TED MCCAW OF ST ALBANS, HERTFORDSHIRE, WRITES:
My wife Helen and I are in our 50s and run a marketing company selling sports merchandise. Much of our business is done online from a home office, although we both have to visit central London at least once a week. Helen's mother is now approaching 80 and although still independent she admits to feeling worried about what would happen if her health failed or she had an accident. We have therefore decided to buy a larger property with a granny annex in a less expensive area, but still close enough to London for our weekly work visits.
Our favoured spot is Suffolk in East Anglia, where Helen's mother lives now and where she has her doctor and friends close by. Because we are using some money given by Helen's mother, we have a good budget of £850,000 for a period property with a large garden, but we need to get somewhere with an annex already created as we do not want more disruption on top of the move itself.
Please tell us what might be available, how council tax is levied on granny annexes and whether - should circumstances change - it is easy to sell a house with separate accommodation like this.
Graham Norwood replies:
Your budget is plenty for a property big enough for you and your wife, your work commitments and an independent, self-contained home for your mother in law. And you are right - East Anglia prices are only 75 per cent of those in Hertfordshire.
Granny annexes are not as rare as you might think, and some East Anglia homes costing as little as £350,000 have separate units. Do not worry about an annex diminishing the value of a property or making it harder to sell.
"If properly constructed in accordance with building regulations and planning permission, a granny annexe will almost certainly add a little value," says a spokesman for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. "Demand for annexes is growing as our population ages, and the best examples effectively become a 'flat within a house' suitable for children or even au pairs if the house is later bought by someone with different needs," he says. But badly-converted annexes can have the reverse effect, he warns.
Owners of some modern townhouses have converted their garages into granny annexes. There are a few practical advantages - there is normally a door leading into the main house already, and it is likely the garage will be at the front of the property where there will be most natural light - but there are disadvantages too.
There is rarely heating in a garage and the main car access will have to be bricked up with a separate front door provided; in some recently-built properties, garages have a 'lining' to keep them fireproof and this may be difficult and expensive to cut through to create rooms in the annex.
Although you seem reconciled to moving to a property where a granny annex has already been created, an alternative solution would be to have a so-called granny cabin built. A firm called Barretts Leisure ( www.house-uk.co.uk) imports these from Scandinavia and erects them for about £26,000 upwards, including furniture. Rival firms like www.thegardenhouse.ltd.uk make them in this country.
Property one: Hunter's Lodge at Sudbury
Agent's details: This is a grade II listed former Victorian coach house. It was extensively refurbished following a fire in the 1980s so the main property contains four bedrooms, drawing and sitting rooms and a study. The annex has a bedroom with exposed oak timbers, a bathroom, lounge and kitchen. It is 12 miles from Manningtree and Southend, with services to Liverpool Street of 65 and 50 minutes respectively.
Agent: Carter Jonas, 01787 882881.
Property two: Brome Park, Eye, Suffolk.
Agent's details: There is a two bedroom granny annex with sitting and dining rooms and a shower room. The house has four bedrooms and two large attics that may be suitable as office space. The property is six miles from Diss which has a 100-minute service to Liverpool Street.
Agent: Strutt & Parker, 01473 214 841.
Property three: Wellsaks at Ashbocking.
Agent's details: This property dates from the 17th century. The attached annex has a bedroom on the ground floor and bathroom and living area upstairs. The grounds include a pond and heated swimming pool. The property is eight miles from Ipswich, from where trains go to Liverpool Street - a one-hour journey.
Agent: Strutt & Parker, 01473 214841.
Granny annexes in England and Wales are now exempt from council tax if they are occupied by over-65s or by disabled relatives of the residents in the main property (indeed, although it does not apply in your case, the main property may also be exempt if the owners are themselves over 65 and are related to the granny living in the annex).
However this is not the case in Scotland, where granny annexes are counted as separate dwellings - and so are subject to separate taxes.