Your kitchen doesn’t rule – it doesn’t even function particularly well. Perhaps the bathroom tiles are ugly or your flooring needs an upgrade.

Renovating any of the above in a stand-alone house is challenging enough, but try to do the same work in an apartment and you can expect a serious rumble in your reno.

Despite what you might see on The Block, transforming an apartment takes more than hefty tradespeople and a sprinkle of design magic. It can be a slow, sometimes bureaucratic process that involves talking nicely to your council of owners as well as finding a specialist builder.

“Depending on what you want to do, renovating an apartment can be relatively time consuming even when you take into account the size of the space being transformed,” says Daniel Crotty, Colliers International’s Head of Residential Sales and Marketing.

“You need to really think the changes through and we have seen buyers deterred from existing stock if they think there is a lot to do simply because of the logistics involved in renovating apartments.”

Those logistics include figuring out the best place for builders or tradespeople to park on site as your neighbours will soon object to vans in the visitors’ bays.

And while a house renovation can see a skip bin placed on the verge where waste can end up as demolition goes on, many strata councils require trades to remove mess from the site as they go.

The hours of operation are likely to be strictly enforced, with no drilling or noise in evenings or early on weekends. So your plan to rip out the bathroom after work? Forget it.

Then there are the rules that relate to what you can and can’t change in your apartment – and there are plenty of horror stories of flat owners who have tried to add shutters to their balconies or reposition their front doors, only to discover they have run afoul of complex bylaws.

“The big issue relates to what is ‘common property’ which usually includes your floors, ceilings, walls shared with neighbours, windows, balconies, roof space, some concealed wiring and plumbing and the front door,” Daniel says.

“The rule of thumb is that everything inside the paint of your walls is yours. Everything else is common property.”

That can include the tiles on your apartment floor (but, oddly, not carpet), so double check whether your owners’ corporation will let you rip the tiles up to replace with those lovely floorboards you have in mind.

Even if they don’t mind you removing the tiles, the council of owners might demand extra insulation if you decide on boards, and WA laws require proprietors to ensure all floor space in living areas or bedrooms “is covered or otherwise treated to an extent sufficient to present the transmission therefrom of noise likely to disturb the peaceful enjoyment of the resident of another lot”.

That can mean additional acoustic underlay, pushing up the price.

In NSW, which spells out its strata laws in more detail, even recessed ceiling lights belong to the common property and any drilling you do into a wall that could alter building acoustics is also ruled out without express permission.

“It isn’t impossible to renovate an apartment and many people can realise an increase in capital gain by updating what they have,” Daniel says.

“But you need to go into the renovation with a clear understanding of what rules apply, and with your neighbours in your corner before you start.”


What should you do before renovating?

  1. Talk to your council of owners about your plans. Explain early on what you are doing, that the building or changes will be carried out competently, by tradespeople who are properly insured, within acceptable working hours.
  2. Speak to your immediate neighbours and get them on side (even if it means agreeing to live through their renovation in a year or two) to ensure they will not be complaining about you once the drilling begins.
  3. Find a builder or tradesperson who has renovated apartments before and who can help navigate the complex bylaws and deal with the logistical challenges. Be sure they have the appropriate insurance to undertake the work and that they understand the constraints of the job.
  4. Consider any plans very carefully – you will struggle to move services or make structural changes so see what you can do with the existing layout before gutting the flat.
  5. If all else fails, talk to an interior designer. Landgate says strata owners are allowed to paint, wallpaper or decorate “the structure that forms the inner surface” without requiring the consent of the strata company, so see how cosmetic changes can improve the room.


Negotiate before you renovate

When Kaylie Morphew decided to upgrade her Maylands villa, her first step was to talk to her strata council of owners.

Kaylie, a residential sales executive with Colliers International, wanted to redo her courtyard and a bathroom, but her plans meant getting her neighbours to agree to her dream.

“The courtyard was designated ‘exclusive use’ rather than part of our property at that point, which meant I needed everyone’s permission before I made changes,” she says.

“But there wasn’t any pushback – so I was able to go from 15sqm of ugly paving with a dodgy flower bed to a courtyard with a new pergola, decking, artificial grass and a sandpit for my son.”

Her bathroom also required permission, since it attached the wall of another property, but Kaylie says her neighbours were supportive here as well.

“The bathroom dated from when the property was first built in the 1980s and had chipboard cupboards that were falling apart, a leaking shower and was really outdated,” she says.

“We ripped everything out, bought the tiles and all the fittings, then I had a builder who came in and project managed the rebuild, supervising the different trades.”

Because the plumbing was chased through the common wall, Kaylie had to ensure nothing she did would affect her neighbour.

“We had to be careful we didn’t interfere with anything on their side,” she says.

“But our plumber finished the plumbing without causing any damage, completed all the work during weekdays, and he took away all the mess each day.”

The benefit of the renovation is already clear. Kaylie estimates she spent $22,000 in total on the courtyard, bathroom and new shutters throughout, but a third party appraisal estimated the value of the property had increased by approximately $50,000.

“What’s more, we get to live in a villa that is much more suited to our lifestyle,” she says.

“We found our neighbours very supportive, but that’s also because I told them what we were doing. No one wants to wake up one day with a surprise renovation going on next door.”