The memory came to me unbidden, triggered perhaps by the way the mellow afternoon light pooled on my living room carpet. It brought to mind another living room, loved and lost eight years ago. Homes you nearly bought are like unfinished romances?at some stage, years later, you are bound to wonder: ‘what if?’ And so I wondered and, after wondering (OK, and scouting the web for comparable homes) kicked myself. Hard.
Because missing out on that flat was probably the biggest property mistake I have ever made in my life. It’s not just that the place was perfect?a newly renovated home in a Victorian townhouse with sizeable bedrooms, a slick modern kitchen and a sun-drenched living room with views over the Chelsea roofs. It’s also that, at an asking price of £310,000, it was quite a bargain with fabulous capital appreciation prospects.
So why did I blunder so much on that one? My gut feeling was to make an offer but I over-reasoned myself out of it. It was a second floor-flat; the tube was ten minutes’ walk away; and, most of all, Earl’s Court?then not as gentrified as it is now?was ten minutes too close. And I ended up passing on a place that would, at an educated guess, be worth now at least £450,000.
Knowing that people make these kind of mistakes the whole time?or worse, mistakes of the reverse kind, where they end up buying a place that loses value over time?it’s small consolation. In a bid to make up for the appreciation I failed to capitalise on, I have asked a couple of estate agents to share their top tips to ensure that the next home I buy will retain or increase value over time.
Lindsay Burden, of rural estate agent www.foxgrant.com in Salisbury, reminds me that location makes all the difference. ‘Location will always be key to top values,’ she says. ‘Those that spot the next ‘hot place’ are sometimes just lucky that they’ve moved in before the bijou coffee bar or deli has opened. By contrast, a good house in a poor spot, such as one that is close to a busy road, under a flightpath, or has commercial premises nearby, will often take longer to re-sell.’
And really, thinking back to the perfect flat I missed out on, I should have figured out that any home in the outer reaches of Chelsea?no matter how close to Earl’s Court? was going to be hot stuff in years to come.
The state of a property can make a difference too. Tina Wenham of Mishon Mackay Land & New Homes in Hove says a new home bought off plan will give you the best value.
‘In many instances there have been cases where a purchaser has bought a property off developer plans at current market value, and by the time the property is built the values have increased and the purchaser has not only been able to retain the value but increase it,’ she says.
Structural renovations, such as re-roofing or thatching, are also guaranteed to be worth the investment because they ‘make the surveyor happy’ as Ms Burden says, and the house easier to resell. However, going overboard on the bells and whistles doesn’t pay. Several agents I spoke to told me that people who install tennis courts hardly ever see their money back.
The same applies to idiosyncratic décor. ‘A nice light contemporary feel to fitted kitchens and clean white bathroom fittings will often please more than the heavily furnished, highly patterned pad where ones personal history and stamp weighs down on the eye,’ says Ms Burden. ‘Equally, a hugely expensive marble floor might be lovely to you and your friends at cocktail hour by the pool, but may be slippery as heck and overwhelming to the next person.’
And the gardeners among us will do well to remember that, as Ms Burden explains, buying a home with a tidy, shrubby garden and a mown lawn can often lead to an easier resale than one with manicured high-maintenance beauty.
There’s only one hard-learned truth I’d add to all this useful advice: when in doubt over a purchase, follow your instinct.