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10 easy ways to add value

By Alex Brooks

The property market will have ups and downs but houses will always hold their value as shelter, sanctuary and the place to kickback and relax. There are still plenty of smart ways to improve your home’s value, too. Whether it’s adding more space, tactically upgrading rooms or simply lowering a home’s energy and water bills, we’ve uncovered some of the smartest low-cost investments to add value to your house. In this economic climate, it doesn’t matter if you plan on selling now or years into the future – all of these improvements will increase the quality of your day-to-day home life as well as buyer appeal. And isn’t that what really counts?

1. Declutter to create more space

Why it pays off: The zen of a clutter-free space entices buyers and gives the impression of great storage in the house.

Ballpark cost: Do it yourself over the weekend or spend up to $500 for a professional organizer.

Before thinking about paying a motza to install built-in wardrobes or pull-out pantries, it is worth streamlining your household clutter. Clutter is anything you don’t love, don’t use and don’t need.  Getting rid of clutter will not only bring peace of mind but also improve your property value, according to L.J. Hooker managing director Warren McCarthy.

“The very first thing we recommend is to streamline the house and put things away – take stuff off the kitchen bench, for example,” he says. Clean rooms with empty spaces on shelves (and cupboards that are neat and tidy) give the impression of space and organization.

 It all starts with The Great Cull – going room-by-room and deciding what to chuck, charity-donate or cherish. Most of us find this more challenging than we can imagine, and it can help to have a friend or impartial observer encouraging you to get rid of things. Most people are happiest once they have removed between 10 and 50 per cent their “stuff”.  Oh, and to keep up the good habits, it helps to have an “out box” near your front or back door for all those items you regularly wish to remove from your home.

2. Open up! Knock out a wall

Why it pays off: Homebuyer wants more than they pay for - extra space delivers wow and value.

Ballpark cost: From $800 a linear metre for a professional wall removal.

Knocking out non-structural walls or removing space barriers like kitchen island benches is a great value-add to make a home appear larger than it really is. It’s also a terrific way to make the most of an older-style pokey apartment (just don’t forget to get strata approvals!).

Removing walls to create a sense of flow will generate a positive response from choosy buyers. And it’s much cheaper than renovating and rebuilding from scratch.

A professional wall removal is definitely the best way to eliminate any risk of destroying wiring, plumbing or load-bearing walls. Active Wall Removalls owner Jason Mandalidis says it costs between $800 and $1200 a linear metre to remove a wall and finish it professionally. He says more renovators are choosing to simply remove walls and refresh their kitchen and bathroom rather than splash out on a $300,000 renovation.

“You can open up the kitchen to the living room or the lounge to the backyard relatively inexpensively,” he says. Installing French or bifold doors from the living room to a garden can effectively double the living space – especially if the outdoor area is sheltered.

3. Loving the Landscaping

Why it pays off: Tangled trees and unkempt gardens obscure views, darken interiors, and block a good look at the house.

Ballpark cost: From nothing all the way up to a couple of grand for something swish.

Landscaping has consistently been one of the lowest-cost, highest return makeovers you can invest in. Queensland architect Dion Seminara says it’s worth splurging to pay a designer to come up with a garden and planting scheme that makes the most of the layout and proportions of the house.

“It might cost you less than $2000 for a good design that you could implement yourself,” he says.

The Green Room’s Jock Gammon knows all about making the most of a garden, whether it’s big, small or just a tiny balcony. “A garden should always relate to its associated architecture and its surroundings,” he says. “Reflecting items from inside such as a favourite pot or wall colour into the garden can help to create that indoor-outdoor effect and can be as inexpensive as a tin of paint and some imagination.”

The garden and exterior of a home should also be checked for the myriad of little things that can decrease the sale value of a home - like a wonky front gate, a broken clothesline or mossy, slippery pavers. Make sure everything outside the house is working, serviceable and as liveable as the inside.

4. Letting in the light

Why it pays off: A home awash with natural light looks bigger than one smothered in dinge.

