Inspiration and advice for your building project
If you want to work your way up the property ladder towards your dream home you need to know how to maximise the value of where you live now, and it's not just about cosmetic enhancements such as converting the loft or redesigning the kitchen, it's also important to consider basic structural repairs. Renovation expert Michael Holmes offers his advice.
Before you even begin to consider cosmetic improvements and repairs like new bathrooms, kitchens, flooring and redecorating, make sure you fix any major structural problems. Cosmetic solutions can hide problems from potential buyers but are very unlikely to fool a valuer and this will be sure to scupper any sale.
Examples of structural defects include:
These defects can all be repaired but at a price. They are likely to be amongst the most expensive work required in a renovation project but, in terms of adding value, they are absolutely essential. If you are unsure about confusing structural defects with purely cosmetic faults, then consult a builder, surveyor or structural engineer.
As repairing any of these problems can be very disruptive, it is essential to identify them and get the work completed in the early phases of a project, ideally before you move in.
Adding or updating the central heating system will always add more to the value of a property than it costs. It will be considered an essential by most buyers and mortgage valuers. Using a plumber to add central heating to an average three bedroom Victorian or Edwardian house will cost £3-4,000.
Updating the heating system needs to be done in conjunction with improving the general energy efficiency of the building. Seal any drafts around doors and windows (but not airbricks), consider replacing windows that are beyond repair with double glazing, and add insulation into the loft space.
If the existing boiler is in reasonable working order and has adequate output for the heat requirement of the building, always try to make use of it with the exception of boilers that draw their air intake from inside the house. If the boiler has sufficient capacity, you could add new radiators and a heated towel rail, or underfloor heating to the existing system.
Updating services such as wiring and plumbing is a disruptive job, involving lifting floors and chasing out plaster walls, so find out exactly what is required and complete the work before making any cosmetic improvements.
Electricity: Updating the electrics may be essential if the house has not been rewired for some years. You should be able to tell by looking by the meter if there is an old fuse box, you probably need to rewire the house and install a modern consumer unit with a RCD (residual circuit device) for safety. Adding extra sockets will also add value to your home and in some cases it might be worth opting for attractive face plates for sockets and switches. If rewiring, use the opportunity to update lighting and to add extractor fans in the bathrooms.
Plumbing: Old pipework can be very furred up, leading to poor hot and cold flow, knocking or rattling sounds and other noises at worst, it can lead to burst pipes. Consider a pressurised plumbing system, rather than gravity fed, as it eliminates the need for a header tank, thus freeing up space, and ensures good pressure on both the hot and cold supplies. If you have room for a cylinder, you can still have stored hot water for filling a bath quickly. If not, consider a combination boiler that provides hot water on demand but make sure you choose one with a good flow rate you need at least 10 litres a minute for a decent power shower.
Small defects do not directly affect the value of a property. However, cumulatively they will prevent it from selling at the optimum price. The following are typical defects that will put many buyers off, yet which can be fixed simply by any competent DIYer: peeling paint; squeaking or sticking doors and windows; door latches that dont work; mouldy sealants in kitchen and bathroom; dripping taps; loose tiles; sewer smells; broken or damaged windows; squeaky floors and stairs; cracks to ceilings and plasterwork, and lifting flooring.
A typical loft conversion costs around £500-600/m² compared to around twice this for an extension. In terms of adding value, it is likely to be a very good investment providing it adds more accommodation than it takes away remember you need to make room for a full staircase and this will take up existing space.
Check first of all that the roofspace can be converted cost effectively. There needs to be plenty of headroom and the roof structure needs to be built either using attic trusses or cut roof timbers. If you see a web of thin timbers then you have a modern fink truss roof which is more expensive to convert in this case you need a specialist contractor and need to weigh up the benefits with the costs more carefully. Header tanks can be moved and if you upgrade to a mains pressure, sealed system, can be eliminated altogether.
Loft conversions must comply with the latest building regulations and this means adding a lot of insulation (around 100mm of urethane) between the roof timbers, and also underneath the trusses (around 45mm or urethane) this will reduce the headroom further. The Building Regulations also require an enclosed means of escape which means adding firedoors on closers to all habitable rooms leading onto the halls and staircase.
Natural light can be brought in either via dormer windows or rooflights. A loft conversion does not require planning permission, as it uses existing volume however, creating dormer windows may need planning if they face a highway (typically the front of a property) and so it is always worth checking with the planners.
New double glazed PVCu windows can add considerable value to a property and in the lower end of the market are considered essential by most buyers, regardless of their style or lack of it. PVCu windows require very little maintenance, are energy efficient and, depending on design and installation, can be very secure.
