It's nearly five years since the UK housing market went spectacularly pop, yet the numbers of sales has shown barely any signs of recovery; stubbornly sitting at half the levels during the boom. As a result, homeowners are having to stay put and undertake improvements. But there are some changes which can add value to your home but others which will have the opposite effect.
"It's all too easy to think about a home improvement in terms of what it will offer the way that you live," says Robin Chatwin, the sales manager at Savills estate agents in Wandsworth, south London. "But if you plan to sell, you need to tailor your improvements to what appeals to the most buyers."
But what changes do the experts recommend if you want to live more comfortably and retain your home's attraction for future buyers?
In terms of adding value, extra square footage that can be used as a bedroom, gym or office, is one of the most profitable improvements you can make. Equally, never lose a room which will usually devalue your house, even if you're adding a bathroom or study.
According to the 2012 HSBC Home Improvement Survey valuation, experts picked a loft conversion as the best way to improve a home's value – by £16,152 on average.
"Loft conversions are relatively easy and you can go in from above without too much disturbance," says Mr Chatwin. They can be costly though. Loft Conversion UK say you can get an estimated price by multiplying the area of your loft space by 1,200 (so a 4msq loft would cost £19,200). You may need planning permission first and if the conversion is more complex, get an architect to help which could save you money in the long run. You should also look at house prices in the local area to gauge how much an extra bedroom will add to the selling price.
Don't: Install a basement conversion
This is the most expensive and disruptive way to extend your living space. Specialists will need to be called in, you will have to move out of your home and you could be paying around £300 per sqft so don't expect to make your money back.
There are lifestyle benefits and the extra space could translate into a quicker sale, but from a financial perspective, they are high risk.
Do: Focus on the kitchen
If you only have time and money enough to improve one room, go for the kitchen. This doesn't mean an entire re-fit as simply clearing surfaces, painting unit doors and replacing handles could make a big difference. Although a good kitchen is important for saleability it rarely adds more than it costs; according to HSBC's survey, a new kitchen added an average of only £4,577.
"Gone are the Changing Room days of buying a house and doing a cheap makeover to earn mega bucks," says Elliot Lester at Aston Mead estate agents in Surrey, who adds that buyers now need to put in up to four times as much as they did before the crash, equating to tens of thousands of pounds.
"Most people budget £10k for a kitchen or bathroom for a typical three bedroom semi and though we wouldn't expect you to see a huge return on your investment, you do increase your chances of selling".
Don't: bother with a pool
As luxurious as a morning dip in your own pool sounds, it won't increase the value of your home. A swimming pool only works at the very top-end of the market and the cost of running it will put off most buyers. You may never recoup the money, while an outdoor pool could even devalue the house.
"Steer clear of saunas and swimming pools which can be hugely expensive to maintain, force energy bills up dramatically and require costly specialist attention to run," says Russell Quirk, founder of eMoov.co.uk.
Do: Give your home a facelift
First impressions start as soon as prospective buyers arrive outside your property so make sure you have a clutter-free driveway and if necessary buy a new doorknob and give the front door a lick of paint.
Inside, a paint job may cost £1,000 but combined with clean windows and a tidy home, buyers will see your home in its best possible light.
"Money is well spent trying to improve the property's appearance as this can facilitate a quicker sale," says Brendan Cox of Waterfords estate agents in Guildford. "Simple steps such as de-cluttering the house and a fresh coat of neutral paint throughout helps".
Don't: make inappropriate changes
Modest changes are usually a winner as the initial outlay is small and the potential gain is comparatively high, but be careful not to take the character out of the property. If you are changing the windows the same rules apply – stick to what is appropriate for the age and style of the original property or leave it be.
"Don't be tempted to change an old fireplace for a modern one or to paint beams for example, leave features where they are as they can be an attractive selling point. Buyers then have the option to change them should they wish to," says Mr Cox.
Do: update your home
If you have an older home without central heating installing it will make the property more saleable but do pick an energy-efficient system.
Similarly double glazing is a must for many buyers, but remember the style and materials used should be in keeping with the rest of the home.
Don't: forget the garden
Don't build an extension at the expense of your garden. Outside space is a selling point so you could do more damage than good if an extension is too big. If you live in an area where parking is costly, concreting a front garden will require planning permission and could cost £10,000 or more, but it could add double this in value in some cities. Otherwise, keep the garden well-maintained and think twice before adding decking, paving and water features as they won't push the price up enough.
Do: apply for planning permission
Even if you don't have plans to extend it may be worth securing permission for potential buyers. This costs around £300 but can make your home easier to sell; if a buyer knows expansion will be allowed they may be more willing to pick your home.