Ballpark cost: DIY for free up to $5,000 for a top-of-the-line skylight

Natural light will brighten up any happy home – as well as save on energy bills. Living and eating areas need good solar access and this can be as simple as cleaning the windows or rethinking window dressings. For example, changing from heavy curtains to summer sheers or semi-transparent honeycomb blinds that still insulate but let in the natural sunlight could be the answer.

Dark and dingy small rooms like ensuite bathrooms or narrow hallways could detract from your home’s appeal and can easily be brightened up with the addition of a solartube, which is like a skylight, only simpler to install. These can be put in for less than $500, depending on the house and availability of installation. Less expensive than installing a skylight,  solartubes use reflective material to funnel natural light down through a ceiling fixture and into a room.

A few other ways to light things up include installing extra windows in dark rooms, adding half-glass panes to solid exterior doors or swapping solid doors for French doors. Painting the walls a light colour to reflect light also helps.

5. Lower a home’s energy and water bills

Why it pays off: Energy efficiency pays back in lower ongoing costs.

Ballpark cost: From $10 up to $8000.

It’s easy to turn a house into a model of green efficiency, which will lower your electricity, gas and water bills as well as help the planet The Department of Environment has a new scheme to offer low-interest loans of up to $10,000 for green renovations – who wouldn’t want a  government-funded kickback to improve the value of your home? Head to http://www.environment.gov.au/greenloans/index.html to register your interest.

The Federal Government has also announced enticing rebates to insulate homes, so if your ceiling isn’t already insulated – you have no excuse! Get to it. If heating or air conditioning systems are old, investing in new ones will not only look better but potentially save you up to 30 per cent in running costs.  And with rebates available for solar-powered hot water heating, insulation, rainwater tanks and solar power, what better time to start thinking about it?

American real estate research published in The Appraisal Journal estimates that energy savings add twenty times the annual savings to the value of your property. Energy savers make a house more desirable – and are much more comfortable to live in. More and more buyers are considering electricity, gas and water when purchasing a home. Everything from $10 water-saving devices like the water wizz to $8000 photo-voltaic cells or water recycling systems could be on your wishlist. But it’s best to start with cheap and easy basics like Triple A showerheads, CFL light bulbs and insulation in the ceilings.

6. A front entrance makeover

Why it pays off: If first impressions count, then this one counts the most.

Ballpark cost: Don’t go overboard – use your imagination and limit the spend to $1000.

Home begins at the front door, so make sure yours isn’t chipped, grotty or turning people away. For some homes, repairing a ripped screen door will improve everything. For others, a new outdoor light, swish mailbox and shiny house number could transform it. Sometimes the impartial eye of a friend or local real estate agent can give you the best advice.Seminara says emphasizing the front door and entrance – and detracting from things like garaging – are important visual cues to attract people to a home. “A contemporary colour scheme with light colours and maybe some bold accents would be good,” he says. A new doormat is also highly recommended and will cost less than $30.Gorgeous pot plants either side of the front door can be created for less than $100. Gammon recommends creating topiary herb pots, provided your entrance is in a sunny position. He plants Rosemary or Lemon Verbena as the main plant and grows it into a lollipop shape, and plants trailing herbs like thyme or black basil or Vietnamese mint around the edges.

“Because herbs grow quite quickly and need to be regularly pruned to stop them going to seed, this is an ideal way to keep your herbs. To keep them in their neat forms I clip them about once a week in summer and less in winter – and the whole thing can be set up for less than $200,” he says.

And get rid of anything that doesn't belong on the front balcony, including that weather-beaten couch the dog sleeps on and stray shoes that get left at the door.

7. Go feet first and upgrade floors

Why it pays off: Floors get tatty over time and make a huge visual impression on a house.

Ballpark cost: Anything up to $1500.

Don't undervalue the materials you're standing on. McCarthy recommends thoroughly cleaning floors to make a house look brighter, larger and more attractive. “There’s no point in spending money you won’t get back – especially in this market – so stick to the small things that create high perceived value,” he says.

