Move or improve?

To move or improve?” What a very 21st-Century, first-world dilemma! But for Wandsworth home-movers needing space, the predicament of whether to dig and “make do” or buy bigger is a common one. Across London, planning applications for basements have doubled in two years, “Grand Designs” is a TV favourite and unmodernised properties are fought over. Everyone, it seems, wants to build.

And it’s easy to see why. Mr Osborne’s legacy means colossal stamp duty bills for trading terraced homes for something more substantial. So the question, ‘should I dig?’ regularly greets us on the doorstep as we arrive on valuations, closing the front door before answering so the neighbours don’t hear that awful ‘B-word’ (that’s ‘basement’ not ‘Brexit’ by the way).

But do the numbers stack up? In a flash, out comes the spreadsheet and calculator (theirs not mine). ‘If we add “X” square feet multiplied by the average SW11 £-per-square-foot-rate, we can figure out exactly what a buyer will pay us afterwards. It’s just science, right?’

Sure – if you just want a “Zoopla” valuation. But for an accurate idea of your home’s value, once the stress and mess are gone, you need to understand subjective factors too. What are buyers really looking for? That’s where we come in. We know their expected finish, their desired layout and their street-specific demand. We even recommend reliable contractors. Good advice – to buyers, sellers and would-be builders – is integral to our service and something which, with three decades of local knowledge and statistics, John Thorogood is uniquely equipped to give.

So is the slog worth it or are you better off moving? Recent sales ‘Between the Commons’ of houses dug ‘front-to back’ have not always recovered the expenditure. Cutting-edge basements are impressive, no doubt, but subterranean living is not for everyone – and while some folk spend wisely in the right locations, others overdevelop in the wrong places. Many owners who lived through the “hell”, still moved on – to greener, better or wider pastures (more garden, side access and parking, please?)

Compounding this, basement costs are spiralling; £300k…£400k…plus the fit-out, oh…and the interior designer’s bill… and there’s that ‘must-have’ 80” screen for the cinema …and while we’re at it shall we update the kitchen too?

You may feel you’re saving money. But reconsider the alternative. Different price brackets move up (and down) at different rates; gaps between those brackets widen and narrow. Lately, the dreaded stamp duty has kept a lid on prices at the top of the market, making naturally larger houses more attainable now than at any point since the financial crisis. Historically, that sort of opportunity hasn’t hung around. We should know – we’ve been here long enough!

Buyers seem to be catching on. Contrary to predictions, SDLT revenues are up 11% in London, according to the latest HMRC data (2015-16). After pausing for breath, people are moving again, realising that hefty moving costs might be a better investment after all…

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