The pandemic has changed people’s views about how their homes work, and what needs doing to improve it. It has also changed buyers’ views about what’s worth paying extra for.
Create a home office
The urgent need for a quiet space in which to work is perhaps the single biggest transformation in terms of how we view our homes. "We recently staged a two-bedroom apartment and, for the first time ever, set up the second bedroom as a home office because, for our target market of individuals or couples, that is what they will be using it as," says estate agent Owen Reilly who specialises in city and docklands homes.
If you have a bedroom big enough to hold a desk comfortably, putting it in will instantly create greater buyer appeal for younger buyers. Older buyers also want enough space in a house for a separate workspace. “If you have a room you can set up as a home office, do so. If you don’t have decent wifi and broadband, look into cabling so you have it,” he says.
Fix the garden
Stay at home orders and 2km limit rules had people craving outdoor space like never before. For many, the joy of gardening was a revelation. "Very many people who were never interested in gardening before developed an interest in it during the lockdown," says John O'Sullivan, a director of Lisney.
That has already begun feeding through to buyers. “People are definitely looking at gardens differently. They are much more sought after since Covid arrived,” says Reilly, who stresses you don’t have to spend much money to increase buyer interest. “If you have any sort of decent garden that has maybe been a little unloved, just add some colour, put in a few pots and give the hedge a good trim.”
Pay particular attention to the front. “Make sure your house has kerb appeal because as soon as the sign goes up, the cars start slowing,” he advises.
Convert the attic
Anything that adds more space to your home is money well spent. "Attic conversions have always added value but especially now, with Covid," says Rowena Quinn of Hunters Estate Agents. Not all attics are suitable to convert, but if you're lucky enough to have one that is, without needing to raise the roof, it can be a very economical way to expand your home, and typically without the need for planning approvals.
Even if the attic space is not high enough to qualify as a “habitable room, it is additional living space and we’ve never needed that as much”, says Quinn. If there are two similar houses in an estate, and one has its attic converted, it has an immediate advantage, she says. “As vendors, we look at price per square foot. If you can expand your home, it brings its value up above the general guide value,” she says.
Spend on storage
Covid has driven up interest in built-in storage solutions. Cleverly designed presses, cupboards tucked into wall panels and worktops that hide a multitude are more attractive to buyers than ever before, especially now that they have work items to stow at home too. It means commissioning additional storage solutions looks increasingly like money well spent.
"It's bespoke furniture really but there is now huge interest in anything such as built-in bookcases or a hidden desk under the stairs, really clever stuff that can be expensive to put in but can be a good investment," says Ivan Gaine of estate agency Sherry Fitzgerald.
Fresh paint is the single most effective, and cost effective, upgrade you can give your home. "A good fresh paint job can cost €2,000 but you'll get that back," says Rowena Quinn.
The rule is, if you are upgrading to stay, follow your own taste. If you are upgrading to sell, keep it neutral. "If it doesn't have a wide appeal, then it won't be money well spent," says Gemma Lanigan of estate agents DNG. She knows firsthand just how much a "turn-off for viewers" bad colours can be, having had experience of vivid shades in vendors' homes. "Black and blood red walls are not popular, even if freshly painted," she says.
For selling, stay safe. “Go with whatever the colour of the moment is. A couple of years ago it was grey, now it’s a lighter shade of grey. It works, it’s stylish and it’s neutral,” agrees John O’Sullivan.
Refresh the bathroom
A swishly updated bathroom or an extra bathroom can be a decider for buyers. With rental accommodation shortages likely to remain a feature of the market, putting an en suite into a bedroom can be a very shrewd investment. Under the Government's Rent a Room, homeowners can earn up to €14,000 a year tax free from renting out their spare room.
But only do it if the room is big enough, cautions Quinn. “With some of them you couldn’t even fit a suitcase in, in which case you’d be better off putting your money into a nicer and more spacious family bathroom.”
Anything that helps boost energy efficiency is worth doing, not just for the environment but because you'll save on utility bills too. Sustainable solutions of all sorts hold great appeal for buyers. "BER is all important," says Quinn. Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) has grants worth up to €3,500 towards the installation of energy efficient heat pump systems, as well as incentives to reduce the cost of installing solar panels and better insulation.
“Electric car charging points are a great way to futureproof your house too, and a great investment these days when more people are going green,” says DNG’s Gemma Lanigan.
Tackle the windows
Replacing windows and frames is a daunting and expensive job but if you've done it, it's the kind of renovation work that can help tip a buyer over the line, when compared with a neighbouring property. By the same token, if buyers can see a house's windows are in need of replacing, the fear factor alone is enough to put them off.
In such cases, estate agents recommend that you at least get the job costed for buyers, so they know what’s involved. It’s likely to be less than they fear. If at all possible, replace the windows yourself. Not alone will it make your home cosier while you’re living there, but “they are a good investment”, says Róisín Lafferty, interior architect with Kingston Lafferty. “People don’t want the hassle of having to do them.”
Let the light in
Anything you can do to boost natural light in your home will make it more attractive to prospective buyers. Roof lights make for a particularly savvy spend. "They are so worth it, especially the flush-finish fixed ones, rather than the opening style Velux ones," says Lafferty. "With elongated roof lights, when you look up all you see is sky. It's beautiful and if you can afford it do it do so because you can't underestimate the importance of natural light."
On the same basis, if you’ve a kitchen window overlooking a garden, turn it into a glass door. Where you already have a glass door, consider making it bigger. “If you’ve a 2.3m high extension, normally doors would be 2.1m. Putting in a taller door, which almost fits the entire space, is priceless,” she says.
If you're replacing your flooring, a good wooden floor will hold its value better than any carpet. "It won't have stains. Also, very many people are conscious of asthma now and so have a preference for wood too," says Quinn. Whatever flooring you choose, get maximum bang for your buck by having it run through the house with no saddle boards or junctions. "It's a good investment and timeless," says Lafferty.
Flooring that works inside and out make more sense now than ever too. "Kilkenny Limestone has inside and outside versions of the same paving, so once you open up the doors you get a sense of, wow, am I inside or out?" says garden and interiors expert Leonie Cornelius, who says Covid has given us a new appreciation of fresh air.
Upgrades that might not be worth it
In this climate, it takes endless work to maintain timber decking. If you don't, it looks shabby and becomes lethal when wet. "If you like the idea of a timber deck and yet the maintenance is too daunting, the same effect can be achieved using a decking composite material," suggests garden expert Leonie Cornelius.
Conservatories can be an expensive addition and may not return the value in terms of usage. If you must, then explore timber-framed options. "Stay away from plastic conservatories, they overheat and become the room people don't use," says interior designer Róisín Lafferty. "It's much better, and a more cost-effective use of space, to build a proper extension that can be used year-round."
Fitted kitchens can be horrendously expensive so if you are planning on selling up within a few years, the money could be better spent elsewhere. An off-the-peg kitchen from Cash and Carry or Ikea can be customised with fresh tiling and paintwork for a quick update. A bespoke designer kitchen may not pay its way when it comes to sell.
Be careful of over-specing your home with technology, whether it's surround sound in every room or devices that help you manage the house from a distance. "One person's tech wizardry may be of no interest whatsoever to the next. In any case, technology just dates so fast," cautions Lisney's John O'Sullivan.
"I don't think anyone ever made a return on that investment," says Ivan Gaine.