In higher value period properties, however, aesthetics start to become a more significant factor, to the extent that a premium can be placed on a property that still has its original period windows, providing they are intact and functioning well. In such properties, therefore, it is often only worth replacing windows that are either beyond repair or inappropriate in terms of style, or where they could add more light. Where windows need replacing, they should be replaced like for like although it will be necessary for them to be double glazed to meet the current building regulations, unless the building is listed or in a Conservation Area. For most listed buildings, plastic windows are not acceptable to English Heritage.
Plastic windows are available in a style to suit most properties, from traditional small pane casements, leaded light glazing to sash windows. Make sure replacement windows are well balanced and have equal sight lines (the same frame lines on fixed as well as opening lights) and avoid top hung air vents the little top lights that are not at all traditional. Make sure that each casement, and each light, has proportions that are taller than they are wide, ideally at a ratio of around 1.6:1
Timber windows can also be low maintenance, either stained hardwood (not a good look for a period style house though), or timber coated with an external layer of PVCu, vinyl or aluminium.
An attractive, hygienic looking kitchen is essential both to buyers and valuation surveyors. Before replacing a kitchen, consider the fundamentals such as its shape and position and decide if you are going to make any structural changes to the space, or if you want to relocate it elsewhere.
Many existing kitchens can be given a new lease of life for a modest investment. Doors may be hanging off and the worktops may be damaged and peeling, but the carcasses may still be in perfectly good condition. The carcasses of a basic contract quality kitchen are almost identical to that of a designer kitchen, made from mfc (melamine faced chipboard). The only difference is that some top of the range kitchens have timber veneered interiors, and doors that are recessed into the unit rather than surface mounted.
If the units are salvageable, you can move them around and add new units if required to get the layout you want, and then add new doors, handles and worktops. Good quality worktops are critical as they are, together with the doors and handles, the part that everyone will notice most.
For layout ideas, consult a range of kitchen suppliers, many offer a design service for free so make use of it. Make sure there is room for a washing machine, tumble dryer and fridge. Ideally go for integrated white goods, as they look much neater.
A new kitchen can be bought for as little as £1,500-2,000 plus fitting for a small property. However, for a more valuable property, it is worth investing more on better quality units, with some bespoke features, superior quality draw runners, etc.
Make sure there is adequate lighting in the kitchen. A single pendant can easily be replaced with a new unit with halogen bulbs that create a far whiter light that is ideal for kitchens. Under unit lighting can easily be added and is inexpensive.
Ensure that there is an extractor hood to remove cooking smells. An attractive range style cooker is also a feature that will attract many buyers.
Flooring should look hygienic, be easy to clean and well fitted, as should ceramic tiles and the rest of the decor.
Adding new space will increase the value of a property, but first you should consider how you can improve the use of the existing space. Maximum value will be added by improving public space, such as the kitchen, dining and living areas. Draw up a simple floorplan of the existing layout you can get a basic CAD system for your PC for as little as 10. Play around adding and removing walls to achieve the optimum layout.
Think about making use of traditional circulation space such as halls and corridors that may not be needed in a home suited to todays less formal lifestyles. Think about combining dining room and kitchen to create a dining kitchen and other potential multi-functional living spaces. Fewer but larger rooms with clear sight lines will make a house seem larger, especially if the flooring and wall finishes continue throughout.
Before removing any walls, work out which are structural by checking the direction of the floor joists joists should always rest on structural walls. Structural walls can be removed, but will need to be replaced with steelwork and this will require calculations by a structural engineer or building surveyor. Adding new stud walls to divide existing space is relatively straightforward and inexpensive, but remember to add acoustic insulation.
Bathrooms need to be fresh and hygienic looking, so make sure there is adequate light and paint the walls a nice neutral light shade ideally an off white. If there is not enough light, replace a single pendant with a triple halogen spotlight unit, available for as little as 10. The bathroom is the ideal place to add a touch of luxury and, with it, a real wow factor that will add value. Make sure that at least one bathroom has a shower it is an essential for most buyers but check your plumbing system first and buy the right unit depending on whether you have a mains pressure system (modern houses), a gravity fed system (consider a power shower) or a combi system (if the flow rate is low you may need to install an electric shower that heats its own water direct from the mains).
If the existing sanitaryware is chipped, badly stained, or an unfashionable colour such as pink, avocado, peach or chocolate brown, replace it. A basic white bathroom suite, complete with taps and waste, can be bought for under £300 and will have much broader appeal.
Flooring should be clean and hygienic, carpet is not really suitable for bathrooms. Go for a vinyl or tiled floor tiles start at as little as £3/m².
