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Property: How to Add Value and Buy Smart Locally


It feels like it’s getting ever harder to find a good deal on a property in this part of the world. Property developers snap up plots, the need to live near good schools creates a panic purchase mentality and prices are already sky high in some areas.

If you, like me, look back on the London property you sold before the housing market went bonkers and weep silently on an evening into your silk kerchief (oh, you don’t have one?) this feature may dry your eyes. Thank you to Julian David at Savills in Harpenden for the advice, and hope it helps anyone looking to buy or renovate.


Look to buy in up-and-coming areas


Here in Herts, house prices are definitely driven by the rail connections into London — the ‘BedPan’ line through St Albans and Harpenden, the link into Euston through Tring and Berkhamsted, and the Kings Cross link through Welwyn and Hitchin.  Property along those lines continues to be very desirable, and that’s not unlikely to change.  Add in the great schools — both state and independent — in those areas, and it’s a pretty powerful combination.

St Albans continues to be a winner — with its urban vibe and younger feel — whereas Harpenden can be more attractive for families.  It’s a bit of a cliché that Harpenden is a town that thinks it’s a village, but it’s also one of the things that makes it so continuingly attractive.

Hitchin is growing in popularity and the quirky, lively feel to the town, along with its thriving independent businesses, is making it a very popular choice.  And a lot of the surrounding villages are really great choices — Gosmore, Preston, Pirton, Lilley, St Ippolyts (great name!) and so on are all very desirable, but they’re not cheap.

Villages elsewhere in the county are also great places to look — Wheathampstead, Flamstead and Redbourn are lovely, and further west you’re into places like Aldbury with its stocks and duck pond on the village green.

Market town Berkhamsted, with its fast link into Euston and highly-rated independent school, remains a popular choice for families moving out from London, as does its smaller neighbour Tring.

And at the other end of the county, improving travel links and connections to Stansted Airport are making Bishop’s Stortford, another market town, a place worth investigating.

10. Think twice about the swimming pool


People automatically assume a swimming pool adds value but my advice is don’t do it! If the house is a regular size, it can be seen as a real negative as it costs so much to maintain. Only consider it if you’re lucky enough to have deep pockets and a country pile.

3. Keep the house spec under control

My heart sinks when I go into a house that’s been massively over-specked because often you won’t get that money back. Home owners can get very excited about the lighting, zones, sound systems, techy tricks, but often it just dumbfounds people. They don’t want to go down to a huge plant room when the electricity fuse goes. Not everyone wants a TV in room. Underfloor heating is good investment though, and if you can offer as much parking as possible that’s a good thing too.

4. Invest in your kitchen


A great kitchen will always add value. The houses that sell best usually have a wonderful, light, large kitchen, but keep it within budget – if you spend a fortune on bespoke everything you might not see a return. Also it’s worth toning down any idiosyncratic quirky taste when you go to sell – it might not be appreciated by potential new owners!

5. How many ensuites do you really need?

The idea that you need an ensuite for every bedroom has taken hold, particularly with new builds, but if you’re extending I wouldn’t get hung up on it. For a family of five, three bathrooms – two ensuites and a family bathroom, perhaps in a Jack & Jill arrangement between two of the bedrooms – plus another loo elsewhere is ample.

6. Build that studio


If you’re missing a reception room in the main home, or you’re wanting to offer an option for yourself or potential buyers to work from home, have an extra bedroom, a play area for teens, or a granny flat, a studio build is a great option. But I’d do it through necessity rather than as an investment.

7. Go back to the Sixties & Seventies

A great way to add value is to transform a mid-century house. See past an unattractive exterior, because these places have good light, are usually spacious and often have good-sized gardens. Spend some budget modernising the exterior and you’ll have a great investment on your hands.

8. Bin the basement

A basement conversion will rarely see your money back. In London where you need to get every square foot you can, then yes, but out this way it’s so expensive, and you really need the height to make it work.

9. Beware Zoopla

My heart sinks when I talk to clients who have been on Zoopla and think their house is worth much more than it actually is. A good estate agent will price your house to sell, and consider all the salient local factors to come up with a realistic figure, so try to keep it real!

Savills Harpenden


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