This is the age of the home improvement. A recent survey by Lloyds Bank revealed that a third of people have recently undertaken a home improvement project - with an average cost of £4,000. But the experts warn that these projects don't always end up actually improving their property - and that there are five major pitfalls which can mean the cash spent on a project is money down the drain.
George Clarke, presenter of Amazing Spaces, highlights five common mistakes people make.
1. Falling for fashions
Clarke explains: "Some people can get drawn in by fashion and make changes that are not relevant to how they live as a family." So, for example, they may like the clean lines of open-plan living (complete with a kitchen, dining room and lounge that all flow into each other). However, one member of the family may need to work at the dining room table in the evening, while another prefers to listen to calming music in the kitchen while making dinner, and the children want to play noisy computer games on the TV. Those three activities aren't going to work together.
2. Trying to do too much
"There's always a tension between ambition and what you can afford," says Clarke: "That's no bad thing, because it means people can focus on getting the right design and then working out how to build more affordably. However, there is a risk that if they are too ambitious they can go over budget." This can mean having to borrow to finish the work - which could leave you financially stretched, or it could mean you end up leaving the project unfinished - which is anything but an improvement.
Clarke is clear that affordable building techniques are quite different to scrimping on quality. He says that cutting costs is about using clever and creative solutions, rather than buying cheaper fixtures and fittings that won't stand the test of time, or opting for cut-price tradespeople who may do a shoddy job.
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3. Spending too much
Clarke says that as we come out of the recession, he is seeing people become more willing to spend more on improving their homes. However, it's essential that people consider the cost in context. "The budget should depend to some extent on how long you want to stay. If people plan to stay for a few years and want to improve to make the property suit them better for that time, then they they should have a very different budget to those who have a forever home and want to make it their perfect property."
You need to think about whether you will get value from your spend - either by increasing the asking price by more than you spend or by improving your quality of life enough to make the cost worthwhile.
4. Trying to move too fast
"Some people have the knack", says Clarke: "They can buy a property and instantly know what needs to be done." For others, however, "It can be a mistake to move too fast, before you understand the unique qualities of the house."
He adds: "I have a client who has lived in a property for years. The couple have done a number of improvements, but they got to the stage where they realised that the house still didn't work as they wanted. Now they know every single inch of their property, so when we sat down for our design sessions they knew what would work. So, for example, they knew where they wanted to sit having breakfast, because that's where the sun comes up in the morning."
He doesn't suggest that everyone waits years to start work, but says that if the house is liveable, and they don't have an innate sense of spacial awareness, it can be incredibly helpful to live in a property for a while before you make changes.
5. Doing the wrong improvements
In many cases people want to start with the kitchen and bathroom, says Clarke. There are instances when this is absolutely vital, but they also need to consider how they are going to live with it. He explains: "I've sat down and designed a utility room for a couple of hours with a client, because they had piles of washing, and ironing and they didn't want it taking over their living space. It's not the part of the home you'd immediately think of when you're planning improvements, but when we talked about their home we discovered that this was what was most important to them."
Clarke gets people to think beyond their basic assumptions of what home improvements should entail. He says: "I ask them to look around their home and consider what works and what doesn't, and I ask them to do very rough sketches of their design ideas, so that when I arrive they have already thought it through. Then I come with loads of tracing paper and we sketch loads of options. It can take a couple of hours, but eventually we reach a point where the client is happy with the deign and I know it will work.
The new series of Amazing Spaces starts on Thursday 23 October at 8pm on Channel 4.
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