Add value when renovating your home by avoiding common mistakes

While it may seem a basic point, before embarking on any renovations of your home, it’s advisable to research the cost of renovating versus relocating to a home more suited to your lifestyle and needs, says Pam Golding Properties. Bear in mind the cost of the actual move is coupled with transfer duty plus all the other costs associated with selling and buying property.

Says Carol Reynolds, Pam Golding Properties area principal for Durban Coastal: “Depending on the extent of your planned improvements and your budget, you may decide your existing home can easily be adapted to suit your needs, in which case, you then need to ensure you renovate wisely and cost-effectively – particularly if you plan to sell the house in the shorter (for example five years) rather than the medium to longer term, and wish to recoup the costs of renovating, as well as add value to the property. Also, ensure that the standard of work is good, as poorly executed renovations will impact negatively on the value of your property.

She adds: “It is critical to have suburb statistics before proceeding with a renovation. An agent who understands the local market and all its dynamics can provide up to date statistics on prices achieved for comparable homes, and enable you to compare prices of renovated and unrenovated properties. They can also advise you which aspects can add value to the property and improve its saleability.

“If the suburb price ceiling isn’t sufficiently high enough then over-capitalising is a real risk. However, residential property is twofold – it’s about a lifestyle choice and it’s an investment, so in my view, if your priority is to live in your home for several years and enjoy it, then renovate it to suit your needs. If, however, you are more investment-minded, then you should be prudent with your renovation budget.”

Lanice Steward, head of training for Pam Golding Properties, concurs: “Before renovating a property it would be worthwhile to ask an agent to give you a valuation on your home to ensure you don’t over-capitalise on your property, unless you intend to stay there for a reasonable time period. This will enable the market prices to increase to cover your renovations.”

A renovated property will always generate better returns ie rental income, than a property in poor condition, says Richard Smith, Pam Golding Properties area manager in the Hyde Park area in Johannesburg. “Many people seek a home where they can just move in without the need for cost- and time-consuming renovations – with the disruption and inconvenience of having contractors and work being carried out while in residence. There’s also the hassle of getting plans drawn up and approved, dust and building materials on site, not to mention the need for inspiration to make your vision for the project spring to life.

“On the other hand, making improvements may purely be a lifestyle choice, adapting the property to suit your needs while making it comfortable and appealing, and a place where you can kick back and relax at the end of the day or on weekends.”

“If you are renovating for your own lifestyle needs and enjoyment, you can spend more. But try to keep in mind that these should also have wider appeal should you decide to sell further down the line.”

Reynolds says to achieve this goal, good, as opposed to bad ‘bones’ are vital. Bad bones mean that the basics have been carried out poorly: for example: there is simply no flow and it is impossible to create flow because the house has been badly designed. Or, the property is positioned incorrectly on the site, making it is impossible to maximise the views or garden without literally demolishing the property and starting again.

“Ultimately,” she says, “your objective is to add some make-up without having to undergo a full facelift. This way, you minimise the time spent on upgrading the property and minimise your costs. Often, all that is needed is a coat of paint, some landscaping in the garden and new light fittings. If you need to spend a bit more on the renovation, spend your money where it counts: open up spaces by demolishing internal walls, and then spend your money on the bathrooms and kitchen. Don’t overspend on high quality fittings as these are never fully appreciated – instead invest in creating good spaces and great flow and then modernise the kitchen and bathrooms tastefully rather than extravagantly.”

Added bathrooms and bedrooms are always welcome, while additions to avoid include a tennis court, for example, says Steward. “This will only add value to a buyer if they play tennis, so the appeal is very limited. Features such as solar heating or boreholes which were costly to install in the past did not previously add real value to a property. This is changing as we find ourselves with looming electricity bills and droughts. These types of additions might be the tipping point for a buyer who is choosing between two different properties. Also, a swimming pool may not be welcome in view of drought and water shortages in some areas, while still popular in others.”

Smith adds that a nice-to-have feature is a pyjama lounge, especially one where adults can unwind while the children enjoy their own recreation room. Water-wise gardens also add value, he says. “The outside area and garden should be an extension of the inside space, and remember in today’s modern gardens, less is more. Features in a home which may have limited appeal are a large wine cellar, a man cave and a billiard room.”

So what do kind of renovations have the most appeal in the medium to longer term, for when you have decided to move on, and sell the property?

Reynolds says modern kitchens and bathrooms as well as general open-plan living areas are the key aspects buyers always look for. “As a general rule, if sellers are thinking of upgrading they should prioritise kitchens, bathrooms and entertainment flow which normally means an upgrade to their entertainment area and covered veranda.”

Steward agrees that buyers are more attracted to the informal lifestyle of a well-appointed family/kitchen area leading out onto a large covered patio suitable for informal entertaining, while Smith elaborates that smooth flow is critical, and kitchens which are well-appointed, functional and with good equipment are very important, as well as master bedrooms. “A good entertainment area is one which can be open in summer and protected from the elements in winter, with a fireplace for ambience and relaxation – making it a 365 day-a-year room which lends itself to frequent use by the whole family.”

Reynolds also advises that while feature rooms can certainly facilitate and perhaps even secure a sale, these won’t be the primary reason for the buyer choosing to purchase. “The fundamentals need to be correct first, and then beautiful features like an outside shower or games room will sweeten the deal. Entertainment areas are top of the list when it comes to added features.

“I would suggest that unless you are in a very sought-after suburb, you should undertake renovations that yield the best results with the minimum spend. This would include: repainting; changing kitchen counter tops and re-spraying cupboards; cleaning up gardens and enhancing curb appeal; de-cluttering the interior and ensuring that the home presents well. If budget allows, then opening up and removing some interior walls to create better flow is always well-received and the cost of removing walls is less expensive than doing additions.”

Some further advice from Steward: “The single biggest aspect why a property does not sell is the price. My analogy is that at a certain price, buyers will hear every car pass by if the house is on a busy road. At a lower price they will hear a pin drop! The same applies if there is an aspect of the house they do not like. One of the big negatives is if the kitchen and bathrooms are old and/or odorous.”