Your scenic route to the office, down the garden path

Sheds: The outhouse is the new hothouse for homeworkers. Melanie Bien reports on how to find and build the right model

Dylan Thomas was inspired to write some of his most famous works in one, as was Roald Dahl and now the novelist Philip Pullman. So if you are encountering writer's block, perhaps you should go down to the bottom of your garden.

Sheds have long been a subject for derision - little more than a haven for put-upon men to escape their nagging wives. But now they are in vogue. No longer associated with potting plants or brewing questionable substances, the shed has been reborn as the "garden office" and is attractive, spacious and increasingly popular among people who work from home.

The advantage of having an "office" in a shed, rather than your kitchen or living room, is that your workspace is completely separate. You leave home in the morning and "commute" to the garden. At the end of the day, you can switch off your laptop and be in front of the TV in a couple of minutes. No more stressful commuting.

A growing number of homeowners are looking at ways of achieving more space without having to go to the trouble and expense of moving to a bigger property. According to research from independent financial adviser The MarketPlace at Bradford & Bingley, a shed, extension or loft conversion gives valuable extra space for less than it would cost to move once stamp duty and legal, survey and mortgage fees are taken into account.

But if you do have space in your garden for a shed, it is a much easier and cheaper option than a loft conversion or extension. These may require planning permission and experienced tradesmen to carry out the work. The final bill could top tens of thousands of pounds.

Sheds generally don't need planning permission because they are temporary structures. However, they must be under four metres high at the apex, take up less than half the garden and be situated more than five metres from your house. If you live in a conservation area, you may encounter problems: your local planning office will be able to direct you on this.

Although sheds tend to be cheaper than extensions or conversions, you can easily spend several thousand pounds if you go for a top-of-the-range model. You will certainly be spoilt for choice: one provider, The Garden Office Limited, produces 12 different designs, for example.

The cheapest option is to do it yourself with a flat-pack shed from your local DIY store. For example, a basic 6x4-foot Apex wooden shed costs £189.99 from Screwfix (www.screwfix.com), although this is likely to be a bit on the small side. Several hundred pounds should buy you a big enough shed for most purposes, and you should be able to construct it yourself. Details of how to do this can be found on www.wirelessshed.com (a website that encourages users to run broadband internet connections from their garden sheds), along with hints on installing your work gadgets.

Getting on to the internet will be far easier once your "office" is up and running. Telewest Broadband has launched a wireless connection that means you can log on to the internet from your shed - as long as it's less than 250 metres from your wireless access point - without the need for complicated wires or attachments. All you need is a laptop or PC and a broadband wireless pack, which will connect you to the set-top box supplying your digital TV service. Telewest Broadband's self-installation pack costs £35.

You may have to get an electrician to wire up lights and sockets using armoured cable running from your home, if you can't do this yourself. Expect to pay several hundred pounds for the service, depending on the distance of the shed from your house and the number of sockets required.

If you don't want to build a shed yourself and are after something more luxurious - so you don't have to huddle in a sleeping bag in the depths of winter, like Dylan Thomas - you need a properly insulated and heated structure. A popular model is Henley Offices' Compact Office Vista - 6.4 metres square and costing £5,875. It has double-glazed windows, electric sockets and light fittings, 3.5-inch insulated walls and a carpet.

If you need even more space, a 15 metres sq construction - the Henley Varispace - will set you back £13,995.

But money spent on a shed is unlikely to be wasted. As well as making life easier for home- workers, a properly built, sizeable model could add 5 per cent to the value of your property, estimates the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

On the average UK home, which is worth £151,467, according to the Halifax, you are looking at an increase in the value of £7,573.35.

www.thegardenoffice.com; www.henleyoffices.com

The most cost-effective ways to splash out on a shed

Sheds are big money: last year Britons spent £85m on them, according to a survey from market researcher Mintel. Some people spend a lot more than others, however. While a basic shed may only set you back a few hundred pounds, you could end up spending thousands if you opt for a sizeable structure with all the bells and whistles.

Ideally, your savings will cover the cost of building and kitting out a shed. But if that isn't the case, you'll have to raise the money from elsewhere.

"The best source of finance will depend on how much you need to borrow and how quickly you can pay it back," says Ray Boulger, technical manager at mortgage broker Charcol.

He reckons it probably isn't worth remortgaging your main residence if you need £5,000 or less, as you will have to pay around £1,000 in valuation fees and legal costs. "But if your current home loan isn't competitive so you need to remortgage anyway, you could take out a bigger loan while you are about it to cover the cost of your shed."

Another option is a further advance from your lender. As long as you have some equity in your home - and with the increase in property prices over the past few years, most people have - this shouldn't be a problem. Most lenders won't even ask what the cash is for. However, if the advance would take your mortgage above 75 per cent of the value of the property, the lender may insist the cash is spent on improvements: an upmarket shed should fit this bill.

Expect to pay an administration fee of around £250 for an advance, though if you opt for a discounted or fixed rate on the extra cash, you may also face an arrangement fee of £300 to £400. To avoid this, Mr Boulger suggests accepting the lender's stand- ard variable rate (so you don't have to pay an arrangement fee) and then waiting until the current offer period on your mortgage runs out - before re- mortgaging the whole amount to a fixed or discounted rate.

You could also go for an unsecured personal loan, although shop around here, as rates vary considerably between provi-ders. Depending on your credit rating, you should be able to get a deal charging 6 per cent interest: Cahoot and Lombard Direct are worth a try.

The advantage of a personal loan is that you don't have to pay any set-up fees. But you do have to pay back what you owe more quickly. Go to moneysupermarket.com to compare deals.

Whatever you do, don't use a store card if you are buying a shed from Homebase or B&Q. But a credit card is a different matter, as long as it has a 0 per cent introductory period for several months. Mr Boulger recommends MBNA and Egg's 0 per cent offers because these providers allow you to transfer money from the card into your current account, so you can pay for the shed by cheque.

Alternatively, if you earn cashback or Air Miles on your regular credit card, you could pay for the shed with this, take out a 0 per cent card and transfer the balance. If you don't have the cash to clear the debt at the end of the introductory period, take out another 0 per cent offer and transfer your balance once again.

IS YOUR WORK EQUIPMENT COVERED?

As you may be investing a lot of money in your shed, give some thought to insurance. Beef up security with double-glazing, window locks and a secure lock on the door.

* Make sure your home contents insurance covers your office equipment in case it is stolen from the shed. Most policies will do this, though there may be a cap on the amount. For example, Zurich usually has a £10,000 limit on claims for stolen equipment but this falls to £5,000 if it is stored in a shed. If there is a fire in the shed and your equipment is destroyed, cover is unlimited.

* If your shed burns down, it should be covered under your home's buildings insurance as it lies within the boundaries of your property. But inform your insurer when you erect a shed, to ensure you have enough cover on your buildings policy.

* If clients visit you on the premises, you will need commercial insurance. Professional negligence cover may also be a good idea because you would be liable if someone had an accident.

* If you have staff working for you in your shed, you may need office insurance. This should cover you for employer's liability, business interruption, personal accident and legal expenses.

* If you are self-employed, consider income protection and life or critical illness cover, in case you can no longer work due to illness.

Source: Zurich Insurance

Comments