Now this week is a very packed episode on the podcast and I urge you to listen because it is super useful as well. Firstly, we are discussing floor plans and how it’s important, before you so much as LOOK at a paint chart to decide if your rooms are in the right place for the way you live. Just because the kitchen has always been at there doesn’t mean that’s the best place for it. Then we interview Sophie’s husband Tom, a builder of some 25 years standing, who tells us how to really add value to your home and how to get the best out of your builders and architects. You do NOT want to miss this one.
Now a floor plan can be so useful – sometimes a stripped back aerial view of where the doors are, the thickness of the walls etc can be much easier than being in the room and not being able to see through a wall to the other side. I use graph paper, a black pen and pieces of paper cut to the scale size of the vital items of furniture.
I appreciate I’m in a minority starting with the floor plan, but I have always found it incredibly useful to be able to see the position of the bedrooms in relation to the bathroom, or the kitchen in relation to the garden. I have known several houses where the kitchen is at the back preventing anyone from sitting and looking at the garden, and other houses where internal walls prevent a through view of the house to the garden when you come in from the front door. Of course, different people have different priorities, but I think it’s always worth trying to take an objective view and deciding if it would improve the way if you live if a loo was added there, because the floor plan shows you there is space, or the kitchen moved back into the middle of the house so you can create a seating area overlooking the garden.
By the same token, as I have said before, a large en suite and a smaller bedroom will always feel more hotel than a huge, partially un-used bedroom with a cramped en suite. Looking at a floor plan can help you spot these things as it’s a black and white diagram that doesn’t distract you with features and colour schemes. It also allows you to see at a glance if you can save any space by replacing traditional doors with space-saving sliding ones.
You need to get the layout right so that it works before you get over-excited about the colours. And that’s not to say you can’t have a scheme in the back of your mind but do look at the house floor plans and room layout first.
We are conditioned to accept the rooms are where the estate says they will be. A classic example is that the television points tend to be diagonally opposite the door so that it’s the first thing you see when you come into the room. It’s perceived as expensive to move the aerial point so we end up decorating our entire sitting room around the tv either trying to disguise it or inadvertently making it the focal point of the room.
Consider flow from the garden and moving around the house and ask yourself – is that where I actually want this room? Years ago I researched a piece for The Financial Times about how people live in Australia and was told that the traditional sitting room was evolving out of existence (this was in Sydney 10 years ago and may not be true for everyone so take it as a hypothesis only) as people were creating outdoor sitting rooms and the “front room” was now being used as an extra bedroom, or more likely these days, a home office.
Sophie has a small dark kitchen at the north end of her house where they spend all their time. The south-facing huge sitting room (above) is used only in the evenings (and for podcasting!). She had been contemplating replacing the 1980s conservatory with an extension including a new kitchen with huge glass windows but now, given the rising cost of building materials and labour, which has almost doubled, she is now wondering if she should rebuild the conservatory as a garden room, which would be much cheaper than the original plan, turn the sitting room into a lovely light-filled kitchen/ dining/living space and make the old kitchen into an evening snug. This would save money and still improve the way they live.
It’s not cheap to re-site kitchens and bathrooms of course, but it’s probably cheaper than building a whole new extension.
There is a common assumption that you need to add more space but it might simply be that you have enough space it’s just in the wrong place. And don’t forget that adding an extension to the back will make the rest of the house darker and, therefore, will you want to spend time in it?
Or another example: parents often take the biggest bedroom which they use only at night, whereas children, who have the biggest toys and spend the most time in there, tend to be in the smaller rooms. Sophie has a huge bedroom and a tiny en suite that can barely fit two people and it would make sense to move (or add a new) internal wall to create a smaller sleeping space and a bigger bathroom.
It’s all budget dependent of course but it’s worth having the conversation – if only to make your certain that you don’t need to move things around.
To learn even more about the practicalities of moving rooms and extending we spoke to Tom Pike, Sophie’s husband, who ran his own company and did his first renovation while a student at Cardiff University.
So the $64m dollar question. What actually adds value to a property? Is it basically more square footage?
If you are adding a bedroom or two and a bathroom, you will get your money back in resale – you may even make some money because houses tend to be priced per bedroom so an extra bedroom will increase the sale value, he says.
But for kitchen extensions, you have to do that as a lifestyle choice because, in the vast, majority of cases, you will not recoup the full cost of doing it. If you are lucky, says Tom, you will get some of it back.
“It will make your house worth a bit more and it will make it more saleable because it will be a nicer house so you will get a higher sale price but you won’t get the full cost back.”
Your architect may not be up to date with building costs.
Tom also warns that architects aren’t always up to date with the cost of building and labour so don’t take their calculations as read. The cost of building materials has rocketed over the last two years so you must have a conversation with the architect and the builder to get a more realistic idea of what a project will cost and then you can trim the design accordingly.
Offering to do the painting yourself, or buying a cheaper kitchen probably isn’t going to make enough difference. If you need to reduce the projected cost by a third, you are going to need to downsize the architect’s ideas.
Should I project manage myself?
What if you project manage yourself to try and save money? We see this on Grand Designs all the time so is it a realistic option? Tom says simply: “Who are you and what are your skills? You need to understand the process of building. Even my friends who are carpenters have tried to do this but have come unstuck. You can lose so much money getting stuck in the process – if you haven’t booked the plasterer to co-ordinate with the electrician. If the plumber is called to an emergency and then the plasterer can’t do his job. And don’t forget you will be a one-off client – many builders have regular work with other firms and if they are called to a regular for a last minute emergency they will go there to safeguard their regular work rather than come to you. An entire project can unravel quite quickly. If you want to project manage you need to be three steps ahead of what is happening on the ground.
“People don’t realise how hard it is to project manage and if they have seen it done and it was all seamless they think they can do it themselves, but they don’t realise how much experience and knowledge the project manager has brought to the project to make it seem that way. It can be an absolute nightmare; all you need is one part that is missing when the plumber needs it and he disappears and says he can’t come back for a week and suddently everyone else is affected by that change in schedule.
“On a smaller project where you might have everyone on site every day this is less of an issue.”
How to find a good builder?
Three or four quotes is enough – more and you are wasting people’s time. Try for some recommendations – either via reviews or friends and colleagues. When the quotes come in take a very good look at how they are presented, says Tom.
A detailed line by line quote will give you a good sense of the firm behind the quote and how organised they are. A sheet of A4 with a couple of lines of description – “to build your extension will cost £xxx” and a verbal assurance that they will see you right is a red flag.
You might decide to change the spec of the doors and you don’t know what the builder allowed for the original doors so you have no control over what he is going to charge you when the plans change.
Always ask about “variations” or “extras” – there will be changes and you need to know what the charging process is so you can discuss issues as they arise.
I hope you have found this useful – do bookmark it – and many thanks to Geberit for sponsoring the show and allowing us to find and share these tips with you.