Renovating property: how to turn an ugly duckling into a swan

Worried your house is looking shabby? Well, you should be. Very few things put off buyers more quickly than a property that, however smart inside, is an eyesore from the street. Perhaps the paint is peeling, or the windows are hideous, or the roof slopes at an odd angle. Whatever the problem, the property will lack what is known in the trade as “kerb appeal”. This is the indefinable something that lures buyers in off the street and persuades them to part with their money.

“Properties with immaculate exteriors tend to sell much more quickly,” says Giles Hannah of London estate agent VanHan. “At the moment the average property in prime central London is taking just seven weeks to sell. But if a property has an exterior that is unattractive, for whatever reason, it can take four or five times longer, particularly if there is no development potential or the property is listed.”

That may sound like simple common sense, but it is surprising how many people miss the obvious point. Home-owners are sensitive souls, quick to take offence. Calling a property ugly is a complete no-no. Even if a house has been built by cowboys, battered by hurricanes or blighted by the erection of a wind farm at the bottom of the garden, you will not find estate agents resorting to the U-word. “Characterful”, “Unprepossessing”, “In need of some attention”, or “Typical of the period” – every euphemism in the lexicon will be used instead. Nobody wants their precious home to be branded an ugly duckling.

They are blunter about these things in America, where the splendidly no-nonsense website, does exactly what it says on the tin, purchasing distressed properties at knock-down prices and finding someone, anyone, prepared to take them on. “Frankly we couldn’t care less how ugly your home is,” says the gung-ho prospectus.

Whatever you call them, the point about ugly ducklings, as everyone knows, is that they are prospective swans. “The uglier the property, the greater the potential to improve it,” says Michael Holmes, author of Renovating for Profit and presenter of television shows such as Don’t Move, Improve. “Even in a stagnant property market, it is quite possible to buy a property for £400,000, spend £50,000 on it and sell it for £600,000 12 months later. It is just a question of finding the right property and improving it in a systematic way, getting to the bottom of what makes the property ugly, and then addressing those issues, not wasting money on purely cosmetic improvements.”


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