Getting the best deal: Just say what you want

with Jamila

This week we talk with Jamila who shares her experience of renovating her home in Yorkshire room by room.

We discuss her negotiation strategies with suppliers and how she worked with her husband as a team.

Plus how visual references and detailed communication help in getting what she wants from the contractors.




Amy: welcome to Stories from Site, the renovation podcast that digs a little deeper. I’m Amy Dohnalek and together with my co-host Jane Middlehurst we peek behind the curtains of those insta-worthy interiors to bring you the real processes people went through to make their dream homes a reality.

Amy: This week we talk with Jamila, who shares her experience of renovating her home in Yorkshire, room by room.

Amy: We discuss her negotiation strategies with suppliers, how she worked with her husband as a team, and how visual references and detailed communication helped in getting what she wanted from contractors.

Amy: So, welcome to Stories from Site, great to have you with us. We would love to know a bit about your renovation journey.

Jamila: Yes, yes, it has been a journey indeed it’s been going very slowly but it is going along we’ve kind of taken the tact of trying to do one room at a time and try and focus to get one room started, finished rather than getting into a bit of You know, when you start one and then you’re like, Ooh, there’s loads of snagging, but I don’t want to do that anymore.

Jamila: I’ll just start another one because it’s, it’s just so tempting to do that. So it has been rather slow for us, if I’m, if I’m honest, and we still have quite a fair bit to do, but we are getting there. We still have the hallway and bedroom to finish, but I am very excited to say that most of the house is done, which is a huge achievement for us.

Jamila: and not to mention, obviously, the cost associated with it and the tiredness that comes with doing a house renovation. Albeit we haven’t done a massive, you know, structural renovation. It’s, it’s mainly internal. It’s still been quite challenging. And very costly not for the faint hearted.

Jamila: But yeah, we’re making our house a home, which is what it’s all about really, isn’t it?

Amy: When you say it’s been challenging, what would you say have the main challenges been?

Jamila: Do you know, the main thing, is not jumping into too many projects at the same time. And just trying to prioritise and reining myself in. Because I am the impatient one of the relationship and my husband holds the purse very tightly.

Jamila: So if it was up to me, I’d be like, let’s just do everything now. But practically speaking, firstly, we’re two very busy people. Secondly, money doesn’t grow on trees, Things are expensive in a renovation world.

Jamila: Tradesmen are increasingly expensive. We can’t do everything at the same time. It’s just not realistic as much as I’d love to do it. So being patient has been the biggest challenge for me. Just raining my little creativity box in a little bit.

Jane: Did you buy the house as a renovation project? How long did it take you to come up with the ideas before, before you got started?

Jamila: So we bought a house that we could see ourselves living in without huge intervention to begin with. When we first bought the house, we lived in it for a little bit. there were quite a lot of things that needed fixing.

Jamila: Things like rewiring, windows being put in plastering, damp proofing, so you know all the stuff that’s not, you don’t see, it’s not pretty straight away and you kind of feel like you’re wasting your money doing all of that because you don’t see it, but you need to make the house sound.

Jamila: So when we saw it, we knew there were going to be some work that we needed to do to it. But we also thought we could live in it whilst we did it. We bought something kind of mid entry, but it was a bit like, Oh God, we don’t want to be here, but it’s not the end of the world. We can live with it and we can do it one room at a time. it was just about seeing the potential of the house. We saw a house that when we walked into the living room and saw the layout with the kitchen diner, and then the conservatory, we just saw our lives there.

Jamila: So, everything else kind of fell by the side and we’re just like we can do this very naively.

Jamila: I know you said you did it room by room, but some of those works sound like you need to tackle them as a whole house, how did you balance not wrecking every room?

Jamila: Oh God, it was really hard. And you know with houses, you need to do things in processes And sometimes if you do them all together, it ends up being cheaper but you don’t have the money straight away. One of the first things we did when we moved in because some of the windows were just shot, we replaced some of the windows straight away.

Jamila: And Then we had to do a damp roof course as well because we had damp in the house. We had to rewire quite a few bits and get a new consumer unit because it was old.

Jamila: It wasn’t to regs. Quite a few little things that we had to do when we got in straight away. So we just did those and it ended up costing us way more than we thought it was going to cost.

