Hindsight, what a marvellous invention.
I can't turn back the clock on my own renovations, but if anyone out there is mad enough to be contemplating one of their own, I hereby offer some of the lessons I have learned over the past two years.
1. Know the basic guidelines set by your local council. You would think that if you engage a professional builder to draw up some plans they will know what is allowed by your local council. Do not assume anything! In our case, six months were wasted after the designer submitted a very beautiful set of plans to council which had the upstairs addition at the front of the house. Our local council are very clear that second storeys must be located at the back of the block. It was only after the plans were rejected that I went online to read the building guidelines, and it was very clear, even to me. If I had been even vaguely familiar with the guidelines before we started, I doubt we would have allowed the first set of plans to even be printed, let alone submitted to council.
2a. Keep a record of everything. It may seems a little anal and OCD, but I had a 55c school notebook that I took everywhere. I recorded every conversation we had with builders, designers, banks, tradies and the council. I took down names, dates and phone numbers. I wrote down the names of taps and tiles and toilets, serial numbers, prices - I even drew pictures! Taking photos would have been even more helpful. That little book saved my skin a dozen times over, as I could recall details in an instant, knew who to call if there was a problem, and could solves disputes by simply looking things up in my House Bible.
2b. Get everything in writing. The flipside to the House Bible is the written quote. Don't let the warm fuzzy security of the House Bible make you think you don't need suppliers to provide formal quotes. Print emails and file them somewhere you can actually find them. If you have a phone conversation with someone, follow it up with an email and get them to acknowledge the decision/price etc in writing.
3. Check things as they are delivered, not after they are installed. I was at home throughout the entire process as we have two small children (living through renovations with small children is a blog in its own right) but it meant that I was almost always home when things were getting delivered and installed. If I saw a plumber walking in with a toilet I would stop him, say hello, and promptly check the details and match them with my House Bible to make sure we were getting the right thing. Most of the guys didn't mind - after all, they were the ones who would have to remove it again if it was wrong. I picked up on the wrong bathroom tiles before they were installed and the wrong glass splashback. I was able to stop the carpet layers installing carpet on my jarrah stairs. I wasn't home the day they installed the wrong glass in the bathroom windows, but we can't win everything!
4. Don't be afraid to ask questions and make complaints. This was the hardest lesson for me to learn, as we are all raised to be polite and not make a fuss. Make a fuss! If you are not happy, say something! Yes it's awkward and you feel like a right heel, but not only are you paying for it, but you have to live there after all the tradies pack up and move on. If it's not right, get them to fix it. If it was your kids who spilt paint all over the bricks you'd yell at them and make them clean it up, so why would you accept any less from professionals who are being paid to give you something new and beautiful?
5. Keep telling yourself it will all be over soon. Building is like pregnancy... there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it will all be worth it. Keep things in perspective, keep a sense of humour and keep a bottle of wine in the fridge.