Extend house or move house – making the decision to extend

extend house or move house

The fact you are reading this post indicates that you have already, at least partially, invested in the idea of extending your home. However, making the full commitment is a process in itself. In fact, making the decision to extend is the very first step in the house extension process. Let’s consider some of the main factors that should feed into your decision making of whether to extend house or move house.

Why are you thinking of extending?

People extend either because they need to or because they choose to. Perhaps you crave more space because the size of your household is growing, due to babies on the way or dependents moving in. The Covid pandemic changed the way many of us use our homes – homeworking and home gyms are here to stay, and these amenities need dedicated space. Perhaps finances now permit you to finally extend your kitchen. Or maybe you’ve come to the resolution that where you live now will be your home for life, and that it therefore warrants investment in future-proofing.

The first question to ask yourself: What problem am I trying to solve?

If you discover that you don’t have a space or amenity problem, do you really need to extend? Could something else satiate that need? Once satisfied that a genuine need to extend exists, identify what your motivation is: this will serve as your anchor point when making the numerous design and purchasing decisions further down the line.

For example, if the owners of an identical pair of adjoining 1930s semi-detached homes both decided to extend into their lofts. One of these homeowners wants to create a luxury bells-and-whistles master bedroom, whilst his neighbour intends to create another rentable room to supplement her state pension. In designing the space and purchasing materials (and following all the other steps in the home extension process) to serve their dissimilar needs, the two neighbours will end up with very different lofts.

What’s your backup plan?

There are various reasons an extension may never materialise, so it’s important to consider what you would do if yours didn’t work out. You may be refused planning consent; the cost of construction may be prohibitively high; a neighbour may kibosh the scheme; or personal circumstances like births, deaths, marriage, divorce, a career change or a knock to your finances could all stop your plans dead in their tracks. Therefore, think ahead about a plan B in case plan A doesn’t work out.

extend house or move house

What about moving?

One such option would be to move house, particularly when economic stimuli such as stamp duty holidays or guaranteed deposit schemes are in play. These financial incentives could make a move that was previously out of reach, suddenly viable. Similarly, you could achieve more living space by moving further out of town. Alternatively, ‘substitutes’ to full extensions – like prefabricated garden rooms or conversion of the space you already have within the footprint of your home – might give you the additional amenity you need without needing to extend. Additionally, flexibility on the scope of the project (down-scaling), the timing (delaying) or the budget (increasing), could all make extending a realistic option once again.

Is this the right time to extend?

Even the best-planned extensions can become arduous if works interfere with important life events, so it is imperative you only pull the trigger when the timings work for you. There are many milestones in life that you would do well to plan works around. Chief amongst these are schooling and exams (namely 11+, GCSEs and A levels); the arrival of a baby; or known work commitments, where project deadlines or travel will prohibit you from giving the project the attention it requires.

Think also about the project timing in the longer term. It might make sense to extend now, but would it still be a sound decision in five years’ time? No one knows what the future may hold, but if you plan on having more children, or it’s likely a dependent relative may need to move in, then perhaps the pragmatic choice for the longer term might be to bite the bullet and up-size ahead of time.

Additionally, consider the timing in relation to wider external matters. What’s happening in the economy – are we in recession? Is the job market healthy? What’s the trend in the housing market? Is the construction industry sufficiently staffed with skilled labour for the standard of work you expect?

Finally let’s not forget the Great British weather. Although the timing won’t particularly impact the builder’s availability, you may feel more comfortable undertaking works during the spring and summer months, when general disruption from having a chunk of your home open to the elements is a little more bearable.

Are your expectations realistic?

Ask any of the professionals you will encounter in the home extension process – builders, tradesmen, architects and surveyors alike – and they will all tell you that the most difficult aspect of their job is managing their client’s expectations. Often, a homeowner’s expectations on what things cost, how long they take and what they involve are (to the homeowner’s detriment) painfully misinformed. The best advice on this is to bin any such preconceptions and be willing to start your fact-finding afresh. The arrow of time only moves one way, and it takes prices with it.

You’ll be forgiven for wondering then, just how to get your expectations on cost, time and disruption caused by works in tune now, when you’re not due to formally gather quotes and speak to builders till later in the process, when knowing this now may well inform determine whether to extend or not. The process outlined here on how to get the best quotes from the right builders, and other posts explained throughout this blog are guides designed to give you perspective on the entirety of the process, but it remains a process guide rather than job-specific detail. If you feel you need more insight now, for example on build costs, you can speak to a builder generally about your intended plans. However, take any cost indications with extreme caution – without specificity, they will not be accurate.

It is imperative that you do not base your decision on what you read online, where the content is most likely to be outdated, biased or simply clickbait.

The sole purpose of speaking to a builder at your initial decision-making stage is to gain some idea of the financial viability of extending. If the numbers you hear are consistently higher than you could realistically budget for, you’ll need to think twice before proceeding any further. Also, remember that the builders you informally speak to now should in no way influence the thoroughness with which you formally shortlist builders later in the process.

When it comes to timescales, for most projects involving a planning application, structural work and party wall notices, you should allow 12–20 weeks to get through the architectural stages and party wall matters. The physical build phase will vary hugely from project to project, but whatever plans you and your new team come up with, always allow an additional 20% to the allotted time-frame. This will help you to avoid undue stress when scheduling in the rest of your life post-works.

Finally, be prepared for disruption. Dispel any notions you harbour about the building work happening in harmony with your day-to-day life. Having a building crew on-site daily, with delivery trucks bringing tonnes of material to your front door, will inevitably affect how you live your life. There’s no such thing as quiet building work, and dust will find its way through the tiniest gaps. The tradesmen will need to disconnect and reconnect utility services from time to time, and you’ll be regularly summoned to the building site to make and confirm decisions.

Go into the build phase knowing that life won’t be in any way normal for a few weeks or months. If it is too much to bear, you can always move out for the duration of works, but you must still be available to visit the site on most days.

What else could you do with the cash?

If you’re motivated to get more living space because other options simply aren’t feasible, you will extend no matter what. However, if you wish to do so out of choice rather than necessity, then as a closing consideration, think about how else you might be able to use the money to improve your lifestyle. The hottest property trend in 2022 is the UK holiday-home market, and it might well be worth investing in a seaside getaway. Indeed, buy-to-let investments generally remain popular, despite the 2017 introduction of the landlord tax. Or perhaps you could join the urban rich in ditching the city for the country, to enjoy being lord of your very own manor. Pondering the alternatives is always a worthwhile exercise. At the very least, you will come away positively reaffirmed in your decision to extend.

Many homeowners will never have the need or desire to extend their home; some might undertake an extension project once in a lifetime; and others may do so every time they move house. Whatever the case, extending isn’t an easy prospect – it is costly, disruptive and time-consuming. It is therefore imperative that you, as homeowner and paymaster, take time to scrutinise all the considerations above before committing yourself to the work.