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Planning any refurbishment works will help you make the best use of your time, money and other resources. This page aims to help you do exactly that, looking at:

Please note: Any work that you carry out may be classed as 'building work' and need building control approval. It is best to always check with your local council's building control service.


When budgeting for refurbishment, you need to include the direct cost of the refurbishment work, but also various associated additional costs.

Refurbishment costs

These will vary depending on:
  • size of works: adding one partition wall will obviously cost less than fitting a suite of rooms with en-suite kitchen facilities! You may find that the quotes you receive from builders are much higher than you anticipated. We would recommend that you write a brief for a contractor based on a comprehensive outline of all the work you would like done. If the costs then seem too high, you may decide to compromise on elements which are less essential. A good contractor will be able to discuss with you areas where costs can be reduced. More information on writing a brief
  • materials specified: using higher quality materials, such as sound-proof partition walls, will increase costs. You can ask contractors to give you several quotes using different quality materials
  • contractor: different contractors will quote different prices. Get quotes from three contractors to ensure you are getting a competitive price. This does not necessarily mean choosing the lowest tender. You may decide to pay more for a contractor you feel will undertake better quality work. When comparing tenders, make sure you are clear on what each tender includes so that you are comparing like with like

Additional costs

You will need to undertake refurbishment work before you move into your new offices. You will therefore be paying rent or mortage repayments, service charges and rates on two offices during the work. You need to include this in your budget.
  • if you are renting, you can reduce costs by negotiating a rent free period or a reduced rent and service charge with your new landlord whilst the work is being undertaken. It is more likely that you will be able to negotiate a reduced service charge, as you will not be using as many services during this period
  • when undertaking a refurbishment, you can apply for Empty Property Relief on business rates, but only if the 3 or 6 months void period hasn’t been utilised by the landlord before the re-letting.  Further information on rates can be found here
  • if you are unable to stay in your existing office for the length of the work, you will either need to negotiate an extension with your current landlord or pay for temporary serviced office accommodation/storage facilities. Alternatively, you could move into your new office while the refurbishment is being undertaken. However, this is highly unadvisable as it poses health and safety risks and is a negative start to life in your new environment. Staff will feel dissatisfied as the office is not set up as it should be, and their work may be adversely affected by noise and needing to move to avoid works
  • if additional costs prove restrictive, you could reduce the size of your refurbishment works to mimimise the time it takes and the burden of double office costs

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It is essential to arrive at a good estimate of how long the work will take. This will help you:
  • determine when you need to start the works
  • finalise any negotiations on ending your existing lease
  • calculate how long you will be paying costs on two offices
Contractors should provide an estimate of how long they will take, but you should always add on some over-run time, to allow for unforeseen problems or delays.

Moving into an unfinished office is fraught with difficulties. This may be unavoidable if you have had to find a new office at short notice. However, timetabling and planning your move well in advance will help avoid this.

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The best way to find a reliable contractor is through a recommendation. Fellow tenants or your agent (if you used one) may be able to recommend a building firm. Remember, a large firm will not necessarily do a better job than a small local firm. Unless the work is minor and straight forward it’s usually better to instruct a Chartered Building Surveyor or Architect – particularly if structural work or work to a Party Wall is necessary.  It will avoid the almost inevitable argument with the contractor.  Other ways of finding a reliable contractor include:
  • Find A Builder is a website run by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), the building industry's largest trade association. FMB members are vetted to ensure they adhere to a strict code of practice. All builders who are registered with the FMB are listed on this site. You can search by postcode and trade
  • in January 2006, the UK Dept. for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) launched TrustMark, a gold standard for tradesmen requiring them to sign up to a strict code of practice. The website allows you to search by postcode, company name or trade
  • Constructionline is the UK's most extensive register of local and national construction providers who are pre-qualified to work in the public sector, giving you more peace of mind over their reliability
  • some Local Authorities also run schemes for approved contractors, often through local referral schemes. Although these are aimed primarily at households, they may also be available for small-scale office works. Look on your Council website, or ring the Council's Planning department to see if they can give you further details

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Writing a refurbishment brief

Your refurbishment brief needs to provide sufficient information to:
  • allow contractors to quote accurately for the work
  • allow the contractor to comment on the practicalities of the work you require and help identify cost savings
  • deliver the outcome you want

What to include in your brief

  • an outline of what you want to achieve: where you are not familiar with materials or design considerations, a description of the outcome you want will help the contractor identify the best methods or materials for the job. Such considerations might include access, sound proofing or reducing the environmental impact of the refurbishment
  • a plan of work: try and get a scale plan of your new office from the agent/landlord, and draw up the design of the changes that you want
  • measurements
  • light requirements. do you need glass/extra windows to be fitted into/removed from partitions?
  • services requirements: do you need electrical work such as additional power points, cabling for IT, or plumbing for bathrooms or toilets? The contractor may not have the experience to undertake this work his/herself, but they will be able to sub-contract this work out. You could manage these contracts separately, which is likely to be cheaper, although much more of a management burden
  • material requirements: this is only really necessary if you have specific requirements, such as sound proofing or environmental concerns

If you are planning a large-scale refurbishment, it may be appropriate to enlist external advice to ensure that:

  • you are asking for appropriate work to be undertaken (ie. what you want is not too difficult and therefore costly)
  • the brief you give to the contractor will get you the results you want (for example, if you are trying to create a 'quiet room', you may need to use specific materials to create the walls, otherwise sound may penetrate too readily)
  • the work will not contravene any existing regulations in place on the building or negatively impact on any services etc. (heating/ventilation/access)
  • you comply with the building regulations
  • you clarify at the beginning who is responsible for compliance with building regulations – you or the contractor carrying out the work
  • you make a sensible decision about whether you are going to use the building control service provided by your local council or if you are going to use a private approved inspector. There are pros and cons for both
  • for more information about building regulations see Building Regulations – an explanatory booklet which can be downloaded from the DCLG website

Our Register of Property Professionals is a list of professionals who will often work for charities at reduced rates.

We would recommend that you consider very carefully the environmental implications of any work you undertake. Read-up on considerations when assessing the environmental impact of refurbishment work.

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