Turn­ing your ugly duck­ling into a swan

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Buying & Selling -

Fiona and Jonathan Jones ad­mit to an el­e­ment of des­per­a­tion in 2006 when they bought a ne­glected Six­ties de­tached house on a large plot along a pop­u­lar coun­try lane in Great Mis­senden, Buck­ing­hamshire. But turn­ing an “ugly duck­ling” into a beau­ti­ful home turned out to be a shrewd in­vest­ment.

The cou­ple had been rent­ing for years and sav­ing up to buy their first home. With baby num­ber three on the way, it was time to buy.

At £515,000, the house wasn’t ex­actly a bar­gain even then, but they could see its po­ten­tial. “Who­ever de­signed it orig­i­nally was into open-plan ar­chi­tec­ture; apart from the chim­ney in the mid­dle, all the walls were non-struc­tural so the house had in­cred­i­ble flex­i­bil­ity,” says Jonathan.

They talked to an ar­chi­tect and even­tu­ally sub­mit­ted plans to the coun­cil for a large gable roof ex­ten­sion clad in cedar to re­flect the wooded sur­round­ings. “Get­ting per­mis­sion took two years, which was stag­ger­ing, but it was com­pli­cated be­cause the Chilterns is an Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty,” Jonathan adds.

As a film and TV di­rec­tor, work­ing on se­ries in­clud­ing Cold Feet and Mr Sel­fridge, he has built a set or two in his time so he saved a bit of money by do­ing all the cladding him­self. They found a great lo­cal builder to do the rest. “We did one big bit of work which took about two years, then we had to stop to earn a bit more money to fin­ish off the house,” he says.

The ren­o­va­tions to turn a non­de­script house into a strik­ing four-bed­room fam­ily home, dou­bling its square footage in the process, cost around £180,000 and took al­most five years. “We knew we didn’t have enough money to fin­ish it when we started, but we had pa­tience,” says Fiona. Friends were slightly hor­ri­fied when they bought the house, she adds, but have been amazed at the trans­for­ma­tion.

Now that the cou­ple, with sons Ja­cob, 15, Alexan­der, 13, and Will, 11, are look­ing for an­other wreck to do up, their for­mer ugly duck­ling, now a swan, is for sale at £1.15mil­lion.

Sell­ing agent Gary Ham­mond from Hamp­tons In­ter­na­tional says that buy­ers of­ten dis­miss a Six­ties or Seven­ties box and “go gooey-eyed” over some­thing with char­ac­ter that costs 25 per cent more and would be dif­fi­cult to add much value to. “With a lit­tle vi­sion, these unattrac­tive prop­er­ties can be trans­formed into far more de­sir­able homes.”

Peb­bledash, stone cladding and crazy paving can be re­moved and re­placed to im­prove the ex­te­rior of a home – at a cost. Michael Holmes, prop­erty ex­pert for the Home­build­ing & Ren­o­vat­ing Show, says that re­mov­ing stone cladding from the front of an av­er­age three-bed­room semi is likely to cost be­tween £1,500 and £2,000, while re­pair­ing the façade with ren­der, brick or tim­ber could cost up to £5,500.

“Find out what the im­proved house will be worth by look­ing at sim­i­lar prop­er­ties in the area,” Mr Holmes says. “Don’t spend more on im­prove­ments than you could re­coup if you de­cide to sell, un­less it’s your for­ever home.”

It doesn’t al­ways take ma­jor works to change the house. Peb­bledash has of­ten been used to cover up cracked bricks, so re­mov­ing it can cause more dam­age, says Richard Bar­ber of JLL. Paint­ing the ex­te­rior can be a cheaper and ef­fec­tive al­ter­na­tive.

“Just by chang­ing the style of the win­dow, you can make a tremen­dous dif­fer­ence to the house,” he says. “Re­plac­ing old steel win­dows with wooden frames costs around £2,000 to £4,000 and can make your house look re­ally good from in­side and out. Re­mov­ing crazy paving and land­scap­ing the front gar­den can cost up to £3,000.”

Alex Casey and Michael Brown have had noth­ing but praise from neigh­bours since they set about ren­o­vat­ing their two-bed­room pe­riod town­house on one of Brighton’s most charm­ing streets. It was fea­tured in the 2008 film An­gus, Thongs and Per­fect Snog­ging, and when they bought it in 2010 for £390,000 both the ex­te­rior and in­te­rior were vivid shades of pink. “We still have peo­ple want­ing their photo taken out­side the house and they some­times knock to ask if this was the pink house,” says Casey.

The ex­te­rior, since re­painted in Far­row & Ball French Grey and Old White, is now more in keep­ing with neigh­bour­ing homes. All the sash win­dows have been re­fur­bished, the front door re­placed, new iron rail­ings made by a lo­cal black­smith and the gar­den land­scaped. The house is listed with Fine & Coun­try for of­fers in ex­cess of £600,000.

Buy­ers should think care­fully be­fore tak­ing on a project of this mag­ni­tude, warns Roarie Scaris­brick from buy­ing agency Prop­erty Vi­sion. “A full-on re­fur­bish­ment is not for the faint-hearted and is usu­ally more ex­pen­sive and time-con­sum­ing than any­one ex­pects,” he says. “How­ever, if the guts of the house are in good shape, you have a chance of in­creas­ing the value of the prop­erty.”

But what if you’re the one try­ing to sell an ugly duck­ling? Ru­pert Reeves from Carter Jonas rec­om­mends that ven­dors make a few cos­metic im­prove­ments to boost their prop­erty’s kerb ap­peal. “Re­fresh­ing gravel and weed­ing a drive or front gar­den can give buy­ers one fewer con­cern. Dress­ing win­dows with well-hung cur­tains or blinds, un­clut­ter­ing ledges and clean­ing win­dows will greatly im­prove first im­pres­sions.”

And don’t for­get the small de­tails, he adds. “Re­cy­cling bins and gar­den waste can be an almighty turn off.”

Don’t set­tle for the nicest house in an av­er­age area, writes Fiona Brand­horst – nab the worst in the best neigh­bour­hood

Com­mit­ted: the Jones fam­ily, main, spent £180,000 and five years turn­ing their fixer-up­per into a beau­ti­ful home, left

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