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Design your dream house

Thinking about building your perfect home? Consider the following to ensure you have it all covered – and the features that will give it that ‘wow’ factor…

If you’ve set your sights on creating the ideal home that most people will only see in their wildest dreams, it’s important to consider early on which features will make it more comfortable to live in and more valuable should you decide to sell on. A fabulous home should not only look good, it should also serve the needs of those who live there.

Although many products and interior feature ideas you may come across at home exhibitions are no more than gimmicks, others will make your house stand head and shoulders above your neighbours. If you’re considering a self-build, as an investment, the potential financial gains and the freedom to make choices about the location and type of property that you prefer can be very appealing.

For an investor, the main benefit of creating a self-build are the potential profit margins. When purchasing a new build property, the purchaser is paying the builder’s premium, which not only includes the cost of building the property but also his profit margin. Investors who are prepared to manage the build themselves have discovered that they can bag the profit margin, if they manage the entire project. Another benefit, which applies to both investors and those who intend to live in the property, is that the building can, quite literally, be made to order.

If you’re considering a total renovation project for yourself, you really need to know your market and choose the right property. Buying a not-so-perfect house gives you something to work with and is a way to create a modern, attractive and saleable home further down the line. If you’re creating a dream home to sell on, remember that the key to appealing to the greatest possible number of people is not to do anything they could take a dislike to, while at the same time avoiding the bland and unmemorable. Always focus on the difference between being a property developer and just ‘doing up your own house’. Often there is something more serious that needs to be put right. This does not mean that less-than-perfect properties are off limits, but it is vital to enter into any deal with your eyes wide open – get a survey, and know the costs of putting it right.

Work out what you want
It’s worth noting down what you want from your new home, such as the approximate size, rooms needed, and how you want to use those spaces. Think about how you live now and how you’d like to improve on your current home. Ask yourself: What are you trying to achieve? is there a particular look you’re after? Is there any other work in your house that you would like to be done at the same time as the main job? Are you going to buy the materials or will a contractor to do it? If you are, do you know which materials you want and the quantities? Will you source the materials at this stage (it may well be worth it) and know exactly when they are needed? How long will each job take? In what order should the jobs be done? Which tradesman will be responsible for each? There’s a lot to plan!

Get in the experts
Before you start the actual building work, select up to three contractors and ask each for a written quote for the work. Ask for three references and follow them up – ask previous employers whether they were happy with the job done, and if possible, check out the quality of the work yourself. It’s wise to do this even if the contractors come with the highest recommendation. Check contractors’ insurance cover by asking to see their builder’s liability insurance certificate.

Living the dream

Now that you’ve organised the essentials, it’s time to choose the features that will turn your long-awaited home into a reality…

Swimming pool/hot-tub If there
is one stand-out, luxury feature that comes to most people’s minds when planning a home, it’s got to be a fabulous swimming pool. But before you dive in think carefully about where you want it – outdoors or inside. With the predictable British weather, it’s fair to say you may only get a couple of weeks’ use out of it each summer if it’s built in your garden. Instead, consider building it in a stunning glass building which overlooks a well-groomed back yard.

Do your research before choosing which pool to install – there is a wide range available and you’ll need to get an expert contractor in, too. Don’t forget to factor in the maintenance. In the bathroom, forget about whirlpool baths and think soaking hot tubs instead. Designed with high, sloping backs for reclining, soaking tubs are more streamlined than whirlpools and a lot less noisy.

Sauna or steam room
Following on with the theme of total relaxation, no dream home is complete without a hot, sweaty sauna or steam room in which to unwind. Providing your home has the floor space, there’s a huge choice out there. Saunas and steam rooms are fairly easy to install, although running costs can be high. Infra-red saunas use less energy to run than traditional ones and this is something to bear in mind.

Gym
Fitness fanatics may consider making this the focal point of the house – a state-of-the-art gymnasium complete with all the gadgets and gizmos to tone up, slim down and sweat it out. But for the less active who want to occasionally work out at home, you only need a room that is around 3m x 4m in size. And you don’t have to go mad and buy every piece of gym kit available: a multi-gym to tone your muscles and an exercise bike, treadmill and cross-trainer for cardiovascular fitness will do the job. For a more enjoyable workout, install a TV on the wall and set aside an area for stretches and floor work.

