More and more people are deciding to improve their homes rather than move, taking the view that there is plenty of scope in adding to the value of their home for longer-term gain through carefully considered extensions, upgrades and installations. Why move and pay huge amounts of stamp duty, legal fees, estate agents fees and removal costs when, with a bit of creative thinking, you can invest this money to make your current house the home you have always dreamed of.
 well-planned and executed extension or series of home improvements can result in  an increase to a property's value. However, beware, poorly planned and or poorly completed building work can lead to abortive costs and may do more harm than good. It is therefore essential to carry out lots of research and seek professional advice. Do not be afraid to spend money on professional fees such as for an Architect.

 Architects can help you get the biggest ‘bang for your buck’, advise on and help you obtain planning permission, get you  a full plans building regulation approval, add real value and a wow factor to your home as well as protect you from abortive works and rouge builders. 

A well designed correctly positioned extension can provide valuable extra interior space and can significantly boost the value of your home. Building an extension can however be disruptive and may require planning permission, but don’t let this put you off. To obtain planning permission it will usually be necessary to check that your plans are in keeping with the scale and proportions of the existing house, in line with the property's aesthetic and the character of the surrounding area. Make sure that the extension will provide extra useful living space. Avoid mistakes such as installing a small, disconnected conservatory without thinking about its use or layout. Creating a large open plan Kitchen breakfast/dining room that opens out onto a garden is a good way to add value to your home as is adding an additional guest bedroom en-suite. 

Adding Space
Creating an extra bedroom can add a premium to the price of your home and it needn't be an expensive job. Think about your home's proportions though, as few people will want to pay for two tiny cramped bedrooms which were clearly originally one room. Single occupiers or couples will tend to prefer fewer larger rooms, although families might welcome the extra room potential. Think about your potential sales market and make an objective decision, even if you are not thinking of selling now, you will no doubt want to sell your house one day.
Outside space is important too and adding a garden home-office and or garage can be a cost effective way of adding to the value of a home. 

Loft Conversions 
In terms of return on investment, loft conversions often represent a very cost effective upgrade for improving a property's value. Lofts are fantastic spaces often with bags of untapped potential. Due to their location at the top of your house and their unique shape under eaves, lofts can be very special, peaceful spaces providing uninterrupted daylight and fantastic views over the tree or roof tops. A great use for a loft conversion is to provide a new sumptuous master bedroom en-suite.
It is important to be realistic however and check that your loft is suitable for conversion and will provide usable and useful space. Check that your loft has at least 2.5 metres in height and think about access for a new stair, remember that this stair will take up space on two floors. The stair position will affect the entire layout of your upper floor as well as the layout of the loft space itself. 
Make sure you don’t waste any precious space by providing lots of access to under eaves storage; it makes a great storage space for suitcases and archived paperwork.
Try and install roof lights where possible. Roof lights provide three times more light than the same area of vertical glazing and provide great views of the sky. Select a roof light with built in black out blinds, so you can block out the light when necessary, this is especially important if you use your loft conversion as a bedroom.

You will need to make sure you get any necessary planning permission although many loft conversions may be covered under your properties permitted development rights and not require a formal planning approval, therefore seek advice from an Architect. Loft conversions will however require Building Regulations approval and may require a Party Wall Agreement. In order to obtain Building Regulation Approval you will need structural engineer’s calculations, but this is something your Architect can advise you on and arrange for you.
The building regulations will require you to insulate to a certain standard, but it is advisable to insulate well above this. A huge amount of the heat lost from your house is through the roof. Compared to the ever increasing costs of energy bills insulation is relatively cheap. When installing new heating always use under-floor heating in a loft conversion. It means you can use all of the valuable wall space for furniture rather than being wasted with radiators.
The final key to making sure your new loft conversion is a romantic, beautiful space is to ensure you get the artificial lighting right. Use dimmer switches for all lights and plug lamps into 5amp sockets so that you can switch them on and off from the main light switched when you enter the room.

Cellar Conversions
Alternatively, if you have a cellar this can also be converted. It is not usually worth digging out from underneath a building if you don't already have a cellar in place though. It is usually disproportionately expensive and complex. Unless you live in an area with extremely high house values the cost is almost certain to outweigh any added value. Cellar conversions should be handled by a specialist contracting company and you should check with your council about planning permission, particularly if you live in a period building or have tenants. This type of work will affect your household insurance and you must declare it to your insurer.

