If it’s broke, then buy it and fix it up for a tidy return

Q.Why should someone consider an unmodernised property?

A.Unmodernised property provides the opportunity to buy at a lower price than a recently modernised equivalent, and the chance to create one’s own home to one’s own taste and standards. People also enjoy the experience of renovating a property; it’s creative and fun.

Q.What are the biggest upsides?

A.A great experience, independence, creativity, satisfaction, getting the property you always wanted, and potentially short or long term profit. And don’t forget great dinner party bragging rights.

Q.What are the potential pitfalls?

A.Inexperience, false expectations or naivety can lead to significant problems with planning permission, builders, neighbours and re-sales; accurate financial planning is also a must, as is keeping an eye on bigger issues that can impact, such as interest rates. Stress, in a nutshell.

Q.Is it a huge commitment of time to take on an unmodernised property?

A.It depends on the percentage of cash, equity and personal resources you are committing, such as if you intend living in the property. But the rule of thumb must be “yes”.

Q.Just how “unmodernised” can these properties be?

A.From completely uninhabitable, e.g. not weatherproof and no services, through to a Knightsbridge penthouse requiring updating, e.g. fixtures may be 10+ years old.

Q.Can a non-investor renovate alongside a full-time career?

A.Yes. It’s a matter of planning and resources. Good time and project management skills, a good team of builders and advisors, budget management and communications skills as well as a clear strategy in terms of target property and vision for the end result (buy-to-let, resale, family home), can all come together to be a very rewarding experience and successful secondary career. Keep it close to your work/home as you need to visit the site for meetings and taking decisions with your builders/advisors.

Q.At what point is a house too ambitious a project for a full time professional to take on?

A.When it involves living in the property at the same time and the individual is not experienced in dealing with builders or project management. If it is too far away, too.

Q.Can you live in an unmodernised house while doing it up?

A.If you are prepared for the inconvenience in terms of the work, yes. Living in the property beforehand can be essential, as it can inspire the layout, changes and plans for the works. Top priorities are: good and varied local places to eat breakfast and dinner, a plan for what works need doing and when – stagger the bathroom works, for example. Prioritise health and safety of children and animals. Regarding dust and other detritus, try and stay on a different floor to the works. Also, book some weekends away for timely, much needed breaks.

Q.What’s the most common change that people make when modernising a house?

A.Opening up the kitchen/dining area, adding en-suite bathrooms, and opening up the living area. A close second come lofts, basements and rear extensions. Remeber that respecting building regulations and planning are a must.

Q.Any tips for choosing a contractor to help you?

A.Local recommendations, every time. Personal chemistry, too – you’re going to be seeing a lot of each other! Communication, especially re expectations early on, is also key.

Q.Does one need an interior designer?

A.For re-sales in prime areas to be competitive, absolutely, yes. For your own home, it depends if you have faith in your own taste. For rental, it depends on the premium you’re looking for, but not necessarily. A great source of project experience and advice, though, if it’s your first time out.

Q.London’s housing market is known to be off the charts in central areas – is this one way around those prices?

A.It certainly is, but this is a very competitive area, so you’ll still be paying to beat the competition, but probably significantly less than if the property were already modernised. Advantages can be found if you know your way around short leases or the auction houses too.

Q.Are there unmodernised properties for sale even in Prime Central London?


Price: £875,000; estimated refurb cost: £150,000

“This 3 bedroom terrace requires a complete refurb – it’s a good 12 week job for the builders. We would suggest knocking through the reception rooms to create one room and adding a kitchen side extension. The first floor is down to individual taste and requirements, but we would suggest bringing the back bathroom forward (into the storage space) and creating an extra bedroom. There is also a loft which could be converted into a bedroom with ensuite.”

Price: £4.25m; estimated refurb cost: £300,000-350,000 (includes cost of possible basement extension)

“This house hasn’t been touched in years and has planning permission for refurbishment and to extend a bit. The kitchen is currently on the ground floor, but we would advise moving it to the lower ground floor and creating a large open plan kitchen/family/breakfast room. The ground floor should comprise the entertaining space/formal dining and study. The first and second floor layout would depend on individual requirements, but could comprise a combination of 4+ bedrooms and 2/3+ bathrooms.”

Price: £465,000; Estimated refurb cost: £35,000

“This two-bedroom is a possible “do-er upper’” which could be lived in while the work is being done. It needs a new kitchen and we’d suggest looking into adding an ensuite shower to bedroom one. It’s a nice property for a first time buyer who’s looking for a project.”