Put your foot down: The importance of floors when buying and selling property
- Credit: Archant
From French oak to Spanish limestone, floors are increasingly getting top billing in property particulars - especially at the top end of the market. Richard Burton found out more.
A surveyor once told me that, to get the most thorough view of a home, he'd, ideally, lift the carpet as it can "hide a multitude of sins". A builder pal I took to another place I was planning to extend pointed out that the wooden floorboards "may have woodworm" after spotting tiny holes in one corner.
They were both right in principle, but wrong in practice. The carpet, when it came up, revealed clean underlay on perfectly skimmed concrete and the holes were from tacks long-since removed.
But that was back in the '90s, a time when floors were only noticed if there was a problem; something to stain, cover and keep clean, long before we understood that they were far more important to a property than for merely standing on.
These days, a serious conversation is more likely to consider whether the floor is "smart" and what covers it is sustainable. And by smart, I don't mean do you have to take off your shoes to walk on it. But more on that in a moment.
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The first carpet I bought was either nylon or polyester. I can't recall which but, judging by my earnings at the time, it wouldn't have been pure new wool. And that means that I was using something made from a petroleum-based synthetic, gave me electric shocks and more than likely ended up rotting in a landfill dump when I'd finished with it.
Nylon or polyester in other words. Materials invented as modern alternatives to silk and wool in that order. The majority of what I saw at my carpet warehouse would have been nylon and most of that at the time would have been new and not made from something recycled. Polyester would have been but may have put me off if I'd known it used to be plastic bottles.
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Nylon has moved on to be fair. Gone are the static fibres and the fluff, it's easier to keep clean, lasts for ages and the new generation products, like polyester, is capable of being recycled.
But more and more, we're seeing them made from the likes of sisal, jute and even the coir scraped from the husk of coconuts, not to mention the ocean's own carpet, seagrass, as natural alternatives which are helping an industry shake off old stigmas and reinvent itself for the modern age.
As for the smart element, these days your footprint is almost as telling as your fingerprint as the most high-tech floors are able to embrace the sort of sensor capability that can detect, for example, movement, weight and pressure.
You won't want them on your living room but they're great for anyone designing a shopping centre and wanting to know where everyone's going or those running care homes who need to detect when, for example, someone slips out of bed. Smart floors with antennas built into them are already able to tell security where people are by picking up signals from the badges given to visitors.
They can also generate electricity by movement or turn on lights when they detect that someone has entered a room. If your house is big enough to have a ballroom, get the kids dancing on tiles that store their energy and let their feet power the disco. All part of the 21st century vision of "living off the grid".
The Brighton-based interior designer Clare Topham picked up on floor neglect a while ago when she blogged: "We agonise and discuss our new wall colours at great length. Will it make the room feel cold? Is it too dark? Is it too brown a grey or to bluey? You know the drill…
"Yet we don't give the same attention to our poor, neglected floors, which are covering a great deal of our space, are not normally hidden behind artwork and mirrors and take a lot more of a battering."
I've been walking and talking floors quite a bit lately with some of Europe's biggest names in interiors and getting to realise just how key they are becoming to the way we view our living spaces.
Yasmine Mahmoudieh, the interior brains behind everything from Airbus to Radisson, Kempinski and InterContinental Hotels talked me through how she collaborated with the designer brand Tisca Tiara and a New York "brandscent" company to infuse a carpet with pods of scent devised by a master perfumier.
The pods were bonded to the individual carpet threads in such a way that they released a fragrance when stepped on. And it was delivered in such a high density that the smell properties remained for up to a year.
And then there was Hossein Rezvani, a man Esquire magazine once named as one of South Asia's best-dressed, who now produces the most esquisite hand-made rugs, keeping alive a cultural heritage handed down from the days his grandfather traded in the markets of Tehran.
His designs feature up to one million knots per square metre. The process, he assures me, involves two weavers working five hours a day for seven months to knot a carpet of a mere six square metres.
Floors haven't routinely been given star billing by those compiling property details, but agents dealing in the higher end of the market know their value only too well.
Savills, for example, are highlighting the oak flooring of a seven-bedroom detached in Temple Gardens, Moor Park, for sale at £6 million and the Spanish limestone, French oak, and teak flooring in a six-bedroom one in Goldings, Hertford, being marketed at £3.9 million.
Similarly, a little over £1.2 million will get you a five-bed in The Shrublands, Potters Bar, with walnut flooring in the reception rooms and hallway. And a four-bedroom detached in Moreton Avenue, Harpenden, offered in excess of £1.5 million, comes with a reception hall featuring French cathedral limestone flooring.
Stripped wooden floors "run the length" of one house in Carlisle Avenue, St Albans, according to Strutt & Parker who have it on at £1.75 million and, elsewhere, exposed woodblock flooring and Porcelanosa large-format ceramic floor tiles feature in £1.35m-rated properties in Knebworth and Bishop's Stortford respectively.
When we normally think of floors and property we think of floor space rather than what they're made of to be fair; a metric that has often driven valuations at times of high turn around in high-volume areas.
Selling in London a few years ago was simple: Location? Floorspace? Get me the calculator. Selling in Hertfordshire at around the same time involved school catchments, distances from shops, garden sizes and comparable properties.
Floorspace was a factor but not THE factor, which was just as well, given that a few surveys have shown modern homes are smaller than ever, with the average size now below the low of the 1930s.
Those built since 2010 offer an average of 67.8 square metres of living space, the lowest in 90 years, according to analysis by the buildings insurer, LABC Warranty.
I just wish developers would check with carpet stores first. The last covering I bought was for a room long enough to take up a large chunk of the roll but a mere two centimetres over the four-metre width so I had to upgrade to a 5 metre. I wouldn't have minded but the remaining catwalk of strip left over wasn't even wide enough to do the stairs.