House prices are rising but British homes, already among the smallest in Western Europe, are shrinking. But could the solution be lingering just beneath the surface with the addition of a basement extension?
Creating additional living space in a home is one of the best ways to increase the overall value of a property and can also stave off a home move for a growing family, and that means it’s not a surprising that more people are digging below the garden to create a subterranean space.
And in comparison to the traditional extension, one of the prime benefits is that you don’t forfeit your outside living space.
So could it work for you? We take a look...
The idea of a basement may conjure up images of cold, dark and damp space, but it needn’t be the case. With astute design the use of light boxes and frosted skylights in the garden, basements can be filled with natural light.
“Nowadays you see more and more carefully constructed, smaller basements which cleverly and tastefully incorporate family space,” commented Lochie Rankin, director at Lichfields estate agency.
But he adds that to make it feel light and give a sense of space, it’s important to dig down far enough to provide high ceilings.
Blaze Stojanovski set up Blaze & Co, a company that creates basements that extend beyond the original footprint of the house and under the garden.
He commented: “The key to their success is ensuring that they feel integral to the house... by ensuring they have ceiling heights that are similar to the upper floors and that natural light flood the space at both the front and rear."
What should you use a basement for?
Though many people have created kitchens and dining rooms in the basements, the best uses for are TV rooms or gyms, where it might not matter so much if the room is darker, suggests Rankin.
“You need to think about the functionality of the room and whether a little less natural light will really matter. Another key element is to always use light and neutral decoration in the basement, don’t make it darker than it already is with a colour palette that is too strong.”
Creating a basement extension
Converting below the surface will cost thousands of pounds and is more expensive than a traditional extension or conversion. Owners need to think carefully about the cost and expected change in property value to ensure the project is worthwhile.
“Much depends on the location as to whether it will pay for itself; in prime central London it totally will, and in south west London where more families are digging down to create more space, it also makes financial sense,” said Hugo Thistlethwayte, managing director of buying agency Prime Purchase.
“But beyond actually paying for itself in terms of what you get back when you sell the property, if the basement gives your family the space it needs so you can stay put rather than move, it can save you tens of thousands of pounds in stamp duty alone so could be worth it.”
Before work commences, home owners need to apply to their local council for planning permission.
Thistlethwayte recommends talking to your neighbours beforehand: “They may be planning to do the same and if you can dig basements at the same time, you could share some of the costs.”
There have been cases of below-level extensions creating subsidence in nearby properties in Kensington, West London, as a result, the local council has reigned in permission for the extensions.
The soil type has a big impact on the potential for such problems, with sand or clay among the most problematic. Large tree roots can also throw up problems.
Regardless of soil and trees, basement excavations are likely to create problems and disruption for neighbours that can go on for up to a year. And if you damage their property during work, you will be liable to pay compensation, which can significantly ramp up costs.
“The main problem with basements are the neighbourly disputes and resentment from people living in the vicinity. Whilst a party wall agreement has to be paid by the person doing the works, as well as compensation for any damage to their property, this is not always in balance with almost a year’s worth of dust and disruption,” said Lichfields’ Rankin.
“But in cities where space is tight, whether it is above or below ground it will continue to achieve a premium.”