Home truths: the move or improve dilemma

Home truths: the move or improve dilemma

It’s a quandary so familiar that they named a TV show after it. Phil and Kirstie’s Love It or List It tracks ordinary couples wrestling with the age-old ‘move or improve’ dilemma. Should they try to renovate / extend their current home or simply sell up and find a new property that better suits their needs?

Creative Kirstie, with her eye for design, plays the role of architect and comes up with brilliant concepts to transform a couple’s current abode. Meanwhile, cunning-as-a-fox Phil shows them stunning homes for sale that already satisfy their every whim. The couple then decides whether to stick or up sticks. 

More people have faced this dilemma in recent times than ever before. Lockdowns made people reappraise what they want from a home. This led to a surge in property transactions (spurred on by the stamp duty holiday) whilst others decided to splurge on home improvements instead. The result has been record demand in the construction sector with some homeowners waiting up to 9 months for a builder.

This raging demand has influenced the ‘move or improve’ debate. Although it usually makes sense to renovate and extend at a time of rapid house price rises, it’s no longer a no-brainer. Materials have become increasingly scarce, labour shortages are rife, and construction costs have spiralled by almost 25% over the last year.

Many argue that Brexit has exacerbated this problem, too. A shortage of overseas construction workers has also increased costs, caused delays, and undermined the renovations boom. In fact, it’s been an utter catastrophe for homeowners trying to complete projects on time and on budget.

So is it better to move rather than improve in the current climate?

Reasons to improve

Despite the recent challenges, there are still good reasons to improve your home. Adding an extension, loft-conversion, or garden room, for example, could increase it’s value by 5-15% according to Savills. Meanwhile, conservatories can add 10%, and new bathrooms up to 5%. Ka-ching.  

It’s also worth considering broader economic factors as well. With interest rates on the floor and inflation pushing the ceiling, investing in your home makes sense if you’ve got cash to spare. Why let your money stagnate (or even shrink) in the bank when you could pour it into your home, an asset that increased in value by an average of 10.6% last year alone?

Improving your home also means you get to enjoy the fruits of your investment every day. Imagine winding down with your feet up in a beautiful roomy extension. Every penny goes into improving your quality of life. Moving home means paying thousands in stamp duty, legal fees, surveys, and removal costs. 

What’s more, although the rising cost of construction and building materials is a concern, you can reduce the risk by hiring a builder on a fixed price contract. Brexit doesn’t mean Brexit when the shortage of HGV drivers transporting supplies is costing your builder rather than you. 

Reasons to move

Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. Moving offers a clean break and there’s far less disruption. Indeed, anyone who’s lived through the dust, the dirt, and the cold of a major renovation project will confirm that it’s a nightmare. Meanwhile, the expensive alternative to putting up with the mess – temporarily moving into rented accommodation – can be a pain in the posterior, too. 

Moving also gives you some financial certainty: agree a price and you’ll soon know how much lolly you’ll have to lay down. Building projects, on the other hand, are a step into the unknown. Fixed price contracts help but there are still unforeseen expenses. That’s why architects recommend leaving 10% of your total budget as a contingency.

All these problems are magnified at the current time. The price of everything from plastics and polymers to timbers and tiles has gone through the roof. Construction and building materials have increased by a whopping 23.5% over the last twelve months, with individual items going up even more. Timber and steel, for example, have risen a staggering 75%. Subcontractors’ rates are also at record levels. 

The bottom line is that some home improvement projects have become undeliverable for their original budget. Builders are therefore giving sky-high quotes at the start (so they’re protected if prices go up) or simply walking off-site when money gets tight. This can lead to expensive legal disputes.

Delays have also become a big issue. Contractors can no longer stroll into a builders’ yard and pick materials off the shelves like they used to. Hold-ups at ports and supply chain problems mean that smaller ten-week jobs are taking up to 16 weeks. Meanwhile, larger projects have been set back multiple months.

A word to the wise

Considering all the above, isn’t it better to move into a clean, shiny new pad that already has everything you need, rather than running the risks of the renovations gauntlet? It depends on your circumstances. If you love your current home, and you’ve put down roots, then improving rather than moving could be the best decision. It can work for you financially in the long-run too, especially if your budget is flexible. Just make sure that your eyes are wide open.

Moving, on the other hand, is more of a sure thing in the current crisis. If you do your research, buy in a popular area, and pay the right price, it should be relatively risk-free – especially as house price rises are set to continue over the next few years. Improving can also be risky because your architect’s vision may prove to be rather less visionary than you’d hoped. Sadly, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get your money back if you extend or renovate. Some extensions don’t age well. 

Finally, whilst nobody can claim that moving home is totally stress-free, it’s certainly less disruptive than embarking on major building work. What’s more, you can actually foreshorten the faff of moving by using a Home Setup Service that handles all the awful admin for you.

So should you stay and improve or go ahead and move? The choice is yours. But you’d do well to heed this wise summary by renowned property experts The Clash: if you go there may be trouble, but if you stay there could be double.

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