Consider painting unfashionable tiles with white tile paint. If you need to replace tiles, you could tile over the old ones removing tiles can be a difficult and very time consuming job.
Make sure the bathroom has an extractor fan for ventilation. Add a mirror or two it will make the space seem larger and brighter and think about adding a heated towel rail. If you are laying new floor tiles, consider underfloor heating, but bear in mind that an electric mat system will raise the floor level by 3-4mm.
A great deal of value is placed on the number of bedrooms in a property, and so adding bedrooms will usually add to the sale price, although be aware that there is a ceiling value for every street and so at some point the additional cost ceases to bring any return.
Extra bedrooms can be created by dividing up existing space by removing and adding walls, by converting the roof space, or by extending. Re-using existing space is most cost effective but only likely to be an option in old period houses with vast bedrooms.
If a loft conversion is possible, it can prove very cost effective compared to extending, but will also use space for the staircase. Extensions need designing very carefully to ensure that the new space is integrated well with the old and that access does not result in lots of dead space such as corridors, or through rooms. Make sure you create a balance between bedrooms and the number of bathrooms a ratio of one to three is a minimum.
An attractive, tidy, well designed garden can add a great deal of value to a property as well as making it more sellable. It is worth getting a designer on board for a consultation and to give you a few ideas. You can then draw the plans yourself. Privacy is vital and improving the feeling of seclusion will add value. Consider adding fences and even mature trees. You can raise boundary fences and walls up to 2m without needing planning permission (0.6m on the highway). Structures within the garden, such as pergolas, can be up to 4m without needing planning even if they are right up to the boundary.
Create distinct areas for each function, seating, eating/barbecue, storage, lawn, work area. A well designed deck will extend a buyers perception of the amount of useable living space somewhere between the house and garden, and will add value.
Even if you do not makeover your garden, make sure you carry out at least the basics: clean up and tidy litter and dead plants; weed; repair and feed the lawn; cut back overgrown trees and shrubs; create interesting shapes with beds and borders; add colour and interest with planting.
Most buyers will decide if they do not like a property before they even get out of the car and it can be hard to shake off negative first impressions created by a poor or unattractive exterior. The garden is important (see Makeover the Garden) but you can also significantly add to the value of a house by improving its exterior. This may involve any of the following: repointing brickwork; repainting doors and windows; replacing an old garage door; changing/repairing windows; repainting walls; repairing cracked or broken cladding such as render or timber; removing stone cladding; adding a porch; adding climbing plants/trellis; replacing/adding a house sign or number, or even renaming the property.
Larger scale external makeovers can totally transform the appearance of a property, changing an unattractive 1950s or 60s house into a property with period charm, or an old bungalow into a cutting edge contemporary house. This may involve changing any of the following: roof covering; roof shape; wall cladding; windows; porch; conversion of existing space such as garage or roof; extensions; and new chimneys.
Such radical exterior makeovers will need designing and may need planning permission although there is a great deal you can do under Permitted Development Rights. You will need an architect or designer, such as specialists Back to Front (01252 820984).
A conservatory can add far more to the value of a property than it costs, providing it is designed, built and integrated into the layout of the house well. Conversely, a poorly conceived conservatory can detract from the value of a property.
A basic conservatory kit costs £3-5,000 and a further £2-3,000 to build. In most instances, it will not require planning permission, although it will have to comply with the Building Regulations. On valuable period properties, a basic kit conservatory is unlikely to be a good investment, depending on the ratio of cost to value; a bespoke conservatory is likely to make more sense, even if it costs £10,000s.
Whatever end of the market your property is at, it is essential that you stick rigidly to the fundamentals of good design. The conservatory needs to be oriented so that the glazed part faces south to ensure it gains more heat than it loses never build a north facing conservatory. The floor and glazing should be energy efficient and the space must be heated so that it is useable all year round. Equally importantly, the space must be well ventilated to prevent it from overheating and suffering from condensation. The additional floor area needs to add functionality to the existing layout of the house, either as an enlargement of an existing room/living space, or if sufficiently large, then a room in its own right. Above all else, it must feel like a part of the rest of the house and not an add-on.
One or two memorable features that add a real wow factor to your property and set it apart from others for sale in the area will add a significant premium to your sale price. The impact of such features will be enhanced the further up the property ladder you climb. In a basic house, a wow factor might be a wooden deck, a contemporary style kitchen or an elegant working fireplace. In a larger more expensive property, it could be: a master bedroom with a vaulted ceiling, perhaps with exposed roof timbers; a panelled sitting room; or a contemporary style frameless glass conservatory. Many simple features can be added easily and cost effectively, providing they are planned and undertaken thoughtfully. Remember to work in sympathy with the building in terms of scale and period.
