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By Nicholas Barrett

In the UK housing market it is becoming increasingly popular to consider a basement conversion as a practical way to create more living space in your home. And while this is generally a highly cost-effective route to enlarge your home, there are a number of key considerations before embarking on such a project.

The UK housing market faced a number of challenges through 2008 and 2009 which are having a longer term impact. The depressed condition of the market reduced sales volumes, making it more difficult for families to move up to a suitable larger property in the area where they want to live. A number of government initiatives such as mandatory property reports and home energy assessments increased the costs of moving house. And there is stamp duty – a tax on housing sale transactions – which reaches 4 per cent for homes sold for more than £500,000.

At the same time, hard-pressed banks have restricted the availability of mortgage finance for those looking to trade up to a larger home. Ironically, with low bank base rates, some of those finding themselves unable to obtain more borrowing have been paying less for their existing, variable rate mortgages; these householders have been more inclined to spend their spare cash on home improvements such as a basement conversion.

While the space it creates invariably improves a home's value, a basement project should not be undertaken lightly. Many homes will require underpinning or improvements to the home's foundations. A foolproof waterproofing system needs to be installed. Ventilation needs to be carefully planned. And the construction of some basement conversions can generate unavoidable disruption.

Many of these issues can be mitigated by the careful selection of a contractor. Too often, people select a building contractor based on price, but in the case of a basement conversion it is more important than ever to get away from a purely price-oriented decision. Basement excavation and construction is a specialist skill, so ensure that any contractor can demonstrate a track record with testimonials available from satisfied customers.

Does the contractor use an established method for ensuring waterproof interiors? Several proprietary systems are available, using not only a waterproofing membrane but a drain sump with extract pump. Those who trust in a simple tanking or waterproofing layer may be storing up problems for the future, as groundwater levels in many British towns can rise and fall with the season; the pressure the water exerts will always find out and penetrate any shortcomings in workmanship.

Do you need planning permission and has the project received full approval from the local authority's building control officer? Quite apart from covering the structural and fire safety of the proposed changes, these essential steps also ensure that the expanded home is saleable in future; any buyer's solicitor will check to be sure changes to the building meet regulations.

Should you know of friends or work colleagues who have had a basement conversion carried out, that may be a good place to start your contractor selection process. Ask any contractor for the opportunity to speak with previous clients, to get a feel for the quality of their workmanship. If they are slow to provide you with the information, then you are right to be cautious. And finally, in hard economic times, ask how the contractor expects to be paid. While it is normal for stage payments to be made during the project, those requesting substantial payments may not have the financial strength to complete the project.

As with any project affecting your home, do your research first and you can significantly reduce the risk of problems along the way. Most basement conversion projects provide not only additional useful living or working space in the home, but they also increase the home's value significantly more than the cost of the build when the time comes to sell.


Nicholas Barrett is a director of Barrett Kent Ltd, cellar and basement conversion specialists based near Ripon.

Barrett Kent has more than a decade of experience in completing basement and cellar conversions. All the company's work is backed by a 10 year workmanship guarantee and all basement conversions and cellar conversions have a 30 year waterproof membrane guarantee.

Based near Ripon, Barrett Kent undertakes cellar and basement conversion projects through the north of England including North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Teeside.