Jamila: And then we just thought let’s stop for a second. Let’s live in this house and see how we practically use this house because we wanted to get the kitchen sorted. the kitchen was just not what we wanted. We didn’t have any space in there. There was hardly any cupboard space and most of the units inside were actually rusty when we moved in completely unusable.

Jamila: It was a massive shock for us So the kitchen, we knew that was something we would tackle. But we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a kitchen and not thought about it, practically from our side.

Jamila: So we spend quite a fair bit of time trying to kind of analyze our, our needs and then we went into it. That was the first big project for us. We did the living room when we got there, we ripped some wallpaper out And for a while we were living in what I call a bit of a crack den.

Jamila: And we loved our little crack den, but it wasn’t the look we were going for. So we did, cosmetic enhancement into that space. And it was really very low key, we made do with, what we’ve got re plastering a nick of paint and just styling in there.

Jamila: And it was, grand. And then eventually, we got new windows and blinds. So the room feels much more finished now. But when we first moved in, it was a case of, let’s just see how we use these spaces.

Jamila: Because I think the temptation in people is to do everything as soon as they go in. And then all of a sudden you’re like, I shouldn’t have put that there. Like it doesn’t really work for us. Then all of a sudden you spend thousands of pounds and you’re thinking, Oh God, we need to reconfigure this

Jamila: that wasn’t an option for us. My husband’s very Yorkshire in that way. And he said, you know, if we make a decision, we’re sticking with it. I only just managed to convince him four years later, to change the paint in the living room. So you can imagine how it will have turned out.

Jamila: So, yeah, we, we spent a lot of time thinking,

Amy: And can I ask you about budgets? Because you saidyou knew there was this set of works that you would need to do right off the start. And then that actually turned out to be more expensive than you had anticipated. I just wondered if you had done any kind of homework or investigation into how much that would cost.

Jamila: We had some sort of an idea of how much things cost, but when we bought our house COVID came in, so everything just went silent. And then post COVID tradesmen were like, gold dust, weren’t they? And costs just went up significantly after that. So it threw any budgeting that we had in mind out of the window We had to start afresh, which is why we, took the approach of, do you know what, let’s just do one at a time. Because as much as we had saved we didn’t have a huge amount of money

Jamila: we were very conscious from the beginning that we wouldn’t be able to undertake a full renovation so to speak that we would have to save up as we went along, which is what we’ve done and also kind of use you know, the finances available to us whether it was, taking things on finance, or using our credit cards at times we were very,

Jamila: I’d say probably very pragmatic about some of the choices that we made because what we didn’t want to do as well is going through all of this and incurring quite a lot of debt. You know, we like,

Jamila: very lovely things, but we want to do it at a pace that’s convenient for us without putting ourselves in a situation where we’re just kind of living in an unaffordable home. Which I’m so glad we did because post COVID with interest rates going ridiculous it would have been really,

Jamila: silly for us to just go all in. So what we did is we did a budget for each room as we went along. We had like a, figure of like, right, so we want to spend, I don’t know, 10k on this kitchen. We’re not spending any more than that. So let’s work out what we can get for that money And I think once we get the big thing sort of in, then we slowly. see, do we need to cut here? Is there justification for increasing the cost if we need to? If it’s just because I want, an extra cushion, you can wait next month for that cushion.

Jamila: But if it’s something that’s going to make a significant difference to the design of the home, then we talk about it and then we just see if we can free up some more money. So I think again, quite pragmatic in the way that we approach things, because money doesn’t grow on trees and, you know, we both come from very humble homes, so balancing the income and the outcomes were very, very critical for us and more so for my husband, to be honest than me.

Jamila: Yeah.

Jane: Did that process involve a lot of going to see different showrooms, going to get lots of different quotes? Like, was there a lot of work involved in getting that to the price you wanted?

Jamila: Oh, Absolutely. I am a thrifty bargain hunter at heart. And I work in sales as well. So, you know, I’m quite a good negotiator. So, unfortunately for some of the suppliers that we had I think I battered quite a few of them down.

Jamila: And the key thing for me really and You know, throughout this renovation was to get multiple quotes. And if I’m really honest with you, I played suppliers against each other. And you know, for example, with our kitchen, I knew what supplier we were going to have, I went in there, got them to do the plans, did everything, give me the itemized stuff.

Jamila: And then I ran to loads of kitchen suppliers and said, if you can beat the price. I will do it with you and they all beat the price so I went back to the initial person and said well they’ve all beat the price if you can reduce it then I’ll book it by you and so on and so on and eventually I got a huge discount for the kitchen that we have and I’m thrilled with it you know you’ve got to be in it to win it don’t you.

