Like many families, with the rise in the price of properties and with small but rapidly growing kids, we are kind of tied in to the house we have. Moving isn’t an option – the next step up the housing ladder is a rather BIG step. But equally, our own house has stepped up a rung or two since we’ve had it. We’ve paid off a bit of the mortgage and the value of the house has risen too, just like the bigger ones around us.
So given that we are here, at least for the foreseeable future, it makes sense to make the home we live in the best place it can be. It will benefit us now in the short term – and in the longer term, when we do get to the point where we want to sell it will be a benefit too. Being a bit geeky about the whole housing thing (I am a regeneration officer, after all) I did a bit of research into it, and it seems that a new bathroom can have a really big impact, with the value of the house rising far above what you actually spend. Loft conversions generally – win (not an option for us, unfortunately – stupid W beam roof), extensions (also not an option, stupid covenants, grr) and new boilers, double glazing and kitchens can all make decent dent in the ‘loan to value ratio’ (which basically means how much your house is mortgaged for, versus how much it is actually worth).
And don’t forget the little stuff. First impressions count, so a tidy garden, sparkly windows, and a well maintained frontage can instantly add to the appeal of a property – giving a good impression before you even walk through the door.
But of course, all this stuff costs money. So then I had to figure out how to pay for it…
Option 1: save some money. This is maybe doable in the longer term, theoretically, but it does mean that while we are waiting the general state of the house falls more and more into disrepair. The hole in the bathroom floor was never something that could wait…and the residual problems resulting from that quick fix really need sorting out sooner rather than later – having a bathroom that isn’t actually waterproof in any real way is a bit of a problem. I suspect the Other Half would also quite like to be able to stand up and have a shower at some point too, rather than cowering in the bath trying not to splash the surrounds. And although the ‘cone on the seat’ method of alerting us to a toilet that needs flushing has proved effective, I really would rather have a toilet that the kids could actually flush themselves. Particularly since they might then remember that toilets elsewhere do actually have working flushes!
So, Option 2: take out a loan. Dependent on the rate you get, this can be a good option, but it may mean quite a hefty monthly payment, depending on how much you need to take out. There are some great loans out there with fairly low interest rates, but depending on your outgoings and credit history, you may or may not get one. You can also get loans direct with kitchen/bathroom companies, but the disadvantage of that is that you end up tied in to particular range of products or contractors. If you like flexibility, it might not be the best option.
So then there is Option 3: equity release. This can be done in various ways, and for us, remortgaging seems to be a reasonable solution. We would take out more than we actually owe, which means our mortgage would go up a bit, but at the same time, once we do the work the value of the house will go up more, which kind of negates the owing more money bit as it’s beneficial in the short term (new bathroom, back door, kitcheny bits etc etc) and also in the longer term, selling wise. It’s not the best option for everyone, because even though interest rates tend to be lower on mortgages than they are for loans, the repayment periods are a lot longer, so you actually end up paying more. Weighing up the pros and cons is really important, and so we considered this very carefully before deciding to go forward with it. Money Saving Expert has a really good guide to whether you should remortgage, or not. There are also other ways to release equity, dependent on your property, and personal situation – for example, my Mum is looking at getting a conservatory added to her house, and she could release equity using a scheme specifically for older people who are very equity rich. All these options have the advantage of allowing you to stay in your own house, but enjoy the experience a whole lot more! In fact, the most popular use for equity release is home improvements – and not in fact buying a boat, or a sports car, or whatever other mid life crisis takes your fancy 😉
So we have our plan, and we’ve thought about our finances, and so we decided to make a start.
The start so far is two pronged – hitting the house from both ends. First off, we are working on improving the outside, something which we can enjoy now the nicer weather is starting and will also help the house to feel more welcoming, as soon as you see it. We are also working with the very top of the house – although a loft conversion isn’t an option, boarding out the loft so that it is usable for storage definitely is. And if we can get the loft decluttered and arranged so that it works well for us, that will have a big impact on the rest of the house.
Up into the loft I went, out came all the baby stuff – 5 years of accumulated stuff meant it looked like Mothercare had been sick up there. Then we merrily danced off to B&Q and grabbed some loft boards. A couple of hours later, and the loft was looking a lot better!
(By the way, if you want to board your loft yourself, it is pretty easy, provided you have someone strong to help you get the boards up there. Also, bear in mind loft boards come in two standard sizes, so make sure the size you choose will actually fit through your loft hatch!
When laying boards, it’s best to align them as if you were building a brick wall – make sure that all the joins aren’t in the same place. That gives the boards more stability and avoids creating weak points. Once they are in place, and you are happy, drill a couple of pilot holes and then use board screws to fix them down. If you don’t have loft insulation, this is a good time to get some as otherwise, if you decide to insulate in the future you’ll have to take the boards all back up again…also always use screws rather than nails or tacks – hammering in a loft is not a great idea as you may end up with cracks all over your ceiling).*
At the same time, we got a new seat to go on the patio area in the front garden (happy birthday to me!). It is a self assembly affair, and we also wanted to fix it to the wall so it doesn’t end up being acquired by someone, in the same way that our previous patio table wandered off into the night. So a ring and a metal chain were added to the DIY list.
In terms of the bathroom, the whole refurb is a little further down the line – equity release takes time as there are various hoops to jump through – but we have started acquiring some stuff. I found an integrated sink unit, matching cupboard, and toilet cistern cabinet that I really liked on sale at Victoria Plumb. I also found some great mosaic tiles on clearance at Topps Tiles. And the floor tiles have been sorted through Freegle 🙂 So we have things slowly stacked and waiting…and I’m on the hunt for a shower, towel rail and bath to match.
This all means that we are well on our way to achieving our better place. The list is long, but it’s slowly getting shorter – and achieving what we want to actually seems like a real possibility rather than a distant perhaps. Next up is renewing the kitchen worktops, hacking out the evil integrated fridge, and getting a kitchen tap that doesn’t try to wrench my thumbs off every time I use it.
I’ll update soon with how we get on…
Saga Equity Release kindly gave me some B&Q vouchers to help us make a start on our improvements, but being into DIY and housing as I am it’s something we were doing anyway – and we are actively undertaking our own equity release journey to fund our home improvements, adding to that ‘it’s very popular’ statistic 🙂
PS. Sorry, no boat for you, Other Half!
*I know this stuff because I worked for B&Q for a few years when I was at college, and they helpfully trained me up in all this stuff.