TV property expert Phil Spencer talks about his partnership with Kirsty Allsopp and offers his top tips for home improvements and adding value. By Gabrielle Fagan
There are certain things in life that seem natural partners: strawberries and cream, sea and sand, and surely, Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp.
They're the yin and yang of property experts, with Phil's down-to-earth practicality and Kirstie's bubbly and effortless ability to bond with couples seeking homes on Channel 4's two hugely successful series, Location, Location, Location, and its successor, Relocation, Relocation.
"We're a bit like brother and sister because we know each other extremely well now," says Phil, with a smile.
"We know what makes the other tick, how to wind each other up, and all our bickering and teasing is totally genuine. What you see on the programmes is what we're like off screen.
"I'm practical, good on the structural aspects and get a buzz out of the buying deals. Kirstie's excellent at the architecture, interiors and getting inside people's heads and relationships. We complement each other well."
But while their TV partnership has run smoothly over the ten years since they found fame, the property market has been battered by the recession, and as a nation we've been forced to rethink our attitude to homes.
Now, the mantra's "don't move, improve" and Phil not only welcomes the change in approach, but has put together a new comprehensive guide called Adding Value To Your Home.
It evaluates a range of improvements as well as pointing out practical ways to make a home more pleasurable to live in.
"Both are important nowadays. The cost of moving is high and homes aren't shooting up in price as rapidly as they once were, so people are staying put much longer," Phil points out.
"It's good that we're returning to the idea that homes are sanctuaries and a refuge from the world of work, and not primarily assets that you just do up to make a fast buck. And after all, why only make
improvements before you sell? Do them now and get the benefit for yourself."
His golden rule for property buying is to "buy for the long term, adapt if necessary, or buy something to improve and add value."
Phil, 40, a qualified surveyor and property finder, followed his own advice when he bought the family home in Wandsworth, London, five years
ago, where he lives with wife, Fiona and sons, Jake, five, and Ben, three.
He's almost doubled the size of the five-bedroom semi, by adding a basement and a kitchen extension, and is currently creating a playroom for the children.
"Personally, I have no intention of moving again...that's our home for good!
"The market isn't going to race away as it once did. It will rise - but probably only around three to four per cent a year, so adding value will be key."
Follow Phil's advice on improving your home...
Extensions and lofts
"The way I look at it, it's cheaper to build a space than it is to buy it. Square footage costs money," says Phil.
"A well-thought-out extension can feel like you've created a completely new house. But think through your plans carefully so that you know the result will give you a practical, usable area and, if it's a kitchen extension, it doesn't overwhelm a garden."
Normally, he says, a skilful extension can add about 10-15% to the value of the home, while a loft, which can cost between $10,000 to $50,000, could potentially add between 15 and 20%.
But, he advises taking into account that storage space will be lost, and installing a staircase to access the loft will encroach on the floor below.
Phil's budget tip: If there's no money for large projects, make better use of your space. Re-organise rooms, knock down internal walls to create a better flow between rooms, and make practical improvements, perhaps by installing a downstairs toilet in an under-stairs space.
"Branded kitchens go in and out of fashion, so be careful what you choose," he warns. "You don't want buyers dating your kitchen by the colour or style of the doors, so opt for classic designs and easy-on-the-eye colours."
And, as the fashion is for a kitchen to be the multi-functional 'heart of the home', he believes it doesn't make sense to stint on appliances, worktops and tiles.
He says the majority of people spend around $10,000 on a kitchen, and agents estimate it can add around 5% to the value of a property.
"A good kitchen does sell a house faster. Estate agents tell me that women buyers put the kitchen at the top of the property wish list. But getting the layout right is crucial, so concentrate on putting appliances in the right place and having properly planned storage space."
Phil's budget tip: If a revamp is out of the question, simply change doors on units, add new handles and perhaps a new worktop. Employ a carpenter for a quality finish. Update light switches, replace worn flooring with tiles or stone, and de-clutter surfaces.
"A bathroom is a job most people don't want to do themselves, so it's always a relief to see that it's done when you're viewing a house," says Phil.
"Unless you're a Seventies aficionado, ripping out that avocado suite and wildly colourful tiles might be advisable!"
A skilfully revamped bathroom can add up to 10% to the value of your home, according to estate agents. Phil estimates the cost of replacing an average bathroom as $3,000-$7,000.
He suggests taking inspiration from hotel bathrooms and adapting some of their stylish ideas such as a bath with taps in the middle instead of one end, or double basins.
Use large tiles in a cramped bathroom to give an illusion of more space, and under-floor heating to free up the walls.
Phil's budget tip: "You can really add value if you splash out on quality tiles, lighting and cabinets. Adding big mirrors will also make a small bathroom appear bigger," he says.
Even spending a small amount, from $500 upwards, can add at least 3% to the value of a home, according to mortgage lender, GE money. A heated chrome towel rail, starting from around about $50, is a smart accessory.
Maintain and improve
"Ongoing upkeep and maintenance is crucial, as if you want to sell at a later date, few buyers will be interested in a property that looks as though it will be costly to repair and patch up," he advises.
Updating a boiler, ensuring wiring is up to date, and a roof is sound are essential basics, he says, and while they may not be visually decorative, they add to a property's worth and avoid the potential of expensive remedial work.
Phil's budget tip: New central heating is generally guaranteed to leave the homeowner with a profit when they sell, he believes. While it can cost between $2,000 and $3,000 to install, the value added can be as much as $5,000.
But, he warns, it's wise to make sure any fixtures and fittings improvements are in line with the price bracket of the property itself. Overspending on a low cost home is a waste, under-spending on an expensive property could lower its appeal.