Country houses for sale

Sandy Mitchell: Was it worth the effort?

One question has haunted me since work on restoring our house began and, like a shrill scream in the dark, it sends cold chills through me whenever I think of it. Have we been increasing the value of our home or blowing our children’s inheritance?

This matters much more if you do up a house hoping to bag an instant fortune with a quick sale. My wife and I are planning to make our old house into the family home, but even so, every monster bill has made us wonder anew if we could have bought somewhere bigger and in better condition at the start and saved ourselves the hair pulling and heart searching that goes with a major building project.

Well, I decided this week with rare bravery to face up to my fear. I invited an estate agent to view our nearly restored house and tell me what we could get for it. This was a high-risk strategy. He would probably say: ‘You idiot, you could have saved yourself bother and simply emptied your wallet into the gutter’. But in my more optimistic moments, I guessed we would come out more or less even if we sold up now. My wife just smiled bravely whenever the subject came up at home.

Not that it was any old estate agent I asked. This was the same man who sold us our house two and a bit years ago, a respected market veteran who could have been forgiven if his eyes had spun with pound signs when he first showed us around that day in August, 2003. We were young, obviously smitten with the rotting old heap in front of us, yet without an ounce of experience in repairing a derelict house, let alone a listed property. (One of our builders admitted recently that the first time he saw the place in its raw state, he bit his tongue to stop himself blurting out to me: ‘Blimey, you’re brave. Where are we going to start on this wreck?’)

So there is the estate agent this week, in his immaculate Prince-of-Wales check suit, eyes missing nothing as he inspects every room. He says little about our decoration. It is the space we have created that interests him: ‘Excellent. A master bedroom must have a generous bathroom. Good, good, you have made the downstairs extremely spacious?’

At the end of the tour, he turns to me abruptly and asks: ‘You know what your problem is?’ ‘Too few bedrooms?,’ I mumble, pulse racing. ‘Exactly. You have only got four, and a house this size needs more.’ I then tell him we are about to start restoring the old cart shed, which will give us another couple of bedrooms. ‘Well, in that case I think we could market this at? oh, let me see? a good 60% more than you bought it for.’ My head spins as I register that 60%. We have will have spent far less than 30% on repairs even by the time we finish the cart shed.

For the first time in my life, I wanted to kiss an estate agent. Instead, I rang my wife and the noise I heard when I told her the verdict was either the line breaking up or the phone being tossed through the air in frenzied jubilation.

This article first appeared in Country Life magazine on March 16, 2006.

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