Opening Up
Open-plan living is still a very popular trend and it appeals many buyers. It needs careful consideration and professional advice as load-bearing walls may need to come down to achieve your vision. This will affect your household insurance too and your insurer may want to see certification of structural work. 
Taking down and reposition walls will make spaces feel as big and as light as they can possibly be but when creating open plan living be careful not sacrifice privacy and function. Be aware of the pitfalls – such as noise and lack of privacy – and also be aware of the way you live and the zones you need. What I mean is – zone your rooms so that each area is designated a purpose. For example, a big long living room, I treat as two zones. One end is TV area, the other is a reading area. Lots of homes have had walls knocked out but no thought has been given about how to furnish or use the new rooms properly. That is just a waste of space. Creating open plan spaces is a careful balancing act and is not always appropriate. If you want to maximise the feeling of light and space there are also other techniques that you can use such as:

  •  Use light reflective paint colours on your walls, use furniture, rugs, pictures and ornaments to add colour.
  •  Use light flooring; oak floor boards, light neutral coloured carpets and sandstone tiles are a good choice and they reflect light around your rooms and help create an illusion of space. Try not to change the floor finish between rooms too much. Using the same floor finish throughout the ground floor helps blur the distinction between rooms and makes the spaces feel larger.
  •  Replace solid walls with glass, depending on where you do this the glass will need to be toughened and or fire rated so seek expert advice first.
  •  Add structural sand blasted glass floors and ceilings to small areas. This works particularly well in circulation spaces and can help to pour light into the dark recesses of your home.
  •  Keeping doors, skirting boards, architraves and window boards white or pale can help create an illusion or more space. Whilst I love using natural oak, in smaller spaces too much wood or dark wood can make a space feel smaller and cluttered. 
  •  Getting the artificial lighting right can make a huge difference to a space. I always use dimmer switches where possible so that the lighting and mood of a room can be changed to match its function. Most Architects will of course advice you as part of their design, but if budget is not an issue and you want something particularly special there are lighting consultants who will provide specialist expert advice.
Central Heating
It's not the most creative of projects, but a new boiler and central-heating system can add a significant amount to the value of your home for a comparatively small investment (prices for a small boiler installation start at around £2k). Look for high-efficiency condensing boilers which will attract buyers with green concerns.

Kitchen (and Bathrooms)
Updating Kitchens and Bathrooms can add the 'wow' factor. Research suggests that a modern fitted kitchen lies second in the 'mostly likely to add value to a property' charts. 
The Kitchen is the heart of a house and possibly the most important space in a house, therefore whilst you don’t need to spend a fortune you should spend a great deal of time on design and layout. Think about how you use the kitchen: How much worktop space do you need? Do you want an island unit? Where would you like to eat breakfast, at a breakfast bar or at the dining table? Is the dining table in the kitchen or in a separate formal dining room? How big a dining table do you need? How much storage space do you need for pots and pans? Do you need a lot of space for food in wall units or would you prefer a separate larder cupboard? What styles of kitchen do you like, traditional or modern? 

When deciding what to focus your budget my advice is that it is best to spend most of your budget on making the space work (removing walls, adding an extension and reconfiguring the layout) and then buy a cheaper kitchen with whatever money is left as you can always upgrade the standard of your kitchen at a later date when you get more money in.

Lots of work surface is a must. Also, never compromise on the quality of the appliances.  If your budget is tight then choose good quality appliances and compromise with affordable units.

Try to incorporate a small utility room near to the kitchen where you can put your washing machine and tumble dryer, this will free up important unit space in the kitchen and also shut the noisy appliances away. 

Always install a mains water softener to prevent lime-scale if you live in a hard water area, your appliances will last much longer and you will have less scrubbing in the shower.

Natural daylight is extremely important and can help increase the sense of space and make your house feel uplifting and airy. Therefore try to get in as much natural light into the kitchen as possible. This can be done by adding skylights in your kitchen roof or by changing existing windows into new large, glass doors. These can be sliding, double doors or folding sliding doors. If you are thinking about adding an extension to your house the best place to add this is probably to the kitchen. A large kitchen/dining/breakfast room that opens out onto your back garden or a patio is a fantastic space. I personally like to use large folding sliding doors that can be opened up completely allowing the garden/patio to in effect become a further room or extension to your home. This will provide a fantastic space that can be used for entertaining as a family space for family summer barbeques, alfresco dinner parties or evening drinks.

Artificial lighting is also essential to the success of your new Kitchen and if possible, put in under floor heating. Just as your kitchen wants to feel light, bright and airy on long hot summer days it also wants to feel cosy, romantic and sumptuous on cold dark winter evenings. Even if you have radiators throughout the rest of your house install under-floor heating in your Kitchen and Bathrooms.

Use the Professionals
Don't forget to factor in costs for expert advice and support from an Architect and Structural Engineer. Plans for large-scale work will need to be both safe and legal and have the necessary permissions in place before the project begins.  Don't try to cut costs on this initial stage, as a job well done is a job that will last and you'll be glad you invested in quality workmanship. Architect’s fees can seem expensive and the benefit can initially seem intangible, but having someone with experience, legislative and technical knowledge, who can advise you from start to finish, is invaluable. Good Architects will almost always save you time and money over the entire project helping to make sure the works are carried out in accordance with your plans, that you never overpay and by making sure you get the most for your money. 

An Architect will:
- help you come up with the best design that is within your budget 
- help you get planning permission (for something that complies with the building regulations and is buildable)
- help you get a full plans building regulation approval
- help you choose the right building materials, fixtures and fittings
- help you find reputable builder’s and obtain quotations
- help you compare builder’s quotations
- (if required) prepare and administer a contract between you and the builder
- value the works as they are built and make sure you do not overpay the builder
- make sure the building works are carried out to a good standard that comply with the relevant building regulations
- make sure that the builders builds that which you have agreed with him