We’re all keen to add value to our homes, but what’s the best way of going about it? Richard Burton speaks from experience...

Herts Advertiser: Sometimes some careful styling is all that's needed to give a greatly improved first impression. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoSometimes some careful styling is all that's needed to give a greatly improved first impression. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto (Image: Rawpixel Ltd.)

At about the time all those TV programmes were encouraging us to change rooms, climb property ladders and hire chirpy, cheeky tradesmen, I bought another one-bed buy-to-let.

It was bought from the relatives of a recently deceased grandmother who were offering it complete with all the furniture; they knew there’d be tenants and saw a chance to earn a few bob extra.

I wanted it off the market with the first handshake so thanked them, offered £500 for the lot and, within a day of getting the keys, emptied the lot, including carpets, curtains and anything else that wasn’t wood, brick, porcelain or plaster into a skip.

Six weeks later, I invited two agents round: one to value it for let, the other to value it for sale. The latter was more for interest. I felt I’d got a deal from a family just wanting shot and was intrigued to know its market value.

Herts Advertiser: A lick of paint can help freshen up a tired space. Picture: Getty Images/Cultura RFA lick of paint can help freshen up a tired space. Picture: Getty Images/Cultura RF (Image: Archant)

So, stripped back to its birthday suit, the walls were soon painted Sarah Beeney smart, I ran a pipe off the cold feed under the bath, up to whatever 9kw shower was on special offer at B&Q and went shopping for anything considered end-of-range, shop-soiled or bargain basement.

The carpet came first. It was the biggest outlay so needed to dictate the colour scheme. I figured that whatever was marked down would be marked down even more if it was the last bit on a roll and there wasn’t another roll. I found one in a light brown, so two green MFI sofas, pristine but discreetly damaged and roped off in a corner with other sad remnants, were ideal.

One bargain bed and snip of a coffee table later, the only thing left to lift the room was a wooden surround to frame the flame-effect electric fire. A big one with a lintel deep enough to support a posh plastic clock and a few photo frames.

But not the real one I bartered for in a backstreet in Holloway and brought home all dipped and smelling of oak, but one I built in a morning with MDF strips and spent an afternoon garnishing with strips of beading, mouldings and architrave I picked at random in B&Q, cut on an industrial mitring machine and glued into something ornate to look as if it’d been crafted in some Victorian barn.

Herts Advertiser: It isn't always possible to add value - however hard you may try. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoIt isn't always possible to add value - however hard you may try. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto (Image: Archant)

Why do I mention that? Because, like the fiddling with the beading, the devil was in the detail. I’d spent £48,000 on the flat – yes, it was a few years ago – blown a mere £1,000 on fitting it out by the most prudent means and got a valuation of £58,000 – a 17 per cent increase, or in cash terms, £1,600 a week.

And all for taking a retirement flat and making it look like an apartment fit for what all those shows used to say were “affluent young professionals”. And, what’s more, all done with a few remnants, off-cuts, a tin or two of paint and a few hours of hobbyist indulgence.

True, the market was rising, the relatives wanted a quick sale and the location, location, location was pretty pukka. But it was an early introduction to the world of flip, albeit a false one.

Why? Because most experts will tell you that, while decent decor may well make the place more saleable, it generally costs more to get the work done than it adds, if only by a few hundred quid.

Herts Advertiser: A clean home is an infinitely more appealing one. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoA clean home is an infinitely more appealing one. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto (Image: Archant)

I’d always been intrigued by just what does and doesn’t add value and tended to apply resources accordingly. For example, giving a high-ceilinged period house a new boiler (or even an entire central heating system) is worth not scrimping on. You’ll get back three times what you spent at least.

Same with a security system. A decent one may well add four times what you paid for it, as will converting the cellar. But that’s where it becomes a matter of taste. While creating a liveable space increases your square footage, anything after that is a risk in investment terms.

Turn it into a wine cellar and you’d probably have to sell the entire contents to make back your outlay, and that assumes you’ve as least one Romanée Conti ’45 laid down.

Sobering, you might say. The flat profit was lucky and made up for the new drive, first floor extension, bathroom and fitted wardrobes I’d added to a two-bed detached in an earlier life on which I merely earned, in the words of the agent who sold it, “my money back”.

And often that’s all you need. Primarily, we invest in a home, to live in the moment, not simply to reap rewards later, surely. But then again, it’s worth bearing in mind that demands change with the times.

I’d have said a year ago that extending out over the garage may well provide the best home office you could wish for. But stick a sale board outside and you’ll be calling it bedroom four.

But then we move with the times. Is a home office more value-added if it comes with the initials WFH? And it’s fitting that any authoritative list of selling points will these days include a charging point for the car and anything that enhances its green credentials.

In fact, you could say, the more important initials these days are EPC, the certificate that shows how energy-efficient your home is. Research published last month from comparethemarket.com suggests that going from the lowest G rating to, for example, a more respectable E, can add as much as seven per cent, depending on where you live.

What’s more, the government even have a green homes grant scheme to help you pay for it.

I’ve also heard a lot of mentions over the years of ceiling values: no matter what you do to some places, you’ll never get your money back. That can make for interesting sums.

A home improvement calculator launched by Gocompare.com a few months ago estimated, for example, that adding a swimming pool at a cost of, say, £15,000 would add £2,000 to the value, meaning a £13,000 loss on the project when you came to sell.

Sounds a lot until you consider the cost of having to move to get one - £8,000 just for the admin before you even think of the extra you’d pay for the house – then it suddenly seems worth it.

But if it is all about making a few quid, then it’s probably best to heed the words of the tell-it-how-is property pundit Henry Pryor who, when asked for his advice, said simply: “The best investment they can make is to buy a bucket, sponge and some cleaning materials. There is always value in giving the right first impressions and letting buyers go away discussing the potential of the property rather than the rim around the bath can add pounds to your price.

“Unless you really know the market and what people really want then you are better off making clear the potential in your property and letting their imagination do the rest.”