How not to add value to your home

Thinking of selling your property? You don't need to splash out on expensive renovations, just stay practical and functional, says Graham Norwood

Sunday 23 October 2011 05:09

Improve, not move is the mantra of our recessionary times, especially for those with a Sarah Beeny-esque penchant for making bags of money from bricks and mortar. We are constantly assailed with advice about what to do to boost the value of our home, but what changes push prices down and make a property less attractive to a future would-be buyer?

The answer? According to leading estate agents and relocatin agents, it's bad news for you if you have just turned your home into an open-plan space with a flash kitchen and a converted basement containing a swimming pool and gaudy jacuzzi...

Bad move 1: Extravagant kitchens, bathrooms and hot tubs

This is the howler of choice for many homeowners. Estate agents say most buyers fit new bathroom suites or kitchen cabinets to put their mark on a property – so those installed by sellers are usually a waste of money.

"The classic mistake is a very expensive ground-floor jacuzzi room with separate shower unit, in all costing £10,000. It's hardly ever used, and likely to be ripped out by the next owner. It sounds barmy, but I've seen it more times than I'd care to remember," says William Kirkland of John D Wood estate agency in Oxford.

"There's something worringly seedy about spa baths, and outdoor hot tubs that are very rarely used. They sit there 355 days a year, covered with a tarpaulin. When you finally dust it down, it's filled with debris and putrid water," says Robert Bailey, of Robert Bailey Property.

Bad move 2: Dodgy decoration

Decorations that reflect the eccentricities of the owner can be a turn-off for buyers, which is why estate agents and house doctors say "de-cluttering" and a large tin of neutral-coloured paint tend to maximise the appeal of a property going on the market.

"Purchasers look for quality – not necessarily gimmicky improvements, but high-quality finishes. Neutral ivory or white in a classic modern or period style is always the safest bet," insists Richard Barber of estate agent WA Ellis.

Sam Trounson of rival agency Strutt & Parker says owners preparing to sell should remember most buyers make near-instant decisions about a home. "Money is often best spent on gravel on the drive and repainting the front door. The last place to spend money is the last room in the house when looking around," he says.

Bad move 3: Flamboyant renovations

Modern architectural form often favours open-plan interiors, but the problem with emulating this in older homes means valuable bedrooms or private space are lost.

Spencer Cushing of John D Wood's office in Battersea, south London, was asked for advice by an owner wanting to convert a three-bed, 1,200 sq ft apartment into a one-bedroom flat with a vast open reception area. "I tried to convince him that far from adding value, this would bring the market price down. It's fine if you're doing it for yourself but when you're looking to sell it on for profit, it's safest to create what the average Joe Bloggs purchaser is looking for," says Cushing.

Another mistake is restructuring for unsympathetic uses. "A cinema room in a Georgian cottage or a Victorian fireplace in a new-build property will look out of place and will add no value at all," adds George Franks of estate agent Douglas & Gordon.

Bad move 4: Swimming pools

A pool, especially in the garden, is a status symbol that can also become a liability.

"The running costs are hideous and people tend not to use them as much as they think they will. The cost per swim is extremely high for an outside pool ," says James Greenwood of Stacks Property Search, a buying agency.

Sensible buyers avoid pools, insists Carl Davenport of Chesterton Humberts. He once helped sell the home of Duncan Goodhew, the British swimmer who won gold and bronze medals in the 1980 Olympics. He didn't have a pool, "and if he doesn't need one, nobody does," Davenport says.

Bad move 5: Poorly planned extensions

More space usually means more value – but often only if this means more bedrooms and the home does not become excessively "over-developed" in the neighbourhood.

"Investigate the ceiling price in your area. If most homes like yours are selling for no more than £500,000, then sticking a £100,000 extension on the side and expecting the house to be worth £600,000 is completely unrealistic," says Sharon Zaremski of upmarket estate agency Strutt & Parker.

Despite the recent trend "large, multi-storey subterranean basements have limited appeal," says Bailey. "we have relatively little natural light as it is, so buyers will not value basement space nearly as much as light-filled space."

Even worse, any botched extension work will bite back when you sell. "A lawyer for the purchaser will require proof that the necessary consents were obtained," says Camilla Dell of Black Brick buying agency. If the consents aren't there? "It's unlikely a purchaser would be willing to take a risk and purchase," she says.

So what does add value? A seller's guide

* A new survey from the Nationwide building society helps owners focus on three ways of improving a property and boosting value, too.

* A 10 per cent increase in round floor space adds an average of 5 per cent to value (7 per cent if the home is detached). But the space must be "usable", so that means adding a conservatory or utility room or home office – not a media room.

* Adding an en suite bedroom through, say, a loft conversion or extending above a garage can add between 11 and 20 per cent to a property's value, for houses that expand from two-to-three or three-to-four bedrooms as a result.

* Energy-efficiency measures can boost a home's value and "sellability". New mandatory Energy Performance Certificates for homes on the market make it easy for buyers to compare different properties.

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