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18 Jan 2021

Should you move or improve your home in 2021?

The home improvements that add most value, including extensions and loft conversions
Architect's plans for an extension or loft convers

Lockdowns, working from home and home schooling made us rethink what we really want from our living environments last year. More space topped many people's lists - but how do you know if you should build an extension or move house to get it?

This is a 'once in a lifetime re-evaluation of what people want from their housing', says property website Zoopla. The housing market is extremely busy at the moment, with Rightmove reporting 11% more people contacting estate agents about buying properties than at the start of 2020.

Homeowners rethinking their priorities, and buyers rushing to complete their purchase before the end of the stamp duty holiday on 31 March, are big reasons behind this.

There's a petition calling for an extension to the stamp duty holiday, but the government says it was 'a temporary relief' that it doesn't plan to extend.

But while the housing market is moving quickly, home improvement projects could take longer than you'd expect, due to the volume of homeowners keen to change their space as well as COVID-19 restrictions and safe-working practices affecting timescales.

So it's vital to decide how best to spend your time and money to help create your dream home.

Use our guide to extension planning to get started, whether it's a loft conversion, porch or garage conversion.

How much value does a loft conversion or extension add to your home?

Loft conversions, side and rear extensions, garden rooms and complete redecoration are the projects most likely to add the greatest value to your home, according to estate agent Savills.

These could add between 5% and 15% to the value of homes outside London worth between £750,000 and £1million, it estimates. A new kitchen or bathroom are likely to add value too, though to a lesser extent.

Don't over-extend your home compared with the size of your plot, warns Robin Chatwin, head of south-west London at Savills. But 'bringing your home up to spec' is important, he says, as buyers aren't keen to take on the risk of a big refurbishment project at the moment. 'Buyers often stretch themselves to the limit to afford a move, so if they don't have to put in a new kitchen or bathroom it may clinch the deal.'

However, making expensive changes when you don't know the buyer's taste can be risky, explains Richard Donnell, research director at Zoopla as 'many people like to do it up and make it their own'.

If you're doing-up your home to sell it, consider asking an estate agent first to tell you what's worth doing before you get started.

Find out how to sell your house and use our stamp duty calculator to see how much you'll need to pay.

rear extension to a semi-detached house

Extension and loft conversion costs

A clear idea of what you want and knowing your budget are a good place to start with any home renovation. Dreaming of an open-plan kitchen extension with bespoke units is risky if your budget won't stretch to it.

So we've worked with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) to give guide prices for typical home renovations to get you started. Follow the links below to find out more about typical home improvement costs:

We'd always recommend getting at least three quotes for any home improvement job so you have a good idea of the cost of your specific project. Ask for a breakdown of the total price to help you compare between traders.

Use Which? Trusted Traders, including builders, bathroom fitters and kitchen fitters to find reliable, reputable traders near you. We assess all firms rigorously before they can join our scheme so you can use them with confidence.

detached house with a side extension in progress

2021 costs and timescales: what you need to know if you're planning a project

Some projects might take longer than usual this year, while some materials could cost more or be harder to get hold of.

Many firms are busy thanks to backlogs of work built up during lockdowns and extra demand from homeowners, who might be looking to spend unused holiday savings on transforming their home.

Changes to how firms can work will affect the cost of jobs, according to RICS. Observing social distancing, using PPE, more regular cleaning and extra safety regulations are some of the things factored into its latest prices.

COVID-19 precautions might have an impact on project timings too, especially indoor projects or those in confined spaces. External jobs, such as bricklaying and replacing windows are less affected. But as traders and customers get more used to the precautions this should have less of an impact, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

However, 59% of its members said that material or equipment shortages were constraining their output in August and September 2020, and expected it to continue for the next 12 months.* Some 78% said they expected the cost of materials to rise over the next few months.

loft conversion in progress

Last year saw shortages of products including plaster, paint, timber and roofing materials, according to the Builders Merchants Federation. Its chief executive John Newcomb explained that 'incredible demand' was often the cause, as well as some wood treatment plants working at reduced capacity owing to coronavirus-related issues.

Customers should have a conversation with their builder, Newcomb advises. 'Ask them to talk to the merchant and maybe look at alternative materials if a product is in short supply. You need communication and understanding that the builder can't just walk into a builders' yard and get the materials off the shelves as they did in the past'.

Loft conversion and extension planning permission

Some projects don't need planning permission thanks to permitted development rights. This can include loft conversions, extensions, roof lights, solar panels and new windows.

But there are limitations, including on the height of the building work, and the distance the new wall extends from the existing property. Permitted development rights are also different for flats and maisonettes. Some areas have different rules, for example conservation areas or national parks, and listed buildings need listed building consent.

If you're not sure whether you'll need planning permission, an initial conversation with an architect, architectural technologist, builder or surveyor should be able to confirm this.

estate agent in an empty living room doing a home
If you need planning permission, you'll need to apply to your local planning office. Allow plenty of time as it takes up to 10 weeks for a decision.

Regardless of whether your project needs planning permission or falls under permitted development, it must meet building regulations. These are the minimum standard for design, construction and alterations to all buildings.

If it doesn't you could be served with a notice to take your extension down. Not having the relevant building regulations certificates will make it trickier to sell your home in future.

Read more about building regulations and planning permission, plus advice about hiring architects, architectural technologists, builders, structural engineers and surveyors.

Government grants for home improvements

Financial help is available for some changes, especially if they'll improve the energy efficiency of your home.

The Green Homes Grant offers vouchers for up to £5,000 to cover two thirds of the cost of some projects, including insulation and installing renewable heating. The rules are quite complex, and explained in our expert guide to the Green Homes Grant.

There's also extra money on offer for insulation and replacing inefficient boilers for those with lower incomes. Find out more about home grants.

*Survey of 166 members of the Federation of Master Builders