Converting your loft can be the ideal way to gain extra space without the expense and hassle of moving house. Katherine Sorrell outlines the dos and don’ts.
Dark, pokey and inaccessible, lofts can often be, literally, a waste of space, useful for a bit of dusty, long-term storage and nothing else. Turn that space into one or two useful rooms and – ta da! – not only might you have added real value to your property, but you’ve got extra living space that could make all the difference to happy family life.
The simplest loft conversion might just involve strengthening and boarding out the floor, adding a light and sticking in a pull-down loft ladder – giving you a good-sized storage area that’s accessible on a regular basis, at a cost of probably only a couple of thousand pounds. Bear in mind, however, that Building Regulations may apply to even a simple conversion – see more at www.planningportal.gov.uk. Such a basic project may be a good idea in practical, everyday terms, but if it’s added value you’re after, you’ll have to be more ambitious, say the experts, and put in at least one ‘real’ room.
‘It’s a false economy to cut corners,’ says Jeremy Leaf, RICS housing spokesperson (www.rics.org). ‘To maximise your return the conversion has to be designed properly from the very beginning. You should have a proper lobby area when you come up the stairs, there should be sufficient head clearance, it should be properly insulated, you should have a dormer window rather than a Velux. It’s also important to think about how a loft conversion affects the house as a whole, as they can make them top heavy, with too many bedrooms and, in comparison, too few reception rooms. Check out other properties nearby which have been similarly extended to see what has been done and what they’re worth.’ When doing your research, it’s always a good idea to ask a local estate agent for advice, and you could also go to a website such as www.nethouseprices.com to find out how much properties in your area have sold for recently.
A word about space planning. If you have room, adding a bathroom to a loft conversion makes sense both practically and financially, and shouldn’t cost any more than adding a new bathroom anywhere else in the house – in other words, anything from around £3,000 for a plain fit-out. Costs will be minimised if you place the bathroom above one on the floor below, keeping plumbing work simple, but Hugo Tugman of Architect Your Home (www.architect-yourhome.com) points out that you should always keep your options open. ‘It’s folly to put the bathroom in the wrong place, just because that’s where the drains are,’ he says. ‘The same goes for staircases – most people think that there’s just one place where a staircase can be fitted in a loft conversion, because Building Regulations require two metres of head room above it, but you can end up squashing your accommodation just because the best bit of loft is taken up with a staircase. It’s really worth considering the possible alternatives when doing your planning.’
And finally, if overall head height is an issue in your potential loft conversion, don’t try to get away with cramped, uncomfortable rooms. Hugo points out that lowering the ceilings of the rooms below is often a possibility, and can make all the difference to the success of a project. ‘It sounds like it would be a massive expense,’ he says, ‘but in fact the additional costs are really only plastering and decorating the rooms below, and it would probably add no more than about three or four thousand onto a simple job.’
BUT WILL IT ADD VALUE?
The HSBC’s annual home improvement survey found, in March this year, that a loft conversion is still the improvement that adds the most value, boosting the price of a property by, on average, £16,152. But according to specialists Econoloft, a typical conversion by building professionals costs between £20,000 and £30,000. The answer may lie, therefore, in keeping costs down by doing as much work as possible yourself – but only if you can do it to a good standard. Valuation expert Paul Cutbill, of Countrywide Surveying Services, said: ‘Whilst sensibly improved and well presented homes will generally be attractive to potential purchasers, rising labour and material costs mean that the gap between the cost of improving and monies realised at the point of any sale has been reduced. Poor quality refitting and lack of proper design considerations, often as a result of inadequate project budgeting and planning, can also have a significant knock-on effect to any added value which might be gained when selling a property.’