You’ve got to Spend Money to Make Money

publication date: May 28, 2010
 | 
author/source: Guest article by Sarah Walker, Freelance Property Writer & former presenter of BBC1’s ‘To Buy Or Not To Buy’
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You’ve got to Spend Money to Make Money


If you’re really serious about adding value to your property, by far the biggest moneyspinner is adding square footage, and if you do the job properly, you should make back twice what you spent on it.  Putting your money in extra bricks and mortar is a very good idea, which is why so many people have extended their homes, but do note the caveat ‘if you do the job properly’, because that’s where a lot of people come unstuck.

To really reap the benefit financially, you have to make sure that you’re adding valuable, usable space.  There are too many houses with rooms tagged on which are described as ‘a sort of study-cum-playroom’ and the owner will look at you almost apologetically, wave their hands and tell you that you can use it for whatever you want.  Great.  What do you use it for?  If you want to show your house off to its full potential, you need to give each room a purpose.  There are generally three reasons why houses end up with this random extra room: either the owner didn’t have enough money for a decent-sized extension; they couldn’t get planning permission for what they really wanted to do, which was put on a full-size games room; or the house already has plenty of space, they just thought they’d add more for the sake of it, without thinking about whether it was actually needed.

If your house already has a dining kitchen and a formal dining room, why add a dining conservatory?  If you have a drawing room, a sitting room and a study, don’t add a ‘snug’.  You need to give the property something extra, not just more of the same, so look at what’s missing – which rooms do you need to add to take the house to the next level in the housing market?

Adding bedrooms is probably the most popular choice, but don’t forget about bathrooms, i.e. if you have a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house and are adding a bedroom, you’ll need to add a bathroom as well.  And in these days when dining kitchens are the most requested ‘want’ among househunters, you’re much better off extending your kitchen rather than adding a study, although if you can do both, so much the better!

Think also about how the extension is going to sit with the existing layout.  Bad extensions are not only the result of cheap, sub-standard work, they can be very well-built, but just not sympathetic to the rest of the property, in either flow or finish, and it really is worthwhile paying an architect to work on the design with you.  Anything which jars, either physically or visually is going to impact negatively on the value; remember that the best extensions feel as though they’ve always been there.

And far too many people have extended their houses at the expense of the garden, which is nearly always a mistake.  As a basic rule of thumb, you shouldn’t take away more than 25% of the original designated garden.  These days new-build houses are being given small enough gardens as it is, and when kitchens are extended and conservatories added, you end up with a disproportionately small outside space.  That may suit your purposes, but you have to think about selling the property on, and a decent-sized garden is high on nearly all prospective buyers’ wish lists.

And finally, bear in mind your location and the ‘ceiling’ for prices in the area.  If yours is a three-bedroom semi in a road of similar properties, there’s very little point in making it into a 5-bedroom, 3-reception room house, because it won’t achieve the kind of value it might elsewhere.  Talk to local independent estate agents and ask their opinion about how much the finished house might realise, and weigh up whether you’re going to be better off extending massively, or simply moving to a different area with more potential for an increase in value.

Extending property and converting cellars and attics can be money very well spent, but the most important thing to remember is to do the work well.  If you can’t afford to extend or convert properly, then my advice would be simply to apply for the relevant planning permission so that you have guarantees for the potential of the property, and then spend what money you do have on putting in a new bathroom or kitchen.  It’s about quality just as much as quantity, because when it comes to property, a job half-done is likely to be money wasted.

Sarah Walker, Freelance Property Writer & former presenter of BBC1’s ‘To Buy Or Not To Buy’.


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