Amy: And also there’s so many margins baked in. So I think that’s great that you’re asking.

Jamila: Well, the thing for me, you know, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? That they say, no, I could change my mind and go with another supplier. But ultimately especially with the kitchen, for example, because we did the bathroom as well, They needed to make sales desperately. So I knew that and I took advantage of that and we got what we wanted. So I won’t apologize about that because somebody got a commission somewhere they wouldn’t have sold it at a loss.

Jane: But that’s having the confidence of the insider knowledge as well. I mean, they don’t have to say yes to anything. So it’s up to them you’re not forcing anybody, are you?

Jamila: And the thing is, they’ll be honest with you. By the time you’ve, ground them down to literally the bottom, they’ll just say, come on now, Jamila. You know you’ve got a good deal now. You need to take it or leave it now. I want to get to the point where it’s just like, Stop it. We both know you’ve got a good deal. Let’s just do this or let’s not. And usually by the time you get there, it’s a satisfaction because you’ve got what you wanted and you’ve got it at a good price, good value. that’s what it’s all about.

Amy: Can I ask you, the kind of room by room strategy sounds like there’s a lot of conversation going on between you and your other half. Like, were you talking about every decision? How did you work together?

Jamila: We always thought The two rooms that were absolutely critical for us to do were the bathroom and the kitchen, mainly because they were the most expensive spaces that we’d have to do.

Jamila: But I think in my husband’s mind he’s, very practical, when it comes to interiors, One of my favorite things that he always said.

Jamila: So the bathroom that we inherited was abysmal in my eyes. Just not the style that we want. But when he was like, this is brilliant. There’s nothing wrong with it. Reminds me of my grandma’s bathroom. And I was like, and there it is. The fact that it reminds you of your grandma’s bathroom is exactly why we cannot keep this bathroom as it is because grandma, God bless her, is 90 odd years old and that bathroom I know was done some time ago and certainly has no place being in the year 2020, whatever we were in.

Jamila: So, there’s a bit of a, a pull with my husband. So he’s more interested in the cost. I give him some designs. I asked for his input in what he finds critical in the designs. They’re never the creative, the colour scheme or anything like that. So for example, the kitchen, he was like, I want a double oven and I want to tap that’s got, you know, one of those pully outy hose bits.

Jamila: So that, you know, in terms of like his input, that’s kind of his input in stuff that he wants, he’s very much of the practical tech bits.

Jamila: He will have a couple of things that he wants to input in there. Then he’ll be very conscious about the costs and seeing that we can actually get it on budget. And then I’ll normally just give him a like three options in front of him and say, which one do you like the best? And he’ll say A, B or C.

Jamila: And even if he said A and I was leaning towards B, then I’ll just be like, So should we go with B? And he’s like, all right, then love, whatever you want, the coming budget. So he’s not, he’s not too precious unless there’s something that he thinks, Oh my goodness, that’s absolutely horrendous.

Jamila: Jamila, you cannot do this. Then he’s fine with it. he’s quite laid back and I think that’s why we work well because I know what I want. he’s like, Oh God, here she goes again Let her do her thing.

Jamila: So that’s kind of our balance. He’s very much more costs. Practicality, and then I add a bit of the creativity and the flair into our designs. Obviously encapsulating everything else that he does as well, but I think that’s what I added, that extra touch to it.

Amy: So that’s ideal really, because it gives you the freedom to dream and to create.

Jane: I’m sure he’s enjoying the spaces you’ve created, right?

Jamila: Oh yeah, absolutely. He loves it. I mean, every time that we finish something he’s like, oh wow, I never would have thought this. we’ve had quite a lot of family and friends come in and they’re like, God, it’s beautiful. And Michael’s like, I can’t take any credit for it.

Jamila: But you know. the end result for him is always, he always loves it. And I think it’s also because he, as much as I want to live here for quite some time, my husband’s quite set on on going bigger soon.

Jamila: So we know this is not our forever home, which is why we’re not doing major renovation as in external and structural, et cetera.

Jamila: I think also it really shows just in what you just said, like how critical it is to have that conversation of like, how long do we both think we’re living here? Because I think you can think that you’re on the same page, and one person’s like, well, 10 to 15 years, or like 5 to 10, it makes quite a big difference, doesn’t it?