Small flooring projects with a big impact include repairing broken tiles, patching damaged floors, and removing old wall-to-wall carpeting. Polishing floorboards is one of the cheapest flooring upgrades you can do – but only if the boards are in good condition. Anton’s Floor Sanding and Polishing estimates it costs $30 a square metre to sand and seal quality floorboards, with the average three or four bedroom costing $3000 to $3500. A less expensive way to get the same look is to polish only the hallway and kitchen, bringing costs down to around $900. 

 

 

8. Easy bathroom and kitchen makeovers

Why it pays off: These are the most valuable rooms in any home.

Ballpark cost: Costs range from nothing but a bit of elbow grease to $3000 for a dramatic improvement.

Spiffing up the kitchen and bath is a sure bet for adding value to your home. It’s unlikely to be economical to do a major renovation but some upgrades are cheap, easy, and fast, especially in the bathroom.

McCarthy recommends cleaning the grout around tiles as the best improvement any homeowner can make. “It’s cheap and it’s really only a bit of elbow grease that’s required,” he says. It also helps to remove rust stains, apply fresh sealant around wet areas and update the toilet roll holders, towel holders and any shelving. Even buying a new toilet seat for $50 can make a difference.

In the kitchen, Archicentre’s Robert Caulfield suggests sticking to cosmetic upgrades until you are ready to have a professionally designed major renovation take place. “Fixtures need to be in the context of the house, not the owners’ taste or desires – so choose even little things carefully,” he says. “Most people don’t realise how easy it is to overcapitalize.”

“Simply changing the handles on the kitchen doors sounds basic but will modernize a kitchen easily,” McCarthy says. “And if there is anything really awful in those rooms, it’s worth investing in a pot plant or one of those small water features to draw the eye away.”

9. Make walls more wondrous

Why it pays off: A fresh coat of paint is the cheapest way to makeover a house and inject new life into dull rooms.

Ballpark cost: $200 all the way up to $8000 for a professional job.

If you're getting ready to put a house up for sale, McCarthy insists painting will deliver the most bang for your buck.

“Painting isn’t always cheap, especially if you use a professional, but if you can take a lounge room that had a dark and old-fashioned colour scheme and make it light and more inviting, then you have spent wisely,” he says.

Archicentre’s Robert Caulfield suggests choosing neutral colours for maximum buyer appeal. It’s important not to scrimp on painting or tackle it yourself without adequate preparation. Sometimes it’s worth paying a pro to paint a coat or two in the hallway and living area to refresh the house and transform first impressions into something positive.

10. Create the renovation master plan

Why it pays off: Having the plans approved and ready to go when the property cycle turns around can put your home at a massive market advantage.

Ballpark cost: Architects and building designers charge anything between 5 per cent and 15 per cent of the building cost – but some charge by the hour to draw up plans or offer advice.

The risk of over-capitalising in a sliding property market is high so it’s well worth taking the time to plan a renovation scheme that will work for you, your lifestyle and property goals. For those who plan on upgrading to a better property sooner rather than later, it is wiser to spend money on repairs and refurbishments rather than expensive rebuilds or renovations. It’s better to build equity to pay for your next dream home rather than draw down on the mortgage for a splashy renovation.

If you do plan on staying for the long haul, create your own Renovation Plan – almost like a business plan for your property. Make it your goal to stage expensive building works for a time when you can afford them. In the meantime, research other similar properties for sale in your area and work out whether the costs of certain renovations can be “paid for” by the re-sale value of your home. If you're considering adding new double garage, look for properties with the same feature and take note of their asking price.

While the economy languishes, it can be a great time to hire a designer or architect to draw up a grand makeover – adding a second storey, creating a separate studio, whatever – and having those plans lodged and approved by council. This process alone can take up to 18 months and have your house ready and saleable by the time the residential property market turns around. You don’t have to actually build or construct the plans, but having them approved will add a real market edge to a property.

Experts from the Housing Industry Association and BIS Shrapnel are predicting slight falls in building costs through 2009. That doesn’t mean it’s wise to go out and splurge half a million dollars on your dream renovation, but it does mean that if you have a grand renovation plan to stage the home improvement work, you could be in the box seat when the market turns around.

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© 2007 Alex May