Increase The Value Of Your Home - Build Or Extend

by : Benedict Rohan

This article is part one in a two-part series on making home improvements.

Once upon a time, investing in property was a sure-fire way to make money, but as the property market has slowed down over recent years, homeowners need to be wise about how they maintain and improve their property in order to make money from it as buyers are becoming more demanding. There's a wide range of upgrades that can be made, from large-scale property development to a spot of DIY. A great deal of capital will be required for the former and isn't a realistic option for many people, but self improvements needn't cost the earth and if done well can make a big difference to property value.

A word of warning though: you won't always get back what you put into a property - you'll need to spend your money wisely in order to make a profit. The biggest mistake that most people make is to focus too much on cosmetic improvements without making a real difference to the key features of the property. What homebuyers always want is space, so whatever improvements you make, you should aim to create more space (or ensure that whatever changes you make aren't at the cost of space). As a general rule, the more bedrooms the better - this is what sells a house (although only if they are all a reasonable size).

There are numerous ways in which to increase the space in your house - converting a loft or cellar, adding a garage, building an extension or conservatory, redesigning the garden or moving interior walls.

Loft conversions are a specialist job and should be done by an expert. There are various building regulations that must be adhered to. For a start, most lofts aren't designed to cope with the loads that domestic use would entail - in many houses even the cold water tank is mounted between the roof rafters as the loft floor isn't load-bearing. The ceiling and floor will therefore have to be strengthened, and the roof may also have to be altered to ensure that it can support the windows that will be fitted. Fire safety is another aspect that must be considered - materials must be fire-resistant and the space must be designed so that there is a suitable escape route. This will affect the design of the staircase, doors and windows. To be on the safe side, it's best to employ the services of an architect or structural engineer.

If you have a cellar in your home, you may be able to convert it into a utility room, a playroom, a gym or even a home cinema! Bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens in a basement space aren't a good idea unless you're able to fit windows, as they can be dark and need constant artificial light. Cellar conversions are also best done by an expert, as they are also subject to building regulations. You'll need to waterproof and insulate the floor and walls to make the space warm and dry. This will involve coating the walls and floor in a damp-proof membrane and installing drainage and a sump for channelling any water or moisture. Fans and/or humidity controls may also need to be fitted to ensure adequate airflow.

Building an extension is a major undertaking. You'll need to employ an architect or a surveyor to draw up plans to submit for planning permission and building regulation approval by the local council before you start building work. Once you've got a clear idea of what you want done, the next step is to work out the costs involved in the building work and draw up a clear financial plan. Costs often spiral out of control once the work is underway and it can be difficult to keep within budget. Factor a contingency fund into your plans when working out how to finance the project to cover unexpected expenditure. The most common methods of paying for extensions are by remortgaging or taking out a personal loan. Speak to your mortgage provider and various banks to work out the best deal for you.

Think about how the extension will affect the existing space before making any decisions. If the garden is very small, the finished house will be completely out of proportion to the plot and may reduce its marketability. Garages are valuable storage places, so think carefully before knocking down a garage to make space for an extension as it could end up backfiring - a large house with no garage and no car space may be very difficult to sell. Instead, consider extending over the garage if it is attached to the house, or knocking down a detached garage and building a new one adjoining the house so that you can create living space above it. If getting rid of the garage is the only feasible option, try to redesign the garden to allow plenty of driveway space as it can be very difficult to find street parking in many urban areas.

A much simpler option for increasing living space is to get a conservatory. Compared to extensions they can be much cheaper and they don't always require planning permission - although you should always check before undertaking any work. It depends on the size and type of the existing property (detached, semi-detached, terraced, flat), whether it has been extended before, the size of the planned conservatory, the amount of space in the garden, and whether the property is in a conservation area or is a listed building. Speak to your local council for advice. The cost of building a conservatory can vary dramatically - a conservatory kit from a DIY store is the cheapest option, but even between professional companies there can be a big difference in prices. Get plenty of quotes before making any decisions.

If you're daunted by the prospect of having major building work done, you may want to think about redesigning the existing interior space in your home. It's easy to knock down old partitions and put up new ones, but of course you'll need to check whether any of the walls are load-bearing and it's best to speak to an expert before you begin. One large bedroom could be divided into two, or an ensuite toilet could be added. Make sure that you don't end up decreasing the actual living space though. Dividing an existing bedroom in order to create an additional one will not add any value if the two new rooms are too small - in fact, it could end up decreasing the value of the property. Alternatively, you may simply want to move a wall to increase the size of a key room such as your living room at the expense of an adjoining room, as long as the adjoining room will still end up a reasonable size.

Even redesigning your garden can make an enormous difference. Think of your garden as outdoor living space - a deck, terrace or patio can make a garden much more useable. Car space is also an important feature for homebuyers nowadays. If you don't currently have any off-street parking, think about building a carport or driveway.

Whatever you decide to do to your home to increase its value, bear in mind these useful tips:

* Do your research - find out whether the work will be worth the expenditure.

* Always check whether you need planning permission.

* Speak to an expert for advice - there may be many potential snags and pitfalls that you're not aware of.

* Work out a budget in advance.

* Only do what you can afford - don't overstretch your finances.