Jamila: It really does because then you’ve got to think. How much are we investing in here and how much are we going to actually make from it? We were quite fortunate when we bought our house that we were able to get a really good deal. So I think so far in terms of what we spent, we’ve actually recouped the money.

Jamila: And I know that if we sold the house now, even though it’s not quite complete we would still make our money back and then some.

Jamila: So I think when he started realizing that some of the things we’ve done add value to the house he was okay with that, but we’re not spending masses either and I think because we’re doing it one room at a time and saving up for it as we go along, it feels more attainable.

Jamila: You know, you’re approaching it in this phased way. When you’re hiring people to help you do that work,How have you found them and how’s that process been?

Jamila: The people that we found is through word of mouth, if I’m honest, and through also you know, seeing work that they’ve done at other people’s homes, just recommendations.

Jamila: And I think for me, that is the best way. Because there’s quite a lot of cowboys out there, aren’t there? And you’re at risk of going in with somebody that you’ve never seen their work before and then they don’t do the work that you want.

Jamila: Now, touch wood, we have been very fortunate with the contractors that we’ve had. They’ve been brilliant and they’ve been able to do the works exactly how we want, especially considering that I am very particular and my husband, bless him always kind of rolls his eyes when I’m telling these contractors what to do.

Jamila: And I always say it up front, you know, so that there’s no confusion and there’s no misunderstanding. I always say, just so you know, I am very particular about certain things, and I want things done a certain wayand I’ll make you as many cup of teas and sandwiches and whatever you want to keep this lovely relationship going, but in the end, I will have it exactly how I want so let’s, keep it moving.

Jamila: And I think when you’re honest with your contractors in that way, it sets them up. They know exactly what kind of person you’re going to be. And, you know, It gives them an opportunity as well, if they don’t want to take the job to not take the job, and I think we then start the relationship knowing that there’s high expectations at stake, especially because like I’ve said, we’re saving up each time.

Jamila: I don’t have money to go back and repair some of the stuff that they’ve not done right. So it needs. to be right the first time. And we’ve been very fortunate in the fact that every single contractor that we’ve had to date had been absolutely fantastic.

Jamila: So yeah, can’t fault anything. And I’m touching wood again because I really don’t want to break that streak. We’ve been very fortunate.

Jane: When you’re paying for them, is it a day rate, or pay per job? So you say, this is the job and this is a fixed price, or are you, more kind of as and when?

Jamila: I prefer, if I’m honest, a job cost as opposed to a per day rate, because

Jamila: I don’t want to be charged extra days just because something has all of a sudden, you know

Jamila: a rose or something like that. I

Amy: I’m absolutely clear with them, like I say I’m really transparent with them when it comes to actually detailing what the project entails, so that they can tell me exactly what the costs are, I don’t like hidden costs, once we’ve talked about the full scope of the works, I don’t want you to come back to me and say well that’s going to be an extra so and so, When that was within the scope of the works.

Jamila: So I think having that initial conversation and making sure that, all parties are aware of what’s going on is really important. Now, if you change your

Jamila: mind that could be an additional cost, but it certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody if it’s within the scope.

Jamila: It really is important on keeping the cost down,

Amy: But I think you’re protecting both parties because if you were to then say to them Oh, actually, I want this extra thing. They can just say well your breakdown doesn’t include that So that’s gonna be extra and you’re like, yeah because it is an extra, you know Like everybody knows where they are And I think also it’s a time saver for them because they work out one time Then they just get on with the job

Jamila: And it’s done.

Amy: Yeah.

Jamila: That’s the beauty of me doing one room at a time. I can really focus my time and attention on one project. So it’s not like my mind is going on 500 things

Jamila: So it means that I know exactly what I want.

Jamila: I think is really successful about the way you’re describing working is the fact that you have done that work of Laying out and listing all the things in the job because it isn’t fair to say, look, I want a, a fixed price for this job. And it’s vague, you know, that’s difficult for a builder to cost ’cause they dunno what they’re doing.


Jamila: It really is, because not only do I break it down in terms of this is exactly what I want, but I give them visual representations as well. So like for our bathroom, I send them loads of inspirations that I had, like a mood board that I’d collated.

Jamila: And quite specifically, some of the things were going to look, not exactly like that, but rather close to that, so they needed to know, you know, how complex it might be.