A property with a diminishing lease will begin to reduce in value once it gets to under 60 years. Once the lease on a property gets below 30 years it can be difficult to get a mortgage. If the landlord does not live on the premises you may be able to buy the freehold, or a share of the freehold, and grant yourself a new lease, restoring the value to the equivalent of a freehold property. Taking control of the freehold will also give you control of ground rent and service charges, plus management of repairs and common areas.
Usually you will have to pay your landlords legal costs, as well as your own, plus a share of the marriage value, the uplift in the value of the property created by joining the lease with the freehold. A solicitor will be able to work out if you qualify to buy your lease known as enfranchisement and a surveyor will be able to work out how much it will cost.
Buying adjoining land can also significantly increase the value of a property, especially if: it enhances amenity, i.e. allows the creation of a garden or off street parking where there was none; creates potential for further enlargement of the property; or if it adds the potential to keep horses to a rural property.
Gaining planning consent for improvements, from an extension, to a new house in the garden, can enhance the value of a property, even if the work is not carried out.
Inappropriate alterations or additions to a property can depress its value and so it follows that removing them can add value. Removing the following is likely to be a good investment: polystyrene ceiling tiles; pine cladding; internal stone cladding; textured ceilings or walls; plastic fake beams or beams that are inappropriate; poorly laid laminate flooring; mismatched period details such as mouldings or fireplaces; flush doors; windows that are out of keeping; inappropriate porches; conservatories with a flat polycarbonate roof.
Restoring or replacing the following will add value: original or period style fireplaces; decorative mouldings; panelled doors; polished floorboards; appropriate style windows; stair banisters and handrails; knot-free panelled doors; concealed timber beams or beams concealed behind masses of black paint.
The key is to find out about the buildings origins and the way it is constructed and to work in sympathy with this, whilst avoiding being twee.
Off street parking can make a big difference to the value of a property, especially in an urban location where on street parking is restricted. In such instances, creating one or two parking spaces in front of, or alongside, a property can add significant value, even if it means sacrificing part of even all of a front garden. For many buyers, a well designed, low maintenance drive is more valuable and appealing than a garden they never use.
If a road is unclassified, i.e. neither an A- or B-road, then you will not usually need planning permission to create a new vehicular access onto your land. You must, however, comply with the local authority Highway regulations for the construction of the drop kerb, and details such as visibility splays. You must also check that you have a right of way to cross over any land that you do not own e.g. a grass verge. You can check ownership via HM Land Registry at a nominal cost per search.
Storage is a real selling point and lack of it can really put buyers off and depress your propertys value. Make use of every bit of spare space you can find, and either build shelves or fit doors to create cupboards. Look for: concealed nooks in corridors; dead space either side of chimney breasts or at the end of corridors; space in the eaves; understairs space; space in the cellar or attic that can be upgraded; space beneath the bath tub or alongside cisterns; space above sinks; unused wallspace for wall mounted cupboards. Creating a measured plan of the layout of your home can sometimes reveal odd spaces concealed behind plasterboard that you did not know existed.
Adding a bathroom is usually a good investment, especially if it creates an en suite to the master bedroom. Extra bathrooms can be added by remodelling existing space, or by extending. Ideally there should be WC facilities on every floor that has bedrooms, so if you are converting the attic, try to include at least a WC, if not a full bathroom. Work on a ratio of one bathroom for every three bedrooms, plus the master en suite. For properties in high value areas, it may be worth adding an en suite to every bedroom. Where there is insufficient space for a full bathroom, consider including a shower room with careful design it need only measure around 1m by 2.5m.
In a traditional two storey Victorian or Edwardian terraced house, moving the downstairs bathroom upstairs can add to a propertys value, but beware of losing a bedroom.
If you make your property more attractive even purely in cosmetic terms than the rest of the street, then providing it is structurally sound and in a good state of repair, more people will be interested in purchasing it and the sale price will be correspondingly higher. In other words, just by decluttering, adding a lick of paint and careful styling, it is possible to add 5-10% to the value of a property.
Valuers may find it hard to place a figure on the increase in value made by only cosmetic improvements, but the market will always place a premium on an attractively decorated and styled property. Simple ideas that will make a difference include: adding wooden floors; repainting throughout in neutral shades; reopening fireplaces; decluttering; upgrading lightbulbs; cleaning windows; a makeover to kitchen and bathrooms; sanding floorboards; creating storage; stripping woodwork; styling with furniture, lamps, accessories and flowers.