This article is part one in a two-part series on making homeimprovements. Once upon a time, investing in property was a sure-fire way to makemoney, but as the property market has slowed down over recent years,homeowners need to be wise about how they maintain and improve theirproperty in order to make money from it as buyers are becoming moredemanding. There's a wide range of upgrades that can be made, fromlarge-scale property development to a spot of DIY. A great deal ofcapital will be required for the former and isn't a realistic optionfor many people, but self improvements needn't cost the earth and ifdone well can make a big difference to property value. A word of warning though: you won't always get back what you put into aproperty - you'll need to spend your money wisely in order to make aprofit. The biggest mistake that most people make is to focus too muchon cosmetic improvements without making a real difference to the keyfeatures of the property. What homebuyers always want is space, sowhatever improvements you make, you should aim to create more space (orensure 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 ahouse (although only if they are all a reasonable size). There are numerous ways in which to increase the space in yourhouse - converting a loft or cellar, adding a garage, building anextension or conservatory, redesigning the garden or moving interiorwalls.
Loft conversions are a specialist job and should be done by an expert.There are various building regulations that must be adhered to. For astart, most lofts aren't designed to cope with the loads that domesticuse would entail - in many houses even the cold water tank is mountedbetween the roof rafters as the loft floor isn't load-bearing. Theceiling and floor will therefore have to be strengthened, and the roofmay also have to be altered to ensure that it can support the windowsthat will be fitted. Fire safety is another aspect that must beconsidered - materials must be fire-resistant and the space must bedesigned so that there is a suitable escape route. This will affect thedesign 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 autility room, a playroom, a gym or even a home cinema! Bedrooms, livingrooms, dining rooms and kitchens in a basement space aren't a good ideaunless you're able to fit windows, as they can be dark and needconstant artificial light. Cellar conversions are also best done by anexpert, as they are also subject to building regulations.
You'll need to waterproof and insulate the floor and walls to make the space warmand dry. This will involve coating the walls and floor in a damp-proofmembrane and installing drainage and a sump for channelling any wateror moisture. Fans and/or humidity controls may also need to be fittedto ensure adequate airflow. Building an extension is a major undertaking. You'll need to employ anarchitect or a surveyor to draw up plans to submit for planningpermission and building regulation approval by the local council beforeyou start building work. Once you've got a clear idea of what you wantdone, the next step is to work out the costs involved in the buildingwork and draw up a clear financial plan. Costs often spiral out ofcontrol once the work is underway and it can be difficult to keepwithin budget. Factor a contingency fund into your plans when workingout how to finance the project to cover unexpected expenditure. Themost common methods of paying for extensions are by remortgaging ortaking out a personal loan. Speak to your mortgage provider andvarious banks to work out the best deal for you. Think about how the extension will affect the existing space beforemaking any decisions. If the garden is very small, the finished housewill be completely out of proportion to the plot and may reduce itsmarketability.
Garages are valuable storage places, so think carefullybefore knocking down a garage to make space for an extension as itcould end up backfiring - a large house with no garage and no car spacemay be very difficult to sell. Instead, consider extending over thegarage if it is attached to the house, or knocking down a detachedgarage and building a new one adjoining the house so that you cancreate living space above it. If getting rid of the garage is the onlyfeasible option, try to redesign the garden to allow plenty of drivewayspace as it can be very difficult to find street parking in many urbanareas. A much simpler option for increasing living space is to get aconservatory.Compared to extensions they can be much cheaper and they don't alwaysrequire planning permission - although you should always check beforeundertaking any work. It depends on the size and type of the existingproperty (detached, semi-detached, terraced, flat), whether it has beenextended before, the size of the planned conservatory, the amount ofspace in the garden, and whether the property is in a conservation areaor is a listed building. Speak to your local council for advice. Thecost of building a conservatory can vary dramatically - a conservatorykit from a DIY store is the cheapest option, but even betweenprofessional companies there can be a big difference in prices.
Getplenty 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 inyour 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 areload-bearing and it's best to speak to an expert before you begin. Onelarge bedroom could be divided into two, or an ensuite toilet could beadded. Make sure that you don't end up decreasing the actual livingspace though. Dividing an existing bedroom in order to create anadditional one will not add any value if the two new rooms are toosmall - in fact, it could end up decreasing the value of the property. Alternatively, you may simply want to move a wall to increase the sizeof a key room such as your living room at the expense of an adjoiningroom, as long as the adjoining room will still end up a reasonable size. Even redesigning your garden can make an enormous difference. Think ofyour garden as outdoor living space - a deck, terrace or patio can makea garden much more useable. Car space is also an important feature forhomebuyers nowadays. If you don't currently have any off-streetparking, 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 theexpenditure. Always check whether you need planning permission. Speak to an expert for advice - there may be many potential snagsand pitfalls that you're not aware of. Work out a budget in advance. Only do what you can afford - don't overstretch your finances.