Research reveals big jump in UK home owners renovating rather than moving

The number of home owners in the UK choosing to stay put and invest in their existing property instead of moving has soared in the past five years, according to a new report.

In 2013 just 3% of home owners took the decision to improve instead of move, but this has increased to 15%, rising to 26% amongst those aged 18 to 34, the research from specialist insurer Hiscox shows.

It suggests that a subdued and costly property market has been a clear catalyst for this trend. When questioned, some 25% of home owners cited prohibitively high property prices as the reason while 13% said stamp duty, 15% a sluggish property market, 8% potential interest rate rises and the same number mentioned uncertainty caused by Brexit.

The report points out that local councils have seen a 29% rise in the number of planning permission requests made by home owners over the last 10 years. Requests for loft renovations have seen the greatest increase at 114% from 2008 to 2017, closely followed by living room extensions at 113%. There has been a steep decline in planning applications for conservatories over the same period, down 74%.

However, demand is by no means uniform. In the London boroughs of Redbridge and Harrow one in every 28 households made a planning permission application last year compared to Weymouth and South Ayrshire where it was one in every 700.

Overall, bathroom and kitchen renovations are still the most popular, but garden renovations are now the third most common home improvement, and the renovation type that’s seen the most growth.

The research also found that today’s renovators typically set a budget of £16,100 per project and allow five months for work to be completed. But the experience of past renovators completing projects from 2008 to 2017 suggests this may be optimistic as 40% overspent by an average of 20%. Meanwhile, some 35% of projects faced delays with the average delay lasting three months.

Living in the property whilst work was carried out proved to be the biggest challenge, according to 40% of those who’ve completed renovations while 34% found finding the right tradesman and experts challenging and 25% struggled to stay within budget.

Some 17% of renovations resulted some form of neighbour disagreement. Issues include neighbours officially through the council and unofficially to the home owner complaining about the project and are this was more likely in London where 39% of projects resulted in some form of dispute.

‘The decision to improve instead of move is a new normal for home owners whose lifestyles are evolving. People are looking at ways to adapt their existing homes to meet their changing needs, whether that’s a growing family or the beginnings of a new home business,’ said Phil Thorn, head of direct home insurance at Hiscox UK & Ireland.

‘Many view home renovations as an easier or more economical alternative to moving, but our report highlights that these projects are often underestimated in both cost and scale,’ he added.

According to architectural designer and television presenter Charlie Luxton renovating and improving homes, especially if done in a sustainable way, is a good trend. ‘There’s been a generational shift resulting in more and more of us feeling empowered to change our houses rather than move. It also means people stay longer in their homes, which is usually beneficial for both community spirit and engagement in local issues,’ he said.

‘There is however, a big but. Renovating and extending houses is almost never easy, and should always be tackled with careful professional advice on both design and cost issues. Relying on optimism and a back of envelope cost plan can actually take longer and cost a lot more in the end, so don’t rush or cut corners in the planning stages as this is likely to show in the end results,’ he pointed out.

The research also found that many home owners are unaware that renovating without telling their insurer first can leave them with little or no cover. This is perhaps why only 17% of those who’ve previously renovated or are currently doing so notified their home insurer before work started, falling to 10% amongst those aged over 55.

‘A home is the most valuable asset the majority of people will ever own, so before making substantial changes to it, make sure you’ve got the right experts and tradesman and the right level of insurance. Many home insurers will limit or even withdraw the cover they provide when major renovations are undertaken, so having a conversation to understand whether extra cover is needed is also really important,’ Thorn explained.