh, and how terribly you managed your budget.
It’s great to build strong, working relationships with those you’re renovating and building with. I prefer to build them on collaboration and mutual respect, than batting eyelids and cleavage (mind you, that is pretty amazing cleavage!)
Dear Kingi and Caro,
Thank you for demonstrating how to do the renovation process well.
Of course, you’ve been able to tackle some DIY with Kingi’s rendering. Whilst this has been an advantage, it certainly shows that you’ve focused on your strengths, what you bring to the table in those specific skills, and then used them in almost every room!
You’ve been disciplined, organised, and managed your budget tightly. It was clear when most were down to single figures in cash, and you still had over $50,000, that you had figured out how to achieve great results without overspending.
It’s not been an elaborate budgeting system either, which I love. You’ve scoped out all the work required, sought estimates from all involved, bumped up those estimates, and ensured your budget could cover it. And then culled and economised when it couldn’t. And haggled. Wow, can you haggle.
And anyone who can keep up an exercise regime whilst renovating – that, I take my hat off to. It’s clearly a great strategy for maintaining overall life balance and managing stress, and a great pointer for all of us.
Dear Shay and Dean,
To the teacher and the electrician, (and the sweethearts of the show) you have shown us how to get stuck in, and manage the project actively. You’ve had a few hiccups, where you’ve not treated your tradespeople with the greatest regard though, but generally your winning rooms have kept you afloat and made you stiff competition for the other contestants.
I’ve been curious as to why the penthouse doesn’t get more budget than the other apartments. You’ll have a higher reserve than the other apartments, and in my experience you generally spend more on the properties that will get the most revenue. However, most will agree … $40,000 on one bathroom is steep – especially when it’s your first room in the series.
You were determined to get on The Block, having auditioned several times. And meanwhile, you got some experience under your belt, doing your own renovations. It’s shown.
And Dean, being an electrician, has given you some insider knowledge in it all. Thanks for showing us how to keep good humour and stay productive under stressful conditions.
Dear Andrew and Whitney,
Thanks for teaching us that renovating, especially when you don’t really know what you’re doing, can be stressful and overwhelming.
There’s been moments I’ve wondered how, Andrew, you can work regularly on construction sites as a concrete formworker. I’ve actually wanted to reach into the TV and smack you. You have seemed to have no idea about what is going on around you, or how to keep pushing progress forward. Repeatedly. However, you have definitely learnt and improved.
I’m not sure whether you made the best decision in saying ‘no’ to Suzi and Voni about their plumbing duct. That being said – they could have talked to you in week 2 when everyone else sorted out their plumbing. (I had some interesting conversations on Instagram that week with people who really didn’t like you guys much.) Sites work well when everyone collaborates, and whether it’s a competition or not – these finished apartments will be real people’s very expensive homes.
Thank you also for showing us how easily you can be treated poorly by the people you are paying to help you, when you don’t know what you’re doing, or to demand better. It was great to see Dan and Keith step in and take control of the situation – and how much that expertise can support you when required.
When you’re open to seeking and receiving advice, it’s possible to find a way forward. Asking for help is hard, but essential when you don’t have the expertise you need to do the job well on your own.
And geeze, what a way to test out a fairly new relationship. Enjoy having your lives back when this is done.
Dear Ebony and Luke,
You have done a great job of keeping your roles delineated, and bringing both your strengths to the table … Luke with your carpentry skills and Ebony with your interior design.
I can imagine, Ebony, (as an interior designer) you would feel an enormous amount of pressure to ‘get it right’, and perhaps that’s what caused the confusion early on. I’m not sure the other couples have their existing professional reputation at stake as much as you.
Thank you for showing us what works and doesn’t work when you renovate or build. That you need to keep things simple, and be true to yourself. That you can use your skills and be clear about what you can and can’t do.
And that you can do it without all the drama. (And I liked the transformer bar-daybed.)
Who do you want to be?
Of course this is all a bit of fun for a TV drama … and sleep deprivation and a camera in your face 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, inexperience and pressure, won’t bring out the best in everyone every single time.
It’s a competition, and they’re playing to win.
But they’re not spending their own money.
If you’re renovating or building, you will be. It will be your money now (that you’ve worked hard to save) or the bank’s money (that you’ll be working hard to pay back).
So if it is your house that you’re renovating or building … And your hard earned savings, or the mortgage you are going to be repaying for the next 30 years, who would you want to be?
Suzi or Caro? Shay, Voni or Whitney or Ebony?
What can you learn from these contestants about how to renovate well, and the strategies that work to save time, money and stress?
Grab those strategies with both hands – because for you, there’s more at stake than TV ratings and an auction result at the end. There’s the home you’ll create, and the life it will help you (and your family) lead.
[Images of contestants sourced from here]