"Don't move; improve" is the new mantra of the property sector. Mortgages are more difficult to come by and house prices may be teetering on the edge of collapse. And with high stamp duty thrown in to the bargain, it really does make sense to make the most of what you've already got.
There are all sorts of improvements that can be made - loft conversions, cellar conversions, extensions and new kitchens and bathrooms. But there are smaller projects too, some of which start paying off almost immediately. The golden rule when making any improvements to your home is either to make sure they start paying their way from day one or to try and ensure they eventually pay off when you do come to sell. A good return on investment is essential if you don't want to lose money on your project.
There are plenty of small upgrading projects worth doing. A good place to start is making sure you get a programmable thermostat. Any good electrician can install this and it should start saving you money immediately by cutting your fuel bills. It allows you to heat rooms individually to specified temperatures. And of course it's always good to be able to time heating, so that it's only on when you need it. If you go on a trip for a few days it's handy to be able to turn it off while you're away and maybe get it to come on early on the day you're returning so you come back to a cosy welcome.
Insulation is another easy win - windows, doors and the loft can easily be better insulated and with windows and doors this can be done subtly but will really help cut out drafts.
Energy efficient boilers and appliances also pay back quickly if your current ones are old and using a lot of energy. About 50% of the energy used in most homes is to heat water, so install a good shower (because showers use less water than baths) and get a dishwasher and washing machine that use less water (some dishwashers use as little as 10 litres of water), so that less needs to be heated.
If you're up for a much bigger project then take a look around your neighbourhood. Is the area "up and coming" or on the decline? What improvements are people in the neighbouring streets making? It may even be worth talking to a couple of local estate agents to find out what impresses buyers at the moment.
In some areas, if you want to get the maximum price for your home when you come to sell, you will need a top of the range kitchen with granite work surfaces, a five ring hob and designer kitchen units. In others a kitchen of this standard would be a waste of money and replacing the work surface with something clean, the door handles with new, chrome ones and giving the walls a lick of paint is more appropriate, and a better investment.
Similarly, if you have ambitious plans for a new conservatory, or an extravagant wine cellar try and assess if these are really in demand in your area. Maybe simpler improvements, such as laying decking in the garden to create a dedicated outdoor dining area, would ultimately give a better return on investment. Also think about the disruption that a large building project will entail, and whether that discomfort will pay off.
Of course things are different if you plan to stay in your property for a number of years. Then it's a question of what you personally want and what would improve your quality of life. Taking out a bedroom and using the space for an ensuite bathroom is always going to be a gamble, but if you're going to stay put for ten or fifteen years then you really should feel confident in going for whatever suits your personal needs.
While we're all being advised to put off a move, and instead to improve, spend some time assessing which building improvements make sense for you, your area and your longer term property plans.
Expert home improver India Cooper advises the public that given the current housing market they are better off hiring a builder to improve their homes rather than move. To find out more please visit http://www.ratedpeople.com/find/builder