Home improvements and extensions

You want a new home – but you don’t want to move. The answer? Improve or enlarge the home you’ve got.

When space is tight or your décor’s looking tired, you may be tempted to move house. But if your current location still suits you, an extension may be a far lower-cost option. Here’s how to decide whether to go down the home improvement route, and how to make sure it delivers what you need.

Should I move or extend?

If it’s space you’re after, getting some more room (or extra rooms) is often possible with an extension or even just a shuffle around of the internal walls. It can also be more cost-effective than upsizing to a bigger home. Home improvements often pay for themselves by adding to the value of your home when you come to sell, so in many cases you’re not ‘spending’ money so much as putting it into a long-term investment. You’ll also avoid the costs and fees associated with moving.

Some things (e.g. location, parking, garden size, quiet neighbours) can only be obtained by moving. Make a list of your priorities and then see which ones can be achieved in your current property. If you’re still stuck with a long list of unsolved issues, then maybe you do need to move.

How do I find out if I can extend my home?

The first question to ask is, ‘Can I legally extend?’

Many properties come with permitted development rights, which mean you don’t need planning permission for certain extensions. Assessing these rights will help you decide what home improvements are possible. Bear in mind that work done by previous owners can affect your property’s rights, so consult your local authority and obtain a Building Notice before starting any work.

If you can’t extend using your permitted development rights, you’ll need to apply for planning permission through the Government Planning portal. Your neighbours can comment on the plans, but the final decision is up to your local authority. It helps to find out about their policies in advance, and for a fee you can get pre-application advice.

Your home improvement plans might also be restricted by external factors, like the placement of sewers, protected trees and conservation restrictions. You may need Building Regulations approval to check the work is structurally sound – again, ask your local authority.

Do I need an architect to plan my extension?

You’re not required by law to use an architect for home extensions, but for major building work this kind of expert help can be very useful. An architect can help you make the most of your space and create more adventurous designs, as well as suggesting ideas and possibilities that never occurred to you. The value they end up adding may more than compensate for their fee – and you’ll end up with a truly quality extension.

What extension should I do?

From a value perspective, it’s most economical to create extra space within the existing walls. Examples of this are loft and garage conversions.

Loft conversions cost around £20,000 and can be a relatively easy way of adding a bedroom and bathroom. You can also convert an adjoined garage into an extra reception room or even (in some cases) a downstairs bedroom with an en suite, for only around £10,000.

Other popular home improvements include knocking together kitchens and dining areas to create open-plan kitchen-diners. These typically cost between £1,260 and £1,680 per square metre without the fixtures and fittings.

Which extensions add the most value to a home?

Some kinds of extension add more value than others. According to the National Association of Estate Agents, the best value improvements are as follows:

Type of extension

Value added to house price

Extra double bedroom / loft conversion

11 per cent

Open-plan kitchen-diner

6 per cent

Extra bathroom

5 per cent

Glass conservatory (not uPVC!)

5 per cent 

Beware of using up too much garden, as reducing your outside space can bring the value down and cancel out some of the benefits. Merely enlarging existing rooms is probably the least effective way to add value, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea if more space is what you want.

Another thing to bear in mind is that some streets have a natural ‘ceiling price’, beyond which it’s hard to raise the value of your house. Do some research to find out what your street’s highest prices are, and beware of carrying out major work if it might take you over that ceiling. You might find it hard to sell a half-million pound home in a street of houses half the price.

What do I need to bear in mind when planning an extension?

You don’t want to fall out with any neighbours over your extension, so think about how it will affect them. Will any new windows make their property (or yours) less private. Will roof lights disturb them? Will you need access to the site through their land, and if so do you need an arrangement? Will any adjoining walls increase the level of noise?

You should also think about whether your existing property could be adversely affected. Extensions can make it more difficult to get natural light into the main house. Also hire a plumber to assess whether your boiler can cope with the extra space it needs to serve.

How can I make sure my extension is successful?

You should ensure your extension is:

  • Legal
  • In line with your needs
  • Affordable
  • Good value (i.e. adding to property price)
  • Insured
  • Not intrusive or disruptive to neighbours
  • Well managed
  • Carried out by trusted contractors

Use the Planning Portal website to get the necessary permission and make sure your builders stick to it. You will also need to get site insurance before knocking anything down, because your existing buildings insurance is unlikely to cover your property while it is undergoing work.

Plan well ahead, and don’t skimp on advice. It may be cheaper than moving, but you’re still spending a lot of money on your biggest asset, so keep those experts close.

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