Improvements can prove to be a good investment

Conservatory? New bathroom? Faith Glasgow investigates the best ways to make your home sell

Do it yourself (DIY) may be the last thing you want to do this bank holiday weekend, but Britain's housing market slowdown has made it more crucial than ever to don the overalls. Would-be sellers courting picky buyers in a slow-moving market need all the help they can get. And you may be able to avoid moving house altogether if home improvements can transform your property.

Do it yourself (DIY) may be the last thing you want to do this bank holiday weekend, but Britain's housing market slowdown has made it more crucial than ever to don the overalls. Would-be sellers courting picky buyers in a slow-moving market need all the help they can get. And you may be able to avoid moving house altogether if home improvements can transform your property.

Even people not thinking about selling up, should consider how DIY projects and professional home improvements might add value to their properties. Some projects offer a much more clear-cut return than others. James Simpson, a partner at estate agent Knight Frank, says: "While many home improvements add to the saleability of a property, the cost of the project will not necessarily add to the asking price."

If you intend to move anyway in the next 18 months or so, such considerations become all the more relevant, as you won't even have much time enjoy your smart new home.

Martin Bikhit, of Marylebone-based estate agent Kay & Co, adds a further note of caution. "DIY projects may well add value in a rising market, but you run a serious risk of losing money on your investments in the property if you then try to sell in a flat or falling market," he warns.

It's all too easy for sellers to get carried away by the money they've ploughed into their home and the brand names lurking within it. Buyers in such a market have the luxury of being able to weigh up whether the price is really justified.

Fashion also plays a significant part in defining the most rewarding home improvement projects. "Ten years ago, everyone was asking if a property had central heating and double-glazing," recalls Peter Bolton King, chief executive of the National Association of Estate Agents. "Now they are virtually accepted as standard and people are instead looking for home studies, en-suite bathrooms and double garages."

So, bearing in mind all these caveats, what are the best projects to undertake if you want to be sure that you'll make back what you put into your property?

Central heating

If it's not installed already, you can't go wrong by putting it in. Research carried out by Knight Frank last year showed that new central heating always pays for itself; indeed, according to this survey it is the only home improvement sure to leave homeowners in pocket when they come to sell.

Cost of improvement: £1,000-£3,000

Value added: £3,000-£5,000

Bathrooms

If you have an avocado suite, gold taps and tiles from the mid-Seventies, do something quickly. "You can't go wrong with a white suite and chrome fittings," says Tom Tangney of Knight Frank. "It's fine to go to B&Q for a functional basic model of loo, basin and bath, but I think cheap fittings do stand out: a cheap tap feels light in your hands, for example, so it's worth spending more on good quality."

Tangney also recommends spending on good tiles, clever lighting and big mirrors to make a small room seem larger.

"You could spend £2,000, including labour, on a sensible new bathroom and I'd say you would double your money, because it's one of those jobs people hate having to do," he adds.

James Ballard of Winkworth suggests spending rather more, but the principle remains the same. "A good bathroom or kitchen will always increase the saleability of a property," he says. "If you spend about £7,000 on a new bathroom, for example, you could add as much as £10,000 to £15,000 to the price of the property." Conversely, he warns, a bad bathroom or kitchen can bring the value of a property down significantly.

Cost of improvement: £1,000-£10,000

Value added: £1,000-£15,000

Kitchens

A new kitchen can cost anything from £2,000 to £30,000 if you're seduced by names such as Poggenpohl, Boffi or Siematic. But be careful with brands. For example, Smallbone is a classic name, but Tangney maintains it has lost pulling power as its ornate style is "too fussy" for the typical uncluttered 21st-century household.

If you intend to spend money on smart units, it's a false economy to stint on the quality of appliances, says Martin Bikhit. "There's snob value to names such as Bosch and Neff, and people will undoubtedly be more easily persuaded to pay the full asking price if they can have an all-singing, all-dancing kitchen."

Research from Knight Frank last year suggested that while top-name kitchens pay for themselves on the back of label value, the visual impact of a low-cost kitchen overhaul is more likely to pay off in purely financial terms.

However, brand is only part of the picture. Standard Life Bank claims to have identified "a massive trend in investing in kitchens" among families, with an average spend of £14,000 on getting the room right. Not only had 45 per cent of the people the bank interviewed renovated their kitchen in the last five years, but one in six had also extended the room. Increasingly the kitchen is treated as the central hub of the home and therefore needs to be as spacious, comfortable and multi-purpose as possible.

Cost of improvement: £3,000-£25,000

Value added: £1,000-£20,000

Loft conversions and extensions

According to valuation experts at mortgage lender The One Account, adding or enlarging rooms is a good - but expensive - way to increase your property's value. A loft conversion, typically costing between £20,000 and £40,000, will boost your house's value by up to 75 per cent of the cost of the project, it says. The economics are similar on extensions, though these come in cheaper at between £10,000 and £20,000.

According to The One Account, you'll be lucky to recoup your costs, even though you'll add significant value. However, that may be less true in London and other inner-city areas where space is at a premium. Architect Julian Owen believes that in such areas investment in a loft conversion, say, can generate as much as 25 per cent profit. The online bank Egg is even more bullish - it claims a loft extension in London can raise property values by up to £26,000 after costs.

Cost of improvement: up to £50,000

Value added: £10,000-£30,000

Conservatories

If you have sufficient outside space to increase the ground floor living area without impinging on the garden too much, you can add value over and above what you invest in the job, according to Egg.

In rural areas such as East Anglia, conservatories are particularly cost-effective, adding up to £18,000 after costs. However, The One Account offers a much more conservative estimate: it suggests you should be able to recoup 50 to 75 per cent of costs as a national average, though spokesman Rob Davies points out that there are regional variations.

Cost of improvement: £5,000-£20,000

Value added: £5,000-£20,000

Decorating

Although kitchens and bathrooms are generally deemed to add most value to a home, DIY store B&Q says simply decorating your house throughout gives by far the highest return on outlay. A full-blown decorating job could add, on average, up to £3,000 to a property's value, which would represent a net gain on your investment of up to 220 per cent, it says.

Cost of improvement: £100-£1,000

Value added:£1,000-£5,000

To be avoided

Finally, be warned: don't bother with personal touches such as saunas, whirlpools, sunken baths or ornate garden pagodas if you want to add value. These are far too individual to add general appeal. Big turn-offs for buyers also include: stone cladding; extensions out of keeping with the original style of the property; stencilling, paper borders and anaglypta.

Crucially, a badly-executed DIY project will always detract from the resale value. So if your skills are not up to the job, don't risk botching it: hunt down a reliable craftsman.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

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