Turning your ugly duckling into a swan
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