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Property: inside and out

/ by Houzz Experts

How can I see potential in a neglected property?

If you’ve ever been house hunting, chances are you’ve experienced your share of horror viewings: student digs in need of a clean; dated properties that haven’t been touched in half a century, and the downright wrecks that need everything modernising. Faced with this barrage of bad design, bodged building work and dilapidation, how can you work out if the property is a diamond in the rough, or just rough?

‘It can be harder to walk into somewhere with really dated décor and know what to do than to walk into a wreck,’ says Kia Sunda of Kia Designs. ‘When somewhere is dilapidated, you tend to think, we’ll just rip it all out, but if the property has décor that’s 50 years old, you can get drawn into how the current owners have arranged the rooms. Often, you can’t imagine how it’s ever going to look less cluttered!’

So if 1970s wallpaper and a sagging roof is standing in the way of you and your dream home, read on to find out how to get forensic on a property and spy its true potential from the outset.

Professional advice from: James Bernard of Plus Rooms Kia Sunda of Kia Designs.

Before & After - Kitchen extension in Balham
Understand the benefits So why take on a property that needs major renovation at all? ‘The main reason is the buyer can enjoy the benefits of its value, rather than paying a premium for something someone else has done,’ says James Bernard. ‘Plus, when you’re doing the work yourself, you can suit your own requirements. Buying a house that has already been modernised might not meet your needs in the same way. You might have preferred underfloor heating in the bathroom, say, or an integrated sound system.’
Also, knowing exactly what has been done and who did it is useful. ‘A modernised home may have been worked on by a host of individual trades and trying to get them back to fix or repair problems when things go wrong is not always straightforward,’ says James.

See how to gently bring a Victorian home into the 21st century

Open plan living space
Work out what you need Go to every viewing with a clear set of criteria. 'Sit down and work out exactly what you want from this new house,' says Kia Sunda. You might be after more space, great natural light or open-plan living to suit your young family. 'Whatever the specifics, keep them in mind when you visit a house,' says Kia. 'If you love to entertain 10 friends at a time, make sure you have room for this, otherwise you'll always be fighting this limitation and it will fustrate you.'
Floating away...

Know your budget When viewing a wreck, remember almost anything is possible. ‘I’ve just worked on a place where we took out every internal wall and put 22 steels in,’ says James. ‘Anything can be done – it comes down to how much you want to spend.’ Kia agrees: ‘A lot of the time it’s budget constraints that limit what you can do. You can take out all the walls and floors and start again if you want to, so long as you can afford it.’

Find more budget-friendly designs on Houzz

Bi-fold doors

Don’t get distracted  No matter how dilapidated the property is, or how gruesome the décor, don’t be put off or distracted. ‘The furniture will go and the décor can easily be changed,’ says James. The same applies when viewing the garden. ‘It might feel like the property has a small garden, too, because the eye always looks at the usable floor area and large flowerbeds may be obstructing this,’ he says. ‘Opening up the garden all the way to the boundary lines can make a huge transformation.


Wren Cottage


Scrutinise the floor plans If you struggle to visualise how a room could look when confronted with dodgy décor, study the floor plans instead. ‘This helps you to see the potential of the spaces,’ says Kia. ‘If you’re not sure what 4m x 5m looks like, measure your own rooms and mark out the dimensions of the rooms in the house you’re looking to buy within it. Is it going to be smaller than your existing space or bigger? This can help you see.’

Cochrane Design Victorian Villa, Clapham

Discover the orientation It can be helpful to understand which way the house faces before you visit. ‘Heavy curtains may be blocking the light or shutters may be closed when you go in, making it look dark,’ says James, ‘but if you know the room is south-facing, you can guess how much brighter it would be if you fitted different window treatments and painted the walls white.’


Wren Cottage

Beware hidden nasties Some issues will not be obvious at first glance, but cost you a great deal to put right. ‘Try to establish whether there’s any asbestos,’ says James. ‘Get a specialist to check, as it can be expensive to remove.’ James also warns that problems underground can become costly. ‘It’s worth spending £200-£300 on a drainage survey,’ he says. ‘If there are any fractured or broken pipes underground, it can be really expensive to fix them, especially if they are under a kitchen and you have to break the cabinets up to get at them.’

Subsidence is another issue to be wary of, even if it’s been dealt with. ‘Your insurance premiums will be far higher if your home has ever had subsidence,’ warns James.


 Bee and Butterfly garden

Look out for trees Large trees up to 5m away from any part of the property you are looking to develop can be a problem. Their root system can destabilise the ground, and you would have to lay special foundations for any extension stretching near the tree. ‘Remember, even if it’s a neighbour’s tree, it can be a problem. It might not even be that large, but in 10 years’ time it could be massive,’ says James. If the house is in a conservation area, you may not be permitted to chop it down, either.

Identify simple updates Some features might look terrible at first glance but can easily be remedied. Carpets, for example, might be in poor condition, but the floorboards beneath good. Simply sanding and waxing the boards is a cost-effective way to spruce up the floor and improve the whole space. ‘Woodwork, such as sash windows, skirting boards and doors, can also be refurbished by a good finishing team,’ says James. ‘This avoids spending a lot of money on new replacements and really lifts the whole property.’
If there are multiple layers of wallpaper, it can be hard to check the condition of the walls beneath, but if there isn’t any, so long as there aren’t too many cracks and the plaster is not blown, repainting will quickly improve the appearance of a room.

Discover 10 ways to transform floorboards

Desk for small space

Go online If you’re not familiar with the area in which you’re hoping to buy, look at the planning department pages on the local council website. ‘Here you can find previous applications on your road and neighbouring streets stretching back five years or so,’ says James. ‘You can then see what was passed and what was rejected and why. This will give you a very good idea of what’s possible.’

Find out if the area is a conservation area or not, too. ‘If it’s not, permitted development rights apply, so explore your options within that criteria,’ James adds.

Joanna Simmons, Houzz Contributor

About our expert View all posts by this expert

Houzz Experts

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