1 Appraise the state of the property, by breaking it down into structural parts as a builder would. What condition are the following in?

l Walls, plastering, repointing etc.

l Roof - does it need reroofing?

l Floors - what are the joists like and how much flooring is needed?

l Electrics - does it need a new circuit board, rewiring?

l Plumbing, heating and hot water

l Windows

This goes some way to breaking down the costs into a more tangible set of figures. Tasks can then be prioritised.

2 Keep a contingency fund (10-15 per cent of your budget) for unexpected extras as you expose more of the property - walls falling down, a bit of rot.

3 Many structural surveys mention damp and infestation. Don't panic - and don't line the pockets of "specialists". Apart from the guarantee, most jobbing builders will provide the equivalent at a fraction of the cost. Most houses have

some damp and a bit of rot and unless it is dry rot and rife, it can be tolerated.

4 Most builders are hopelessly optimistic when estimating time.

5 More and more local authorities are releasing their dilapidated properties for sale. If you are financially organised it is possible to beat off builders at auction by bidding over their profit margin.

6 You have to enjoy "camping" - unless you can afford to live elsewhere whilst the work is going you will have to sacrifice creature comforts. We had no bath or hot water for three months.

7 Do not proceed with your partner unless you are pretty sure your relationship can take it. It will be tested.

8 Do not stop the momentum of working. It is very difficult to start again.

9 Before hiring a builder, isolate the parts of jobs - preparation and clearing up for example - that you can do. Labour is far more expensive than materials in most common domestic tasks.

10 Keep the grandparents happy.

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