Games room
Even if you know you won’t use it yourself on a day-to-day basis, what can impress guests more than your own games room? A snooker table in the centre, a football table, a couple of fruit machines and a multimedia gaming centre will keep you high up in the popularity rankings.

Cinema
The late 90s saw the first plasma TVs introduced in the UK, and technology has moved on considerably since then. Now, most homes have a big plasma or even an LED screen. To make your’s a super home, kit out your very own cinema room complete with a surround sound system. And remember, for a true home cinema experience you’ll need around seven full-range speakers plus a large bass unit to produce realistic sounds.

Why stop there?
Seats can be cinema-style too – and don’t forget a stylish trolley ready to serve sticky popcorn and cool ice-creams.

Outbuilding
Whether it’s a granny annexe, sports facility, office or just an extra living room, an outbuilding will give you a place to escape to. If it’s used as an office – you really can ‘go to work’ and not be disturbed. A granny annexe will mean you have a self-contained living area (you can even have a second kitchen area) for the kids when they’re older and have outgrown their bedrooms; or for elderly relatives – that way, everyone’s happy.

Underfloor heating
Long gone are the days when you had to put up with freezing your feet on stone-cold floors. Underfloor heating is not only an economical way to heat up a room, once you’ve experienced it, you’ll never be without it again. It works by a heating element warming up a heat-spreading (or radiating) device laid under the floor to achieve an even warmth across the whole area. The heat can be supplied to that element either by warm water or by electricity, hence the two main types of underfloor heating system – wet or electric. There are systems to match most flooring types, including hardwood flooring, laminate, lino and stone, so it’s possible to put underfloor heating in virtually any room. Not only is it comfortable, you will also free up your floor and wall space as you won’t need radiators.

Natural materials
Laminate or wood? Granite or MDF? It’s obvious the natural materials will win hands down any day. Not only are products like wood for floors and granite for worktops more durable, they look miles better, too. Marble, limestone and sandstone are also extremely hard-wearing and attractive. Oak was once the most popular choice for hardwood flooring, but is being given stiff competition by Brazilian cherry. Bamboo is also popular, with the advantage of it being a sustainable and eco-friendly material.

Renewable energy systems
It’s much cheaper and kinder to the environment if your energy needs are generated on site. A decent renewable energy system should only generate the amount of energy that you need. Some systems allow you to integrate several heat sources such as solar thermal collectors, air source heat pumps and woodburners for the supply of hot water or space heating.

Earlier this year, consumers were told how installation companies were offering to install £15,000-worth of solar panels on your roof absolutely free; in return you get £150-£230 worth of free electricity for the next 25 years. However, you need to have a roof with up to 30 square metres of usable space, that is south-facing and unshaded. If you have the means to pay for solar panels yourself, then you may well be better off.

Get a survey
If you’re a buyer, it’s vital that you check your  property is structurally safe

As a buyer, you have to pay for a mortgage valuation report (MVR) in order to secure a mortgage offer, but this should not be confused with a survey. The MVR merely confirms to the lender that the property is worth at least what they are loaning you – it is not their responsibility to point out any repairs that need doing. The mortgage lender (or another surveyor) can do an independent survey, but you will have to pay for this. A surveyor might be willing to give a property a quick check for  a modest fee or even visit several properties on a shortlist for a day’s fee. Get a full, independent structural survey. These days, a bank or building society valuation is not nearly enough.

If it is a large project, you’ll need more help, maybe even the advice of an architect. Their fees come to around 15% of the total cost of the work, but they can save more than this by better use of space and materials. Employing an architect will also help keep the project on time and to budget. If the property needs structural work, the architect may recommend that you employ the services of a structural engineer. Where possible, arrange for builders and plumbers to quote for the job before you make an offer. Then you will have a good idea of how much the work will cost, and you can use this in your negotiations.

Few people are able to throw in the day job, buy a property and just get on with it. The reality is a more tricky combination of balancing the usual demands of the old way of life with the unexpected demands of the new. Never be afraid to consult the experts because a job well done is cheaper than a botched job that must be put right.

Sarah says…‘There’s nothing better than getting stuck into your own dream home project. But without a lot of planning and budget control, it could all go wrong. So get a great set of builders and don’t have unrealistic ideas of how far your budget will stretch.’


Pictures: getty images

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