Renovating a Condo: A Beginner’s Guide

Having navigated the whole learning curve when it comes to redecorating and renovating a condo abroad, we share our own experience with a fairly substantial overhaul on our condo in Sukhumvit Bangkok. A guide that is pretty much interchangeable throughout any city or country. At the time our condominium unit had come to a state of disrepair when it comes to simple cosmetic fixes and we decided to go for an interior overhaul.

This condo renovation included almost an entirely new bathroom, new flooring in both the bedroom and living room, as well as refreshing the interior walls and updating fixtures and appliances etc. And while we didn’t have our favourite online furniture stores, we found a decent range of local options for home decoration as well as handy apps for sourcing trusted labour, as we will share through the article.

This would also be the first time renovating this condo after buying it over a decade ago, and so we decided to go all-in, matching the similar high-specs of our original interiors, and, in the end, we spent roughly $10,000. It was bad timing, however, as we took on the renovation of the apartment through the pandemic (early 2020), making work a lot slower, and labour much trickier to source. But other than estimates in timing and budget, all fixes were completed in 3-months, with specs in line with our expectations of similar high-end urban condos.


When to Renovate a Condo?

There is no exact time to renovate a condo, and given you’re on top of general upkeep, like updating decor, cosmetics, and replacing fixtures… then it may feel that there is no need for a complete overhaul. However, there is generally a lifespan on all assets of a condo, and eventually more structural problems will arise, such as flooring, tiling, plumbing, and kitchen fixtures. And all these came to a similar state of disrepair at around 10-years for us.

But this will depend on usage, for example, hotels will ‘refresh’ their units every 3-5 years, and so holiday rentals and AirBnBs may want to look closer to this figure as a guide. However, this was our own condo, our home in Bangkok, and given we travel a lot, with time spent in the rice fields of Thailand (Isaan), and in the U.K. etc. Wear and tear, and the overall need to impress, was not quite the same for us.


Don’t Leave it too Late

It’s not only risky to hold off a renovation, but it will likely be much more costly in the long run. This is what we learned, opting to patch up what were inevitably larger problems, and these fairly expensive patches were pointless in the end when it came to wider work in the apartment.

But the real worry for us, causing literal sleepless nights, was what appeared to be a deteriorating bathroom/wetroom with water penetration in the tiling. This problem eventually passed through to the bedroom flooring, and we were worried about potential plumbing and leaking pipes… and this is where things become very risky, as leaks or damage to neighbouring units would be our fault and repairs would be at our expense. And condo insurance would cover this, it is also relatively expensive, and we had no real need for purchasing it before.

What made us more reluctant to renovate, and caused much of the delay, was due to the original interiors being fairly high-spec, with compressed marble tiling, fancy branding, and whatnot. So we were always reluctant to tear the entire bathroom apart, which what was needed to reach the plumbing, and the renovation and redecoration of the condo was guaranteed to be costly.


Where to Find Local Labour?

Some condos will have in-house maintenance contractors who work regularly throughout the building, and they offer decent rates given there’s no real need for call-out charges etc. Most condo units within a building will also be similar in layout and original fittings etc. and so in-house makes sense. Just call to the front office and ask for help.

If there are no onsite maintenance or handymen available, then ask if there’s a condo messenger group (i.e Line in Bangkok) where other residents will share similar problems and experiences as well as offer local contacts. However, this option is more for minor fixes rather than wider work when renovating a condo.

Otherwise, the simplest way for renovating a condo is to just have the big home improvement stores do it for you, (i.e. HomePro in Bangkok). These massive stores will not only supply materials, but they also have in-house installers and decorators who will come out to do all the work for you. There will be a small call out fee for measurements and estimates, then the rates for labour are fairly standard. Discounts are also offered for the more work offered.

We actually decided to not lock ourselves in with just the one supplier, and instead used Fanfan’s university connections to help, as she originally did a degree in interior design (Applied Arts) in Bangkok. So we had a friend oversee the renovations, and had others who specialize in different aspects of design to help elsewhere. For smaller jobs and fixes, like laying vinyl flooring and wallpapering, we then used a handy wee home maintenance and repair service app called ‘Fixzy’ in Bangkok, which is a platform to source bids from reputable handymen nearby.


Renovating a Condo Abroad

It can be a bit daunting when it comes to renovating a condo abroad, and more so when you have limited or no real connection to the local area. But as a unit owner, in a wider condominium complex, you more or less have an entire community of neighbours who have undergone similar updates and renovations. So it is best to speak to the condo management who can both advise and connect you to groups and chats within the condominium where neighbours will likely be happy to share their collective experiences and knowledge. And with the use of online shopping, sourcing apps, and just the ease of access to information online from anywhere in the world, it is now easier than ever to find trusted suppliers, and competent labour, to help out any condo renovation abroad.

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