Property: Home Truths: Your questions answered by experts

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it has to add uP

I have spare capital and want to buy a property that requires updating. What aspects of a house should I look to improve first to increase the value of my purchase?

Bryn Jones Tunbridge Wells, Kent In certain areas the market for houses requiring modernisation is fiercely competitive, with the result that prices are creeping higher and the bargains that were available more than a decade ago are now hard to come by.

Once you have found your property and had an offer accepted, your starting point should be a survey. It may be worth going to the additional expense of a full structural survey, which will cost more, but will provide you with a tailor made report in which the surveyor can advise you about any work you are thinking of doing. Your lender will probably demand a retainer on essential work as a condition of your mortgage (should you be taking one out). In any event, you should carry this work out. If you don't, you may undermine any subsequent improvements you make. The improvement that will add most to the value of the property is central heating.

A new kitchen and a new bathroom will also probably add value. However, you should bear in mind that people have very different ideas of what the perfect kitchen or bathroom should look like. It may be worthwhile keeping it simple. Lower down your list would come re-wiring and an overhaul of the roof (assuming that the survey has shown that this is basically sound).

Moving on to more exotic additions you could consider a conservatory. While they provide a great selling point for the estate agent, you are unlikely to recoup the money you spend. Finally, before you embark on this sort of venture, make sure you cost everything right from the outset. This may include paying for architectural drawings and obtaining planning consent, if necessary. Before you purchase you should know the following: (a) your purchase price (b) the cost of the work and (c) the likely value of the property once it is modernised. If (a) and (b) is greater than (c) then think again.

up and coming?

Areas are sometimes referred to as "up and coming". Do such areas exist and is it possible to spot them?

Jeremy Rowe Chelmsford, Essex

The phrase "up and coming" used to indicate an area that, in the estate agent's opinion, would increase in value and popularity in the years ahead with the result that the purchaser could expect to make a healthy return. These areas often bordered more popular ones and benefited from the knock- on effect of rising prices. Cynics would argue that the phrase was used for any area in which it was difficult to sell properties.

The phrase is much less popular now. Annual price jumps of more than 20 per cent are no longer likely and buyers tend to view property as a long-term investment rather than a means to make money. Nevertheless prices in certain areas will rise faster thaan in others, but there is no certain way to spot these areas and if you are buying a property with the sole intention of making money then you are gambling.

There are, of course, some factors that may cause areas to improve rapidly in popularity. Investment in better communication links or the arrival of a big new employer are both likely to have an impact on property prices. Areas themselves can change over time.

Answers were supplied by a panel of experts at Woolwich Property Services and Ekins, the group's surveying services subsidiary. The panel is headed by Alan Oliver, managing director of Woolwich Property Services, and will answer published queries on buying and selling, valuations, surveys, and market factors such as price trends.

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