Who needs a bath?

It's become the ultimate accessory for trendy loft-dwellers: the tile-bedecked, hot water-guzzling wet room. So should we all start splashing out? And should the bath stay or should it go? Caroline Wingfield investigates
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The Independent Online

I really like the idea of baths. A long, hot soak in the tub; relaxing, calming, full of bubbles. Baths are good things. But somehow, I rarely seem to take one. It always ends up being so much quicker to jump in the shower. So much so, that my boyfriend and I have considered getting rid of the bath in our flat. Instead, we could get a power shower or perhaps even a wet room, converting the whole room into a shrine to flowing water. But is this property-value suicide? Would we be mad to take out an existing fitting and replace it with something less sought after?

I really like the idea of baths. A long, hot soak in the tub; relaxing, calming, full of bubbles. Baths are good things. But somehow, I rarely seem to take one. It always ends up being so much quicker to jump in the shower. So much so, that my boyfriend and I have considered getting rid of the bath in our flat. Instead, we could get a power shower or perhaps even a wet room, converting the whole room into a shrine to flowing water. But is this property-value suicide? Would we be mad to take out an existing fitting and replace it with something less sought after?

I call the estate agent who sold us the flat, Charlotte Writer at Vanstons. Her reaction is emphatic. "Keep the bath, even if it's a small bathroom. I can't count the number of times I've taken a couple to view a flat with only a shower and they've asked why there's no bath. Especially women," she adds, "men are often not so fussed. I showed one man round a flat where they'd squeezed a tiny bath in under a power shower and he said, 'Why on earth did they put that in?'"

Her advice is to appeal to the majority. "If you took out the bath, your property wouldn't lose value, it just might not increase. Say it's worth £200K and you spend £10K on the bathroom. In theory, you'd expect it to increase to £210K. But the buyer probably wouldn't see that, they'd think, 'It's nice, but I'd rather get that place down the road for £200K.'" It's the same if you've got a tiny second bedroom. It's better to keep the flat as a two-bed rather than knocking through the wall to make one huge room. First-time buyers looking for smaller flats want everything, including a bath. They may be buying with a 90 per cent mortgage so the return on the investment is crucial."

But what if we wanted to get a wet room – one of those waterproof playgrounds so beloved of style magazines? Surely if we added a touch of contemporary kudos to the place the offers would come flooding in? Graeme Williamson of Block Architecture recently designed a wet room for a loft in Hoxton, London. "Wet rooms are more in line with contemporary design," he says, "they're streamlined and space efficient." Sounds ideal, but are they easy to install? "Anyone can put one in as long as you build the floor up and get the fall right," he says. "Wet rooms need to have a raised floor because you need the height in order for the water to be able to drain away. If it's not done well it can leak so it's essential to have a good floor."

I put this to my estate agent. She agrees that there is certainly a market out there, but I get the impression that perhaps it is our flat that isn't quite right. "In the more expensive flats, say a modern loft conversion, you are buying at a premium and people are prepared to pay," she says. "Buyers are often City boys who have lots of cash and are looking for a bachelor pad. They're not so worried about the return, often paying large deposits." In our case she suggests caution. "Be careful what you spend. Wet rooms are very expensive because they have to be done very well." In Writer's experience, prospective buyers don't always appreciate the money you've spent. People are often happy with the cheaper copy of the latest designer trends.

So what's the bottom line? Williamson informs me that yes, a wet room is indeed expensive, and depending on the finish it can cost upwards from £4,000. But that's not all. You will pay a lot up-front but there is also an ongoing cost. You need a lot of water, hot water – the power showers in wet rooms guzzle it. Your standard domestic water heater will need to be replaced, which can cost more than £2,000. "It does use a lot more water, but it's probably about the same as a bath." But would he go so far as to take the bath out entirely? Williamson hesitates. "I would think twice."

Not everyone's first priority is the resale value of the property, however, and the bath-versus-shower debate has people reacting with Marmite-like fervour. "Can't live without it," says one side. "Never touch it," says the other. But if you are planning to take the bath out, there is a less expensive alternative to the wet room – a walk-in shower unit. Most of the big bathroom names do these, and they are available right across the budget spectrum. B&Q's Mississippi Walk-in Enclosure (1.4m wide x 0.8m deep, from £949) has curved screens. West One Bathrooms' Terra Shower (1.9m x 1.12m) starts from £2,600. Matki do a walk-in shower suitable for a corner or recess in a range of sizes from £1,100.

Nagina Waters of West One Bathrooms in Mayfair has noticed a trend towards showers in the past few years. "A lot of people are coming to us to refit one of their bathrooms as an all-singing, all-dancing shower room with body jets and steam. They might go to the gym and see this great shower there and think, 'I'd like that at home.'" She puts this shift in attitude down to a social change behind what people want from their bathrooms. "Our lives have evolved and soaks in the bath are a thing of the past." On the question of remove one's bath entirely she is firm: keep the bath and get a power shower attachment.

So for now, it looks as if our bath has won a reprieve. But that's not to say in our next flat we'll be so lenient. In larger houses with two or three bathrooms, the general rule is to keep at least one bath, particularly if it's a family house, as small children will need one. But when it comes down to it, you're never going to please everyone. My estate agent cites one example. "We've got a lovely family house on the market at the moment with three bathrooms. Everyone asks the same question: why is there only one bath? It's an immaculate house, but people don't want to consider having to spend £10K to refit the bathroom." How terribly British.

Block Architecture (020-7729 9194), www.blockarchitecture.com

B&Q (0870 0101 006), www.diy.com

West One Bathrooms (020-7499 1845), www.westonebathrooms.co.uk

Matki (01454 322888), www.matki.co.uk

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