Stuck? Try upwards or outwards

It can be simpler and cheaper to extend your home than to move, says Anne Spackman
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The Independent Online
Divorce, death, retirement and relocation are the four categories into which most of today's house sellers can be divided. Growing families, who used to be the engine of the market, are choosing instead to stay put. Many do not fancy tackling a property market as temperamental as a teenager. Instead of trading up, they are extending.

With prices stagnant, the costs of moving are exposed all too clearly. Instead of subtracting several thousand pounds from the profit on their house, sellers have to find the money from their own pockets. Many are choosing instead to spend it on a conservatory, loft extension or home office.

Wandsworth council in south London saw applications for home improvements rise from 150 in 1993 to 182 last year, an increase of more than 20 per cent. One of this year's converts was Vanessa Rhys.

She and her husband live in an unusual mews-style house in a row of Victorian terraces. They had a small kitchen, a living room, two bedrooms and a bathroom, plus a small garden at the back. When Mrs Rhys became pregnant they needed a bit more living space, but were not keen to move. They decided to build a conservatory.

"It has made such a difference," said Mrs Rhys, 30, whose son Samuel was born earlier this month. "We did not want to move because this house is quite unusual and we like the area."

The Rhyses used Peter Green, a builder from Guildford who had been recommended by a friend. The conservatory cost them about pounds 8,500. Mrs Rhys, who runs the lettings department of Beaney Pearce, said they would definitely recoup the building costs if they had to sell the house.

Estate agents say people should be wary of building conservatories which seriously diminish their garden, particularly in cities. "Any element of space in London is at a premium," said Linda Beaney, of Beaney Pearce. "Particularly if it is a basement flat where the garden or patio area is a huge selling point."

In the city of York, where outside space is also at a premium, a conservatory can still be a good investment, so long as it does not take up the entire garden. "It you put a smart conservatory on the back of an average house, the conservatory will sell it," said Edward Waterson of Carter Jonas. "It gives extra space on the ground floor, which is far more valuable than extra space upstairs."

He says loft conversions are most valuable when they turn a two-bedroom house into a three-bedroom one.

The Lowe family have just converted the loft of their four-bedroom house in Putney, southwest London, into two bedrooms to cope with the demands of three growing children. Theirs is a typical red-brick Edwardian semi. They could not afford to buy a bigger house in the neighbourhood, nor did they want to move.

"We had thought about moving to get more space," said Edith Lowe, "but this cost about pounds 20,000 and we wouldn't have got anything bigger for that money."

The Lowes run a business designing exhibitions, so they were quite knowledgeable about what could be achieved in the space. They plan to convert their smallest bedroom into a second bathroom. They used Priory Loft Conversions, one of the largest companies in the business. For them, the Lowe's conversion was a typical job. Most customers want a bedroom and a bathroom or two extra bedrooms, said Max King, the managing director. "People are converting their lofts rather than moving. We are doing more business than we were five years ago, but people are less ambitious about what they want."

The cost of converting a loft varies from about pounds 11,000 for a terraced house outside London to about pounds 20,000 for a semi in the capital. Double- fronted or detached houses would cost close to pounds 25,000. Mr King always tells people to do the conversion because they want the space, not in order to make money.

Recently, Priory has had more business from people wanting to put in offices at home. A number of companies have started selling glorified sheds for the same purpose, so that home workers can separate themselves from the distractions of domestic life.

One of the latest is run by Jonathan Spragg, a former boat-builder based on the south coast. He has adapted the materials used for boats to build what looks like a summer house, which can go on a concrete base. "With young children around, it can be difficult to concentrate inside the house," Mr Spragg said. "I particularly love gardens, so I have gone for double glazing and thick insulation so that people can work outside all through the year."

The basic 10-sided room measures roughly 13ft in diameter, with white exterior and wooden interior, and costs just over pounds 8,000. It was intended for adults escaping from their children, but can also be used the other way. "It's large enough to seat 16 teenagers round a table," Mr Spragg reported.

Peter Green of Guildford (01293 862823); Priory Loft Conversion, Redhill, Surrey (0800 220609); Jonathan Spragg's Belleweather Bower (01243 602377).


l Do not cover up your

garden with a conservatory

l Do put in a proper

staircase for a loft conversion

l Only extend because you want the space, not in order to make money

l Any extension must be in keeping with the period of the house

l Beware of extending into the garage, as parking space is increasingly vital