VALUE UP: A Malaysian property manager dishes out some valuable tips on renovating your London property
Malaysians prefer to buy London properties which are either brand new or have been recently built(in the last ten years). Recently built properties very seldom require major renovations such as structural work or complete rewiring. The focus of this article is therefore on small renovations to upgrade tired and outdated properties.
Perceived value is an important concept for landlords to understand – it describes the amount that your tenants believe the property to be worth, as opposed to the amount that has actually been spent on it. You can increase the rent of your property by taking steps to raise its perceived value. Making cosmetic changes and fitting new appliances are often cost– effective ways of doing this.
Where to Add Value Decoration
• Freshen up paintwork with bright neutrals that will appeal to most tenants. Choose blinds and curtains that are functional as well as plain coloured. You can add accents through accessories.
• Usually the best room to upgrade is the kitchen. Depending on the property and its target tenants, you may wish to invest in good reliable brands for all the standard range of kitchen appliances. Additional appliances can be used as selling points for the property. For example, very few budget or mid-range offerings will include a dishwasher but the increase in rent that this appliance will command is likely to be significantly larger than its cost over the course of a couple of years.
• Where possible, avoid gas appliances. The Gas Safety Regulations Act 1998 say that landlords must ensure that all gas appliances, fittings and flue provided for tenants’ use are safe and annual safety checks must be carried out by a Gas Safe Registered Installer for each gas appliance. Therefore, an electric hob is preferable to a gas cooker as it is safer and you will not need to have to pay for the gas man to issue you a Landlord’s Gas Safety Certificate every year.
• Light coloured suites are best, preferably white. Bathroom fittings should be good quality chrome – cheap chrome plated ones flake. Larger showerheads often look more impressive and luxurious so it may be worth investing in just one item like this.Make sure there is adequate storage space or, at the very least, a vanity unit with mirror over the sink.
• Go for porcelain tiles as they are virtually indestructible. Avoid marble and limestone tiles as they are a nightmare to maintain. The last thing you want is a rainbow of hair dye colours left on your expensive limestone tiles.
• Check water pressure in the property. Adequate pressure is required for a mixer shower tap and if this is not available, a pump will need to be installed.
• Where space allows, install a separate shower cubicle. Avoid wet rooms as it is expensive to install and even more expensive to maintain. Water leaks are expensive to trace and, unlike Malaysian houses, many properties do not have underlying concrete floors and therefore water leaks are not contained.
• If space is at a premium, at the very least install an over head shower above the bath and an over bath glass panel. Shower curtains do not do a good job of containing water and they get mouldy over time.
• Always install the correctly powered extractor fan to ensure the bathroom does not get steamed up. Depending on the location of the bathroom, consider buyinga fan that switches on automatically when you switch on the light.However, you may not want this for an ensuite.
• A heated towel rail is an extra that is worth spending. It provides both heating for the room and also warms up the towels.
• Where tiles are used on the floor, consider underfloor heating. Underfloor heating is now a modern lifestyle demand, especially for more upmarket properties.
• Surprisingly carpet is a good choice for general areas other than kitchen or bathrooms. It is relatively inexpensive to replace and steam cleaning between tenancies will keep it looking good. Most important here is the choice of a good hard wearing type and to avoid very light colours.
• Wooden flooring is increasingly seen by tenants as a high value addition to a property. However, if your property is a flat, check that wooden or laminate floors are allowed under the lease and do not put them in if they will create a lot of noise for the flat downstairs. Note that both wooden and laminate floors will need more maintenance in the UK as most tenants wear shoes inside their homes.
• Other flooring options such as tiles and linoleum may be more hygienic and hardwearing but may be less attractive or hard on your feet.
• Where lighting is concerned, the more the better. This does not mean having a room that is over bright but one where light comes from many different sources, creating layers of overlapping pools. Fit dimmer switches wherever possible for a versatile lighting system.
Built in Wardrobes
• Good built in wardrobes are essential, especially for the master bedroom. Built-ins provide lots of storage and maximise usage of space.
Switches and Door Handles
• Changing electrical sockets and switches will modernise and upgrade the property at a modest cost.
• Changing door knobs of cabinets/wardrobes will add a ‘wow’ factor to otherwise plain wardrobes.
Budget: Decide in detail what your planned renovations are and provide a budget for each project. Whatever your budget, always allow an extra 20 per cent for unexpected mishaps. Renovating never goes 100 per cent smoothly and there will always be unexpected costs.
One thing Asians need to understand is the high cost of living in UK and the associated cost of tradesmen, especially in London. Many try to translate the cost of the project into Malaysian ringgit and deem it overly extortionate.
Apply for Consents
At the earliest possible stage, you should identify which aspects of your proposed renovation project require statutory consent. You need to know whether or not the work requires planning permission, building regulations approval and, in the case of listed buildings, listed building consent. Note that sometimes applications can take several months. For example, if you have a Grade II listed property – that is a property in a building of special interest, warranting every effort being made to preserve them (94 per cent of listed buildings fall into this category), you may wish to apply for consent with your existing tenant in situ so that you can still have rental income whilst waiting for consent to come through.
If only a statutory consent is required for all or part of your proposed works, note that planning decisions are supposed to take eight weeks and a full building regulations application five to six weeks.
Select your partners: How to find a good builder? Start by asking your friend, letting or managing agent to recommend a contractor if you do not already know of one.Find out whether the contractors are members of any reputable trade associations like the National Federation of Builders, etc but note that some good contractors do not register because of cost issues.
Make sure that the builders provide you with an up to date copy of their public liability insurance certificate. This will be necessary to claim the cost of repairing any damage that occurs in your property, including damages to the building.Before you decide on a building contractor, obtain at least three quotes for the work required. Do not just go for the cheapest quote but take everything into account including the approach to the job, timing, etc.
Where possible, you should also hire a project manager to oversee the work. This will ensure that work is carried out on target and progress payments only made when the work is completed.
Rules and Regulations: In the UK, there are not many flats which are freehold and this means that you should check your lease with regards to renovations for your property. Talk to the porters in the building and establish what the rules are with regards to bringing in contractors on site and the hours they are allowed to work. Many management companies of flats will insist that you write in to advise of work to be done and the start and completion dates.
Some will require a Schedule of Condition to be submitted so that post renovation, any damage to communal areas will be established by comparing to the initial Schedule of Condition. In some old mansion blocks, where there is communal heating and hot water, there may be costs associated to draining down and refilling the central heating systems. In such situations, it may be advisable to do renovations in the summer when there is not such a small window of time where the systems can be off.
Summary: Renovation requires careful planning and research but a renovation well done can attract good tenants, higher rents and increase the capital value of your property.
Lai Sim Soh is a Malaysian living and working in London. She runs an interior design and residential property management business, and through www.myukpropertyconnection.com, she specialises in managing properties owned by people from Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore.