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29.3.16

Dealing with the home improvement conundrum

Buying your first property is such an exciting time. There’s nothing quite like that feeling after having shopped around, gone to plenty of viewings, and all the back and forth, to finally set foot in your forever, dream home. Hopefully, the place of joy and fun-filled memories for you and the family for many years to come too.
That said, one thing I remember about jumping onto the housing ladder was the feeling of endless costs too, and a massive hole in the wallet. You always bargain for paying the deposit, but after coughing up for things like stamp duty, agency fees, legal fees, surveys, moving costs and all the rest, we were left feeling pretty skint!
The thing is, very few of us move into a place that feels like it’s the ‘finished product’, and it’s pretty normal to envisage changes and improvements to make it fit the image of a palace that you had in your mind when you bought it. But it’s worth having a good long think before getting the contractors in, or making any major changes.
What improvements add value?
It’s subjective, and of course it depends on your individual situation. But there are certain enhancements that tend to add more value than others, and you need to be sure that what you’re doing will have positive net value. A survey by the National Association of Estate Agents last year suggests that loft conversions, new kitchens, conservatories, central heating and adding an extra bathroom tend to be the biggest winners when it comes to return on investment.

Financing home improvements
Not many of us are lucky enough to have the funds lying around to cover the cost of such undertakings – particularly if you’ve only just bought the place - and home improvement finance thus becomes a necessity. For most people, the default response is to borrow more on the mortgage. However, it is seriously worth considering alternatives before doing this. True, because mortgages are secured against your home, and their interest rates are usually competitive as a result. But approval will depend on your equity, and recent affordability rules have made increasing a mortgage far from a formality.
It may thus be preferable to opt for a personal loan, which tends to be a far more flexible, hassle-free and sometimes cheaper option. For example, you can choose the amount you want to borrow, and the period you wish to pay it off – while most unsecured lenders will also waive any fees for early repayments. These are all things to consider when selecting your source of finance.
Quick and easy wins
Of course, not every house needs major surgery, and there are plenty of other simpler ways of adding value to your home. Little things like adding storage space (with DIY wire and laminate closet systems), putting in carpeting, replacing taps and doorknobs, giving appliances a facelift, buffing up the bathroom, replacing tiles, giving the garden some TLC, fixing leaks and boilers, improving lighting, putting in new wallpaper and even just giving the place a deep clean can make a huge difference – not only in terms of the look and feel of the place, but also the value. And jobs like these can largely be done on your own with a minimum of effort, cost and time.
One thing I found was that once I got started making little changes, I really got a clear picture of how I wanted things to look, and began to enjoy turning our house into a home more and more. Everyone has different taste and varying ideas about what best suits their abode, but I found it incredibly rewarding to see the benefits of the work put in.
Certainly though, it is well worth getting a second opinion before making any significant improvements. It’s not all about the money, and perhaps you may want certain things that could really make a difference to family life – regardless of the added value. But especially if you’re having to borrow to pay for it, get an expert to offer their two-cents’ worth, just to ensure that there is some degree of economic sense to what you have in mind. After all, if they give you the thumbs up, then you’ll have just the validation you need, and ultimate peace of mind as you take the next exciting steps.