Summer is here, the much derided home information packs are gone, house prices are slowly returning to their 2007 peak and you have decided to put your home on the market. This time, however, it is different – you have recession wary and double-dip conscious buyers to contend with. They will interrogate and evaluate, sniff around inside and even dig around elsewhere. But get the essentials right and invest only in improvements that will add value, and a faster sale, better price, and reduced chance of deals falling through could be your reward.
It's what's outside that counts
"At the moment it will take on average 10 weeks to sell your home", says Nigel Lewis, property analyst at Findaproperty.com, "and people are now spending more time looking at property before making their decision." The clock starts ticking even as potential buyers arrive. "You can add another four weeks upwards to that if a property has an unappealing front fascia or untidy garden", says Lewis. "Outward appearance is an important factor in the speed of a property sale, second only to price".
James Hyman, Partner for Residential Sales at agents Cluttons agrees on the importance of the exterior. "External space is always sought after and invariably commands a price premium. Utilising it to its full potential is one of the most valuable commodities from which a seller can benefit, whether it's a balcony or capacious gardens. It needs to be exploited from the outset". He estimates that landscaping a garden "could add up to 5 per cent to the value of a property yet be done for as little as £1,000".
Off-street parking may be less pretty than pot-plants, "but the advantages to a buyer are overwhelming", says Nick Churton of national agent network The Mayfair Office, especially where parking is at a premium or residents-only parking permits apply. "Buyers don't want to be regularly lugging heavy supermarket bags and unloading holiday luggage streets away, and spending time finding a parking space in the dark or wet."
Make sure you use permeable materials, and according to Camilla Dell, Managing Partner at Black Brick Property Solutions, adding off-street parking will add around 5-10 per cent to the price of a house. George Franks, sales director of Douglas & Gordon London agents has found buyers prepared to pay between £30,000 and £40,000 for a double off-street parking for a family house in central London, "and around half that price for single off-street parking. If a house is the only property on the street with off street parking, then the value of that parking could be even higher. "
If you undertake work to the interior as a means of increasing value get the details right. For example, Camilla Dell advises that any loft conversion should include a bathroom, and, says while adding an en suite can be a good idea. "In terraced houses they tend not to have an external window and so can suffer from damp, so ensure it includes adequate ventilation. Mould is a big no-no." George Franks of agents Douglas and Gordon says the added value of creating an en suite varies entirely on whether the property is big enough to warrant it. "If there is a way of adding a bathroom without sacrificing a bedroom it can add anything from 5 per cent upwards to the value of the property. However if it means losing a room in a small house, resale value can be adversely affected."
In this energy cost-conscious climate David Adam, head of residential property at Chesterton Humberts, sees current buyers getting hot under the collar about boilers – "whether it has been maintained annually and produces enough heat". And forget trying to wow potential buyers with your green credentials. "While some purchasers might be interested in ground source heat pumps and solar panels, for most these are just expensive additions."
Even new-home builders are addressing our newly developed boiler performance focus – Barratt recently brought in five-year guarantees to put minds at rest. So in a resale market it may pay to replace a decrepit one. James Bailey of Henry & James, a central London agent says "if buyers see one on its last legs, they will mentally calculate the cost of replacement, and that's reflected in the offer."
"One of the best interior investments is old-fashioned elbow grease", says Ed Church from Strutt and Parker's Canterbury office. "A clean house will always sell better then the same house in a poor state. Repaint the front door, clean the windows, vacuum and mow the lawn."
Lulu Egerton, Partner at Strutt and Parker's Chelsea office suggests an often neglected area, "making sure your home smells nice." And Simon Pritchard-Smith of Robert Bailey Property agrees. "Homes with odours and smells are a huge turn off, as is an unpleasant – or embarrassing – vendor."
Accounting for taste
"I was once selling a property with a large nude portrait of the female owner above the bed. It was hard for me or buyers to talk to the vendor with that image in your head", recalls Pritchard-Smith. In fact, say agents, vendors can be their own worst enemy.
Having good or bad neighbours may largely be down to luck, but could raise the value of a property by as much as £5,000 while antisocial ones could reduce the price by up to £30,000 according to recent research by Halifax Home Insurance. Becky Munday, head of sales at agents Wooster & Stock, has found that "good neighbours are becoming as important as surveys for many purchasers. Savvy buyers asking about the neighbours is one of the key questions raised during viewings, and many will do their own detective work before making an offer. Sales can collapse because a buyer finds out there are loud neighbours." If you do have paragons next door, Camilla Dell advises talking about them – as well as highlighting advantages of the location from proximity to parks or good-quality schools nearby.
Forget swimming pools, media rooms, or the latest hi-tech gadgets – light-flooded space overlooking the garden is what really presses buyers' buttons. The reputation of badly built PVC conservatories can and has actually brought down property values in the past, but a quality conservatory can add real financial value, and help with the sale of a house. Knight Frank's Christopher Bailey sees the role of conservatories "working indirectly through the addition of square footage in a property." However quality not quantity is the issue, so forget oversized plastic bubbles that boil in summer and are unusable in winter. "Good design is the key", says Jonathan Hey, managing director of Westbury Conservatories, "even the most critical buyer will appreciate that." Think expansive and integrated living space "so that it feels a seamless part of the property and not an ill-thoughtout or hasty addition. Essentially an expertly designed, well-built conservatory equals the addition of an extra room to the property, and this can't fail to add value. It also gives you the additional wow factor that attracts potential buyers instantly – particularly if you're selling during the summer months when they can see the direct benefit of the extra space."
Right house, wrong price
"It may be a cliché, but the right house in the right area will sell every time", says Simon Pritchard-Smith. "But even if it isn't the right house, if it offers scope for redesign, many buyers will snap it up. End-of-terrace houses, good light and larger than normal gardens will always be preferred." If your property does not measure up on those fronts, what you do have control over as a seller is your attitude to the sale. Ed Church from Strutt and Parker's Canterbury office believes ultimately it is "realism and commitment that sells houses. Those vendors who fail to sell or whose homes sit on the market for months tend to have overambitious price expectations." Be realistic. And perhaps it says much about us that Andrew Scott puts competition from more than one buyer in his top 10 factors for getting a sale. So be sure to casually mention other interest to any viewers and potential buyers – nothing it seems galvanises us like thinking someone else might be after the property we've set our sights on.