'I wanna sell you a storey ...'

The bungalow was once a dowdy poor relation of the semi-detached house. But, as land in the most desirable areas becomes ever more scarce and local planning restrictions limit what can be done to many larger houses, they have come into their own, offering unrivalled potential.
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The once-modest bungalow has become the focus of bidding wars in some parts of Britain and people who at one time would not have given a single-storey house a single glance are now offering sums well over the asking price.

The once-modest bungalow has become the focus of bidding wars in some parts of Britain and people who at one time would not have given a single-storey house a single glance are now offering sums well over the asking price.

But this revival of interest has less to do with its intrinsic qualities than the potential it offers, either as the ground floor of a substantial family house or as part of a scheme that will see its demolition and a new, grander property built in its place. In areas where building plots are like gold-dust and planning is strictly controlled, a simple, single-storey home in a good location seems to beg for a radical overhaul.

In an urban setting, this is very unlikely to amount to much more than an extension in size, but the end result is still a vastly changed home. What it is almost bound to mean, though, is a long, drawn-out negotiation with the local planning authority and a life disrupted by builders. It is certainly not a project to be taken on lightly. Costs are high and anyone speculating on the chances of getting permission could be disappointed.

This was a risk that John Nouri took when he bought a bungalow in Coombe Hill, Wimbledon. An estate agent himself, with the London firm of Robert Holmes, he knew the demand for good-sized houses in the area far exceeded supply, and began to look for properties with less obvious appeal. A 1957 chalet-style bungalow in poor condition with two bedrooms, a boxroom in the eaves and one bathroom fitted the bill. Restrictions on any development had left it languishing on the market for months.

"We knew it was in a conservation area and took a gamble," says Nouri. "There was nice character within the building and if it wasn't going to work out, then so be it. We rewired it, moved in and applied for permission. What we hadn't banked on were the objections from neighbours, which meant that instead of two months it took nine months to get the go-ahead. ''

The lesson he has learned is that visual changes engender an enormous amount of local opposition - particularly when it involves proposals to enlarge a bungalow.

"Building on to a house would not have caused so much agitation. As it was, we were very careful not to overdevelop the plot. We kept the new extension to the back of the building and made sure that no trees were affected.''

Particular exception was taken to their plans for a fence around the front of the house. "It had always been open to the road, but we have three children and couldn't possibly have left it like that," explains Nouri.

"It took eight months to be granted permission just to put up a fence. The project has been costly and time-consuming, but well worth it to us. We added 1,000 sq ft to the bungalow and now have a five-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a spacious ground floor," he says.

Changes to the bungalow, combined with house-price inflation, have also seen a healthy increase in its value. Bought three years ago for £440,000, it has had £200,000 spent on it and is now thought to be worth in the region of £1.3m.

These are the sort of figures that encourage small developers to seek out bungalows. In Harpenden, Hertfordshire, Lane Fox is selling a five-bedroom, three-bathroom house for £545,000 that only six months ago was one-storey with two bedrooms, bought by a builder for £225,000.

Tim Pearse, from the selling agents, says that it is not always so easy to add another floor. "This one is in a road of larger houses so it is entirely in keeping. Had it been in a cul-de-sac with other bungalows they would not have got permission and had it been in a grotty road, it would not have sold for enough to make it worthwhile."

If planning permission is granted before a property is sold, it can go for for a higher price because the element of risk is removed. In West Sussex, an old cricket pavilion attached to a converted Victorian stable block in Loxwood already has consent for a complete remodelling. The guide price of £200,000 through Lane Fox could rise to about £250,000, whereas, had it gone on the market without the permission, the figure would have been £150,000.

In affluent Surrey the trend of not just upgrading but demolishing modest properties is particularly well-established. On the Crown Estate in Oxshott, bungalows built after the war (when materials were in short supply) often sit in plots of nearly an acre in an area of palatial houses worth millions. Richard Winter of Bradford & Bingley Gascoigne-Pees says that builders can offer way over the odds for a well-situated bungalow. "They usually have a client who is desperate for a house in a certain location. They know there will be no problem constructing a very large house on the site because the precedent has been set. And, if an owner is not thinking of selling, the prospect of around £900,000 is very attractive."

It is not a cheap course of action, though, particularly in areas where there are fewer high-priced properties. Graham Adnitt, from the Chester office of Jackson-Stops & Staff, says it is attractive because buying a two-star property in a five-star location is often the only option available for those who want to build their own homes.

But there are those who have reservations. In Kent, Ashford borough council is concerned at the number of lower-priced properties disappearing from housing stock.

Simon Cole, senior planner in the planning policy unit, recognises that bungalows in attractive, rural settings do provide an obvious development opportunity.

"While we realise that people want to improve an outdated property that's not the same as building a mansion in its place," he says.

"In rural areas where there is limited new development, it's important that we retain smaller properties. As well as making a judgement about the scale of upgrade we also have to take social factors into account."