Matt and Fiona Ralston who call themselves 'The Accidental Renovators'
Matt and Fiona Ralston who call themselves 'The Accidental Renovators' Darren Hallesy

Meet The Accidental Renovators

ANY expert will tell you how stressful renovating can be, but one Ipswich couple has done it so often, they don't know any different.

THE idea of renovating a home you're living in fills most people with one of either two thoughts, which are excitement or complete and utter dread.

For Ipswich's Matt and Fiona Ralston, their first renovation turned out to be just the first of five makeovers that have produced great results.

The parents of two twelve-year old's, the couple's biggest renovation was over seven years, when they purchased an ex rental home, their fourth move, right into the heart of Deebing Heights.

After seven years of earthmoving, painting, building, sanding, and all the other joys that come with a renovation, the couple realised that when it was done, they needed something within riding distance of their school, with two kids growing fast, so they put it on the market.

Over the years they've learnt a lot about each other, about the do's and don't of renovating, plus everything you ever need to know about budgeting. Lots of budgeting.

The kitchen before the renovation
The kitchen before the renovation

HOME SWEET HOME: Matt and Fiona's home  after the renovation.
HOME SWEET HOME: Matt and Fiona's home after the renovation.

Today the couple seem closer than ever, as they smile and laugh about the years they've spent together focussing on the end result.

"We have renovated before," Mr Ralston said. "The first time was when we were engaged, we did a small reno at our house in Blacksoil as a test. From there we built a house in Flinders View, then a smaller home in Yamanto, then a seven-year project in Flinders View, and now we are renovating our current home back in Yamanto.

"We never planned it this way, and it was never the goal to buy and sell all the time, but that's how it turned out. Once we're finished one reno, we'd sell and buy again, but it was because our needs were changing. We sold the house in Deebing Heights for example because the kids were older and wanted to ride their bikes to school, and Yamanto was the perfect spot.

"I often rang my dad for advice, as he's a builder, and I also found the internet is great for learning how to renovate. I look after all the hands on work, while Fiona manages the design and budget. Anyone can do it, anyone. If we can, anyone can!"

It was their fourth renovation that really took the cake when it comes to makeovers, and the result was something very special, and Fiona said that when she first saw the house, she didn't want to live in it.

"The house was an ex-rental," Fiona said. "When we bought the house in Deebing Heights we went in there with the plan to at least freshen it up. The tenants had ruined the carpet and smoked inside the house. I said 'I'm not going back in there until it's been repainted and recarpeted'. We didn't plan to renovate to the extent we did, but I think with any reno it is something that evolves.

"All up it took seven years and that included earthworks, putting in a pool, sheds, a firepit and the house inside from top to bottom. We worked at night, weekends and Matt was lucky in that he had a good boss that would let him take time off to work in blocks, then make up some hours so he could build up leave."

11 Yugara Court after the renovation
11 Yugara Court after the renovation

Matt and Fiona often would feel the stress of renovating, and there is an old saying that doing something like a reno will make you or break you as a couple, as Matt explained.

"All the time we look at each other and say 'What are we doing?', but we get past that by ticking something else off on the 'to do' list. I have a reputation for doing stuff to 90% before I'll start on the next thing. That's the spice of something different I suppose, I do a job where it gets to a point where you can go onto the next thing. Right now we have half a kitchen done, but the home theatre is 98% done, it's just missing a piece of furniture, so we'll say you know what, we can start on the next thing now."

"The best tip for having your marriage survive a renovation (or four), is really remembering that every day is a new day. Don't stew over things. Many people look at us and love that we are able to work things out without grudges, and we champion each other. Don't let little things get to you."

11 Yugara Court after the renovation
11 Yugara Court after the renovation

Fiona says that over time, the couple has learned so much about renovating, and each other, plus what it takes to live in a house that is constantly in a state of upgrading.

"Be realistic with what you can achieve," she said. "If you are doing a small renovation it won't take long, but when you start taking out walls, replacing kitchens and bathrooms, that takes more time, patience and money. You need to be mentally prepared for what you are going to do, because there is no going back, especially if you are living in that house while its being done.

"All of our most recent houses have had two bathrooms, so we've done one before doing the other because you have to live in it. That's the best advice I can give, don't do both together. Personally, we like to do the kitchen and bathrooms first, as they set the tone for the rest of the house. Plan your tradies/contractors so that each job rolls into the other, so for example you're not waiting on a tiler for three weeks because they are booked out, or a plumber, or a sparky. Have them ready to do the next stage once the previous job is done.

"Our first bathroom reno took five weeks, and the last one took two weeks, because we learnt from our previous renovations. To anyone thinking about renovating, the best advice I can give is don't overcapitalise. Know your budget."

11 Yugara Court after the renovation
11 Yugara Court after the renovation

After seven years the couple and their two children had to say goodbye to their home, but they knew that it was time to move on. As Fiona now works in the property industry, she also learned a lot about presentation.

"When you're presenting the home for sale it's important to declutter the house," Fiona said, "spend a little extra to get the right furniture in there. We never thought it would make much of a difference, but it really does. We believe that kitchens and bathrooms sell houses, along with outdoor areas because that's where people spend most of their time."

11 Yugara Court after the renovation
11 Yugara Court after the renovation

Matt believes that Ipswich is a great place to buy, sell, build and renovate, for a multitude of reasons.

"We love Ipswich because its handy to both coasts, Brisbane and the Scenic Rim," Matt said. "Ipswich is just in the best location. I don't think we could have done this in any of those places. Each time we do it we think how much we are spending. Our first home was $80,000 and at that time we thought how much that was, whereas today you can't even get a block of land for that."

"Ipswich will always be a smart choice for people who want to buy a property without the price fluctuations you get elsewhere. It's a very stable place, and you generally know your neighbours for a long time. From an investment point of view, it's not so volatile as the coasts, Brisbane and interstate.

"Why would you live anywhere else?"



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