Jamila: So all of that it was important for us to communicate to them. And we did that successfully and,

Jamila: it’s

Jamila: worked out quite well for us.

Jane: Those, those two things just, one, I have a very clear vision of what I’m trying to create here, and I want you to create exactly what’s in my vision, and two, giving them visual references so they can understand what exactly the vision is and what that means for them technically.

Jane: I just think that’s so key, isn’t it? You don’t want to scare someone off but actually letting them know that, like you said everybody’s on the same page

Jane: And yeah, I really like that you’ve communicated that really well.

Jamila: Communication for me is absolutely key and paramount to any project

Jamila: At the end of the day as well, that is a job that you’re paying them for, so I think you need to be, vocal about what you want, being kind of, French Ghanian background. I’m very vocal and I’m not shy in expressing myself.

Jamila: And I think, the very typical British thing to do is shy away from those conversations sometimes, even at the detriment of your dream, which I find so baffling. I’ve had friends that are like, I just couldn’t tell the contract.

Jamila: that that’s not quite what I wanted and then they’ve left and I didn’t want that. So then I’ve had to call them back the next day to then come and fix it. And I was like, well, why didn’t you just tell them whilst they were there? I just didn’t want the confrontation. It was just too awkward. And I was like, well, you’ve made it awkward for both of you now, because you’ve got something you didn’t want.

Jamila: Then the contractor is going to have to come back and fix it when you could have just done it to begin with.

Amy: It’s like politeness gone crazy, isn’t it? Yeah,

Jamila: It’s just so funny. And it’s such a British thing to do. don’t get me wrong. I did have one of those instances with the bathroom he got to this thing and I was like, Oh God, I can tell them.

Jamila: Right, go on. Let me just get them a cup of tea and get some biscuits and I’m like guys, this is a bit awkward. And do you know what? I just took the You know, the plaster off, and it was fine in the end, but I did feel like, anxious about saying it. And it’s not like me to be anxious at all, but it’s funny because by the time I’d got up with the biscuits, they’d already kind of figured it out.

Jamila: Do you know what I mean?

Jamila: So I didn’t really have to say much. They were just like, oh yeah, we know you won’t like it like this. So we’ve, we, yeah, we were looking at the thing and this is how, and I was like, oh, thank God for that because that would have been, you know, I was like, this is how it must feel.

Jamila: How, how awful. But that’s because I had got to a point that I was like, oh God, if I tell them one more thing, bless them, they might just kill me off. But we had a running joke, you know, and they were like, oh, here she comes again. It was just fun. It was just banter.

Jamila: So by the end of it, it was, you know, it was really good.

Amy: I have to say, I think this is going to be such useful episode for everyone. So thank you so much.

Jamila: Oh, I’m glad

Jane: It’s massively helpful.

Jane: Just say what you want.

Jamila: It sounds complicated, but it’s so simple.

Amy: I think also contractors don’t mind pickiness. I think it’s indecision that is difficult for them

Jane: And redoing works like that whole thing of having to call them back you don’t want to say it in the first place, but then you actually can’t live with it.

Jamila: So when they actually ask you, are you happy with everything? If you’re too awkward to say no, then it’s your own fault then, isn’t

Jamila: it Um, You know, you’ve got to say it at the time to give them a chance to rectify things.

Jamila: And you’ve got to get it off your chest because if anybody’s like me, when it’s not quite what I want, I just can’t sleep I’ve just spent thousands of pounds on this and it’s not what I want. And God forbid, I ever have to go through that.

Jamila: Everything that we’ve got done, I’ve been happy with the results. And even if it wasn’t right, at the time just say, no, it’s not quite right. Just move that. it makes a massive difference. it also means that you’re really satisfied with the job, which is going to create more jobs because so far bathroom, for example, because I was so happy about it.

Jamila: boasting about it. This girl asked me if I can recommend anyone. And I was 100% happy to recommend them. And she ended up getting two bathrooms done by them.

Jamila: So It’s a win win for everyone they can get more jobs and I am confident in recommending them,

Jane: Thank you so much, That was really amazing

Jamila: Oh, good.

Amy: Really really helpful.


Jane: Thank you to Jamila for joining us this week. And if you would like to see pictures of her project, then head to our website At homenotes.co/storiesfromsite.

Our closing thoughts:

“Say what you want” – we love this bit of sage advice from Jamila.

Communication is the key to keeping everyone on the same page – from builders to partners!


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