What is a “cosmetic renovation"? Investment terms explained

What is a “cosmetic renovation"? Investment terms explained
Jennifer DukeDecember 7, 2020

Renovations to add value are all about being visual and this is especially true when it comes to the concept of renovation ‘cosmetically’.

The clue to what this means is really all in the word ‘cosmetic’. It’s like makeup for your property – you’re providing a visual uplift without doing any of the hefty structural work.

However, the extent of what counts as cosmetic is pretty broad. While some wouldn’t consider replacing a kitchen as cosmetic, some may believe that replacing the doors and handles and re-tiling does count as cosmetic.

As a rule of thumb, cosmetic renovations are generally cheaper than structural renovations and usually offer more bang for your buck. They involve things that are visually apparent, and not hidden fixes such as re-wiring or plumbing.

The following are usually considered part of a cosmetic renovation:

  • Painting (from the walls, to the house’s façade to the driveway)
  • Fixing minor cracks in walls
  • Light fittings and window furnishings
  • Flooring (such as new carpet)
  • Re-colouring (such as the surfaces of a bathroom)
  • Updating basic household hardware (such as a towel rack, toilet seat or new door handles)
  • External flourishes (new house number, letterbox etc)
  • Light landscaping (sometimes even adding new fencing)

Renovating for Profit’s Cherie Barber says that a 10% spend is the amount required for a cosmetic renovation.

If you’re unsure whether what you’re undertaking is cosmetic or not, then it’s worth asking yourself whether you require a particular planning or building permit for the job. That usually suggests that the project is slightly more extensive than a cosmetic upgrade, which is typically a “surface” fix.

If you’re changing a floorplan or knocking down walls (particularly load bearing), you’re firmly into structural renovation territory.

However, just because cosmetic renovations are typically quicker, smaller and cheaper (although not always) than their counterparts, it doesn’t mean that you can rest on your laurels. There’s still scope to overcapitalise, to get the renovation wrong and to make crucial mistakes.

Jennifer Duke

Jennifer Duke was a property writer at Property Observer

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