Property: Pooled resources

Is it worth splashing out on a swimming pool? Penny Jackson tests the water

As temperatures soared over Easter, swimming pool covers came off across the country. However, not many people actually set out to buy a house with a pool. The chances are they will buy despite rather than because of it, even though they may end up enjoying its use. Anyone considering building a pool should do it entirely for themselves, not as a future selling point. However well it is designed, the next owners would invariably have chosen to do it differently.

Catherine Scales, who acquired a covered pool when she and her family moved out of London, would love to move it. "It was plonked right in the middle of the garden even though there is plenty of space at the side of the house. It's a bit of an eyesore."

Nevertheless, with a young family it does get a good deal of use which makes the effort involved in maintaining it worthwhile. "You have to be absolutely sure the chemical mix is right, and of course you get leaf problems. We have strict safety rules, such as not allowing anyone to swim alone, or the children to go in without an adult present. We always lock it and I would never have a pool that was not completely secure. Having said that, it is great in summer for family parties."

Estate agents often find that a pool is a liability when it comes to marketing a house. They find prospective buyers can be alarmed by the maintenance costs and often express a preference for tennis courts. "A substantial country house does not have to have a pool to get the price. I can't remember the number of times I have seen an outdoor pool turned into a rose garden," says Bill Dixon of Cluttons. However, even though there was a fall-off in the construction of pools during the recession, the Swimming Pool Allied Trade Association (SPATA), has seen the demand come back with a vengeance over the past couple of years. A spokeswoman said that anything which did not involve tens of thousands of pounds was selling fast. Pools can cost anything from a kit at pounds 2,000 to pounds 3,000 to well over pounds 100,000. Maintenance costs, according to SPATA, should be no more than pounds 1,000 a year.

Tommy de Mallet Morgan of Savills' Guildford office is aware of the nuisance potential of pools, but has also noted that the imaginative design of swimming pools has increased by leaps and bounds over the past few years. Given that money is not likely to be an obstacle in a house where pounds 50,000 might be spent on the kitchen alone, he has seen pools that would make anyone's mouth water. They can be sited in extensions that appear like conservatories or orangeries and to all intents and purposes they become part of the house. "Ideally, a pool should be appetising in winter even if it is not integral to the house. In period buildings, where extensions would be unlikely to get permission, I have seen some wonderful pools in old barns, where you find yourself swimmingunder rafters and beams," he says.

Pools in a garden setting are often more sensitive to their surroundings than they used to be, he finds. Instead of stone of a Mediterranean hue, they tend to be natural - and the fashion for deck pools, where water comes up to the level of the paving, gives them a softer look. At the top end of the market, people are not happy with a few lengths a day but want a full leisure complex of gymnasium and pool.

This is a feature picked up, but with limited success, by property development companies. They believed that the fad for fitness would prove a big attraction when it came to selling new developments in London. Indeed, a private pool in a London has a pull that its country equivalent appears not to have, possibly because it is likely to be indoors. But some developers have seen swimming pools quickly become white elephants. Regalian, for instance, put one in at Free Trade Wharf in London's Docklands, but it has proved to be a real disappointment. In Kensington Green, Taylor Woodrow consulted residents about putting in a pool, but received a resounding no.

Linda Beaney of Beaney Pearce says residents rarely use pools. Those that do want to swim prefer the more social atmosphere of a club. "Residents have to pay for maintenance of the pool through service charges. Also it can be difficult to seal a pool. There is nothing worse that sitting on your balcony having dinner with the smell of chlorine wafting through." She sees gymnasia and tennis courts as the most popular way forward.

For those who see years of long, hot summers stretching ahead, and have the money and space for a pool, there is some comfort from the water companies. Southern Water does not include pools in its sprinkler ban and once the pool is filled, considers the amount of water used as negligible. But Thames Water is beginning to meter pool owners.

Where the pool becomes a nuisance, there are alternatives. If transforming the plot into a rose garden doesn't appeal, follow the example of one Home Counties buyer who turned his pool into a sunken golfing range.

For advice about swimming pools contact SPATA on 01264 356210

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