Is your block in need of a facelift?

Follow these tips for a pain-free internal upgrade

As we enter into the winter months, many RMCs may be turning their attention to the question of internal decorations and refurbishment of the common parts of their block. The buy-to-let feature brings to the fore the fact that many blocks, especially in cities, experience a high volume of turnover. With residents moving in and out on a regular basis, the likelihood of the finishes in communal hallways and stairwells becoming scuffed and damaged is significant and they may need freshening up as part of a regular block maintenance programme.

Internal refurbishment schemes can frequently be the cause of angst and frustration if some fundamental points are not considered from the outset. So here are a few pointers to help steer you through these troubled waters.

Clarify the brief from the outset

The first and most important point is to consider what you want to achieve as early as possible. Is the project a simple like-for-like renewal of what already exists? Or - as is more often the case - would you and your fellow residents like to lift the look and standard of communal areas to keep pace with contemporary styles and competition from newer buildings in the vicinity?

If the latter is true of your block, do consider the point that under landlord and tenant law items deemed to be ‘’improvements’’ as distinct from like-for-like repair and maintenance may not be recoverable as service charge expenditure so take advice from your property manager or solicitor accordingly.

When undertaking any project that impacts on everyone living in the block, early dialogue with your fellow flat owners is highly advisable. Send out questionnaires seeking feedback on what residents would like to see or hold meetings on the subject. It should be made clear that these are fact-finding enquires and that, inevitably, not every wish can be fulfilled. Seek volunteers to set up a sub-committee to act as a point of contact for advisors and residents and to provide feedback.

Also, consider what you might be able to do in tandem with the refurbishment project in order to achieve economies of scale. Now is the time to incorporate any re-wiring, lighting, security or fire safety improvements – rather than carrying out other projects a few months after the communal areas have been redecorated.

Practical aspects

The most common source of conflict when people try to agree on something usually hinges on a question of taste. It is clearly not going to be possible to match the style of every flat interior through the common parts and nor it be wise to attempt it. The best schemes tend to be those which are practical and inoffensive – but this needn’t mean bland. Aspects to consider are:

Flooring

Consider volume of traffic, noise in use, safety and ease of cleaning- a beige deep pile carpet may suit a bedroom but not a communal staircase. 

Paint finishes

Remain focused on the likely traffic and wear the common areas receive. There is a compromise to be made between harsh, institutional types of finishes with optimum durability and luxurious soft-feeling themes which rapidly deteriorate in heavy use. Neutral tones in a matt glaze finish work well, being light and airy and capable of some wiping down when occasional marks show. In most cases, when significant damage happens, regardless of the finish selected, it is necessary to repaint a section of wall completely to prevent a patchy appearance. Joinery, such as doors and skirting boards may also be better suited to semi-gloss type finishes such as satin or eggshell where marks can be wiped down. Ceilings and soffits rarely suit anything other than brilliant white vinyl matt emulsion.

Product selection

While personal budgets may cover the extra cost of using designer paints within an individual room of a flat, large common part refurbishment schemes can be taken hugely over budget by such products and these are best avoided in the main. 

Lighting

If changing light fixtures consider energy efficiency, frequency of lamp replacements, ease of maintenance, safe levels of light output and compliance with emergency lighting requirements. Take care to consider selection and positioning of fixtures so they are not prone to damage during removals. It is also wise to order a reasonable number of spare units and/or covers as individual models are often discontinued, causing problems when attending to breakages later on.

Lift cars

Where lift cars feature in schemes consider finishes which will cope with the likely level of use. Smaller lift cars do not often suit easily damaged surfaces as contact with the walls is commonplace.

In all cases wherever possible provide for easily fitted protective drapes for walls and mats for floors.

The final decision

Your selected designer will usually produce two or three ‘mood boards’ with their scheme proposals for client selection.

If appropriate consider the preparation of trial areas for appraisal. Seeing a small area of a potential scheme in situ is far more reliable than relying on mood boards alone. Perhaps invite residents’ feedback on the options set out in this way.

Any changes to the scheme that are required after works get under way are best avoided as they tend to become costly and hinder progress so try and achieve buy-in from all involved and ensure you are comfortable with the final decision.