Homes in search of a character

imageYour house is in the perfect location, but it’s as ugly as sin. Fear not. A growing number of people are turning to cosmetic surgery to rejuvenate their homes

You love your house, your street, your neighbourhood. The schools are first-rate. Transport links are excellent. In short, everything’s pretty much perfect. There’s just one problem: there’s no des in your res. Your house is a carbuncle. You would sooner reverse through the front door than look at it.

Finally, after years of wincing every time you see it, you decide to give your home a facelift. You’re not alone. Every year, thousands of homeowners embark on exterior makeovers, many to increase its value before they sell. Others can’t afford to move and want a home that looks as nice outside as it does inside.

Amanda Randle added around 25 per cent to the value of her five-bedroom family home in Barton, near Stratford upon Avon. Parts of it date back to the 15th century, and her nip-and-tuck procedure included exposing original beams on the frontage. She also replaced the harsh white colour with a warmer buttercup tone. In total, she spent around £50,000 on the exterior. Knight Frank is now selling the lovely village house for £695,000 (01789 297735;

Not all properties have such handsome features beneath the surface, however. This is why Yolande Hesse set up Back to Front Exterior Design with her husband, George, 12 years ago, offering remodelling for “ugly” homes. “Ugly” sounds harsh, but Yolande does not mince her words. Sixties and Seventies shoeboxes come in for special condemnation, and she relishes the challenge of turning them into period-style homes. “The majority of clients do not have big enough budgets to knock down and rebuild,” she says.

To reap the financial rewards if you’re selling, however, you need good bodywork to start with. Think Joan Collins: she’s an asset worth working on. She has good bone structure, a great figure and brand leverage. She gets returns on the money she ploughs into her looks.

Expect to do the same only if your eyesore is in a good area, says Hesse. “Any work you do will then be boosted by the location. Remember, first impressions are everything. If you turn your nose up at your own property, then others will do the same.”

Don’t skimp, either. “I had one client who allocated funds of £250,000 to do an attic extension and the exterior of a property in Hertfordshire. That was only enough to do the extension,” says Hesse. “The estate agent advised that if he remodelled the house as well, the uplift would be £1 million.”

When Hesse saw a modern detached, red-brick gabled family home in Cookham, Surrey, she had a glint in her eye worthy of any plastic surgeon.

“It was big, ugly and modern,” she says. “But it was transformed into a looker with clapboard, new windows and a gravel forecourt. We also gave it slate tiles and a new bargeboard which covered up the second-rate brick corbelling. Two porches completed the transformation.”

Hesse cautions that if extensions are added, they must be in keeping with the main building. If finances mean you can’t do both the existing exterior and the extension, then do the exterior first. And expect the work to take anything from three months to more than a year, in the most startling transformations.

A house in Kent offers a startling example of what can be done. To the unassuming three-bedroom, two-storey property in Bromley the company added an extension, a pool house and another bedroom, as well as giving both inside and out a complete overhaul. This sort of work can cost in the region of £350,000, but as the “before” and “after” photos (pictured on front cover) testify, the results are stunning.

Another challenge was a Sixties detached property in Farnham, Surrey. “The house had good underlying geometry, including a porch and gable, so money didn’t have to be spent on getting the shape right. But the windows were not in keeping. We replaced the 8ft (2.5m) window on the left of the house, blocking out a pier between two new portrait sash windows. There wasn’t enough room for a pier on the far right, so we introduced two sash windows with a mullion.”

Concrete roof tiles, a serial offender in post-war builds, were replaced with slate and the garden landscaped. “It’s far easier to turn a Sixties build into a Georgian house than it is into a Victorian one,” she says. “The Georgians used low-pitched roofs, as builders did after the Second World War.”

The benefits are more than just aesthetic. A good makeover can take away the opportunity for a buyer to negotiate downwards, says Nick Barnes, the head of research at Chesterton Humberts. With property prices 12 per cent below last year’s peak and 2.5 per cent lower in London, buyers are fussy, he says. “They are looking for ways to drive down the price, so you want your property to look as good as possible.” However Barnes cautions that hefty returns on a makeover are the exception rather than the norm.

So where do you start? And will it be worth it? I invite Steve Tyler of Erincastle Exterior Design, a south London-based makeover firm, to look at my Victorian terraced home. It’s in a conservation area in Primrose Hill, north London. A top location, at odds with the house’s grotty facade. I can’t see what one could do beyond sprucing up the paintwork.

Wrong, says Tyler, who suggests restoring the property’s Victorian features. This would include cleaning the brickwork, taking it back to its original bright yellows and reds, then replacing the tarmacked front steps with stone (see artist’s impression, right).

He also recommends hiding the wires, tidying up the drainage and replacing the Seventies single-panelled front door with a Victorian-style glass-panelled one. Some “bold, masculine” door furniture wouldn’t go amiss either, he says.

And – shock horror – he advises replacing the white paintwork on this and every other house in our half of the street with coloured paint. “The Victorians liked colour, not white paint,” says Tyler. “The paintwork would have been a vibrant blue or olive. That might be radical here, but you could try pastel, which is used at the other end of your street. Others might follow.” And the price for all this? Somewhere around £1,500.

I take Tyler’s recommendations to estate agent Jeremy Bass – a good idea for anyone thinking of embarking on this sort of project.

“They’re terrific,” he says. “In terms of sales, appearances help tremendously. The house would look very smart. The pastel colours are absolutely right, and I could see neighbours following suit.”

Sadly, he adds, it’s unlikely that the work would create added value in an area like this, where supply exceeds demand. Prime London property is bucking the downward national trend, with prices 12.5 per cent higher than last year.

“Houses in Primrose Hill in tip-top condition can reach £1,500 per sq ft,” says Bass. “If you didn’t revamp the exterior, you could expect to knock 10 per cent off your asking price. Planning permission for any extension would also add extra value. Outside London, however, immaculate presentation will give your home a definite advantage.” He estimates a smart exterior could prevent prospective buyers negotiating up to 20 per cent off the asking price. “If a property is in poor condition, the surveyor may well advise that the outside of the building is in need of refurbishment and withhold funds accordingly.”

Despite the advantages of making your house look shipshape, it’s vital not to rush into anything. It is important that the new exterior matches the home’s interior.

There’s no shortage of jaded-looking properties across the country, waiting to be transformed into a dream home. Who knows, perhaps you own one of them?

How to give your house a facelift

Consider replacing tarmac paths with black and white flagstones picked up from a salvage yard.

Is your house an appropriate colour for its age? And that includes the windows – everybody thinks white woodwork looks smart but the Victorians, for instance, preferred bright blues and greens.

Does the front door reflect the age of your home? Might a panelled one with stained glass from a reclamation yard be more suitable?

Fitting bold, well-maintained door furniture – letterboxes, handles and house numbers – is a relatively cheap way of creating an immediate impact.

Sort out trailing wires, cable boxes, satellite dishes, drains and unsightly extractor fans.

Consider replacing concrete tiles (a postwar favourite) with slate ones.

Does the surface of the facade need some TLC? You might be able to have exterior brickwork rendered, or expose original beams.

Alterations should be in keeping with your property, and you may need permission from the local authority.

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