Are you hooking up with the staircase commuters?

More people are going to work without leaving their house, writes Sam Dunn, and having an office at home can help attract buyers

Does anybody out there still commute to work every day and work from nine till five? If so, you could be part of an endangered species. According to the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), demand for homes with office space is booming.

"Over the past five years, we have seen more demand across the range - from first-time buyers to executives - for a room with extra telephone points for a study," says Melfyn Williams, president of the NAEA.

The obvious benefits of working from home are lower stress levels for the employee and lower costs for the employer. But it can also increase the value of your property because an increasing number of people want the option of commuting no further than down a flight of stairs. So the more flexible the accommodation - whether a spare room can clearly be used as either an office or a bedroom - the easier it will be to find a buyer.

"When you sell your house, market it to as many different buyers as possible," advises Mr Williams.

The trend towards working away from the office has been encouraged by the advent of cheap internet access, email and mobile phones. Added to this, many of us are looking for a better balance between our home and working lives, and trying to get away from office politics.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 2.14 million people in the UK were working from their own homes last year, in many cases using them as a base while spending part of the week travelling or working in an office for their employer. A further 650,000 people run a business from home.

This domestic workforce is made up of people such as sales executives, teleworkers, designers, software consultants, artists and writers. Together, they count for just under 10 per cent of the UK's working population.

But their numbers are set to increase, making a home office an attractive selling point for a property. The Employment Act of 2002, which came into force on 6 April this year, gives those with children under the age of six the right to ask their employer for flexible working hours or for permission to work from home. Employers must have a good reason for refusing such requests.

However, if you are tempted to convert a room into an office, you must approach the project in the right way. "It's vital your room can be turned back into a bedroom," warns a spokesman for the National Federation of Builders.

"If you are selling your house and people come around and see a messy office, it can put them off. Even putting a computer out of sight can help. For example, a wardrobe arrangement could be used to house the printer, scanner and computer and keep them out of sight. Not everybody wants to see a fully wired-up office when they look around a house."

Converting an ordinary room into an office doesn't require planning permission unless you make structural alterations. But if you are thinking about a loft conversion or having a purpose-built office in your garden, contact your local planning authority first. And if you decide to set up a business from home, you may also need permission from the local authority, depending on your work. While being employed as a teleworker or proofreader, based in your spare room, shouldn't cause much disruption, running a haulage firm from your back yard won't endear you to the neighbours.

Think, too, about your home contents cover. Before you make the switch, inform your insurer that you will be working from home and check whether your office equipment is adequately covered under the terms of your current policy.

'I still feel part of the team'

Caroline Siegle, 24, is a business development manager for drinks giant Diageo. She spends two or three days a week visiting clients such as small pub and bar chains, pushing the profile - and sales - of Diageo brands like Guinness and Smirnoff Ice.

The rest of the time she works from her home in St Albans, Hertfordshire, which she shares with her husband Alex. Her "office" is a study at the front of the house.

"The company provided me with a laptop, a mobile phone and a printer, and installed an ISDN line," says Ms Siegle. "They would have given me all the office furniture, too, but I didn't need it.

"I'm definitely glad I work from home. I'm much less stressed than in my last job, which was based in an office. But even though it's great to have the flexibility, I do have to be quite disciplined - you have to get used to the routine of getting up, getting dressed and being at home but also at work."

While some homeworkers can get lonely, Ms Siegle says this hasn't been a problem for her. "People say it must be tough being isolated but I don't feel that. I'm my own boss this way, and as long as I meet my targets, I keep the company happy. It's not like Big Brother's checking up on you. I feel part of the team and keep in touch regularly by phone and email. We also meet up once a month."

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