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Make Your House a home

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Making your house a home

Sunday, June 07, 2009 - By Alexander Fitzgerald

Remember not so very long ago, when lazy Sunday mornings were spent poring over page after page of extravagantly priced houses fitted out with every luxury gadget and appliance imaginable?

Back then, whether you were a first-time buyer, trading up or an investor looking to make a quick buck on a resale, the chances were that you had set your sights on a dream home with as many bells and whistles as possible.

The economic downturn may have altered all that, but our design ambitions - inflated by years of home improvement television shows and glossy interiors magazines - have not diminished. Finances permitting, there’s no need to deny ourselves, or our properties, the benefit of a few home improvements. If carried out correctly, improvements will not only enhance living standards, but also increase the value of a home.

‘‘We are finding that more and more home owners are deciding to improve their homes, rather than move,” said estate agent Felicity Fox. ‘‘This is quite often a direct reflection on the value of their home - people have realised that they may not have as much equity in their homes as they originally thought, and hence they may not be in a position financially to move.”

The ‘improve, don’t move’ mentality is reflected by figures released by, a website which connects homeowners to qualified trade professionals. According to Ted Laverty, of, the number of home improvement projects submitted to the website was up by 63 per cent in the first quarter of 2009, compared with the same period 12 months earlier.

Home improvements, as any estate agent, tradesman or DIY enthusiast will attest, are as varied as they are various. They can be merely aesthetic - such as a decorative makeover - or can be wholly functional - such as insulating a loft. The best ones, however, will add value to a property, while simultaneously enhancing the quality of life for its occupants.

So, where to start? The type and extent of home improvements an individual may decide to carry out will be determined primarily by their budget, but should also be influenced by the amount of time they envisage living in the property.

‘‘The amount of work a homeowner decides to do should not only reflect how much they can afford to spend, but also how long they plan to stay put,” said Felicity Fox.

‘‘If an owner is planning to stay for in excess of five years, then they should feel free to do as much as they want. They will not only get the use and pleasure of these works for themselves, but sufficient time should also have passed so that the costs of these works will hopefully be counter-balanced by the appreciation in house prices. Everything is cyclical, after all.” 

While the experts may squabble over the respective merits of the most popular home improvements, most agree that increasing the size of a property can be one of the best ways of increasing its value.

A recent study by Halifax found that a substantial extension could add more to a property’s value than any other home improvement.

Creating an extra room should be the objective, although extending a room such as the kitchen may alter the use of other rooms, thus having the same effect.

‘‘If a property is light on accommodation, whether it is living space or bedrooms, a good extension or attic conversion can add those all-important extra few metres, and always helps when a purchaser is calculating the price per square metre, hence, justifying the price,” said Fox.

Whether you’ve got designs on an extra bedroom or a larger kitchen, the most common type of home improvement is a rear or side extension. Should your property and its gardens have sufficient space, extending the overall footprint of the house in this way is often the simplest way of extending.

Furthermore, obtaining planning approval for an extension is relatively straightforward, as long as your plans are in keeping with the style of the building and your neighbours do not object.

The timeframe for a single storey extension is likely to be anywhere between 12 and 20 weeks, while a full-scale double storey extension could take several months.

Prices fluctuate significantly depending on the size and level of fit-out. According to Jim Lawler, of Melted Snow Architects, a single storey rear extension to an average three bed semi can cost anything upwards of €50,000, and could add anything from 10-15 per cent on to the value of a property.

It’s estimated that currently extensions are costing between €1,500 and €2,000 per square metre. Most importantly, home owners should ensure that their contractor is solvent, given the number of constuction companies going bust. If garden space is limited, consider extending up, rather than out.

People have been squeezing extra rooms into roof spaces since the invention of the ladder, but loft extensions, thanks to modern building techniques and new materials, have come a long way from the pokey models that characterised 1980s suburbia.

Planning permission is not normally required for a loft conversion, which should take between four and ten weeks for the average three-bed house, and can add about 5 per cent to the value of a property.

You can, of course, extend belowthe ground - atechnique that has seen a surge in popularity in recent years. A stylish basement will add a genuine ‘wow factor’ to any home - and is particularly suitable for Victorian or terraced residences which already have basement space.

However, it is usually the most expensive option and will require a wealth of professional help from an architect, a structural engineer and a specialist builder in order to sort out structural issues, avoid dampness and resolve party wall problems.

There’s also the significant costs and lengthy construction time to consider - depending on the efficiency or inefficiency of your builders, creating a basement is likely to take a minimum of four months. Expect to pay around €45,000 for converting an existing basement, or €70,000 plus to create one from scratch.

Home improvements do not need to be so drastic or expensive, however.

Improving a property’s insulation levels, for example, is neither sexy nor exciting, but will increase the energy efficiency of a property, with obvious subsequent savings on heating bills.

Draft proofing, wall insulation or loft insulation are unlikely to add to the aesthetic value of your home, but can result in a significant increases in comfort levels and, crucially, tend to have a ‘payback’ period of between two and six years.

Replacing old windows with energy-efficient designs can also bring about dramatic savings on heating bills, while simultaneously improving a property’s aesthetics.

If you’re not concerned with achieving greater living space, but are keen to give your home an aesthetic upgrade, consider remodelling certain areas.

Although the full cost of renovations is rarely recouped should you subsequently decide to put your home on the market, it is commonly acknowledged that improvements to the kitchen and bathroom rate as among the most cost-effective remodelling jobs.

Giving a fresh look to a kitchen or bathroom needn’t break the bank. Replacing something as seemingly insignificant as the taps in the bathroom can make a difference, while replacing doors and handles is an inexpensive way of creating a new look to dated kitchen units.

Employing the services of an interior designer may seem a frivolous extravagance in the current economic climate, but it can prove money well spent - something many budget conscious homeowners now recognise.

‘‘While house prices have dropped, clients now seem to be committing to ‘doing up’, rather then ‘selling up’,” said interior designer Gwen Kenny, of Divine Design, which offers an initial consultation for €200.

‘‘For the money they would spend on stamp duty, they can have a serious amount of work done - and if they spend wisely, it will increase the value of their property.”

Indicative of the economic climate, Kenny has observed that clients are now looking to feather their nests and create inviting homes, rather than merely create picture-perfect showpieces.

Decorative trends, she said, were also undergoing a notable shift.

‘‘People are now less likely to follow the crowd, but instead go with what they like themselves.

Whether it’s exotic shades and jewel colours, rather than the sea of taupe, sepia and charcoal that had saturated the market, or tactile fabrics, homeowners are now looking to satisfy their own tastes, rather then slavishly following trends,” Kenny said.

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