Is moving always the answer? One family decided to renovate instead...

Instead of buying a larger home and paying the dreaded stamp duty, one couple spent a similar amount on their new house, creating extra family space with a fabulous new extension.

For most Britons, the new stamp duty rates mean paying a bit less of this hated tax, which can only be a good thing. But in London, where lots of pretty ordinary houses and flats are valued above £1 million, the new rules mean paying more when you buy. The 10 per cent rate is payable above £925,001, and on a property valued at £2 million, stamp duty will now be an eye-watering £153,750.

So why move, and give all that cash to the taxman, if you can stay put and use the money to turn your present house into the home you really want, with far less upheaval and stress? 


Let the makeover begin
This is what the Westcott family did last year with their tired, dark, badly designed, stuck-in-the Sixties three-bed room brick townhouse in Notting Hill. They spent just over £150,000 including architect’s fees on the house, which is now worth about £2.9 million.

For that, they got nearly 20 per cent more space, a new basement, a new glazed extension to the garden, a roomier kitchen, an extra bedroom, a cinema/games room, two extra bathrooms and a much-improved roof terrace. 

The family-friendly kitchen-diner leads straight on to the living area

Eye surgeon Mark Westcott and his wife Sandrine, who have two sons, bought the house in a back street in 2012. It was not one of those pretty Notting Hill powder-coloured terraces, but a brick upended oblong, with a yard, again in brick, as well as a dark half-basement used as a utility room at the back. 

Inside the front door was a poky lobby, a small, dark kitchen, and then a few stairs down to the main living area, by way of a strange, galleried space with teak handrails that was neither a proper room nor useful. At the rear were small windows and a door to the yard. 

The first floor had two bedrooms and a bathroom, while the top floor held the master bedroom with a bathroom jutting into it, and there was a small door and window to a roof terrace. A friend  introduced the Westcotts to architect Peter Morris.

The property was very dated, he says, and the ground floor was “not welcoming, and not really used.” The couple wanted to create a contemporary, welcoming family home. “They had about £150,000,” Morris says, “which is relatively low. But good design is about spending in the right places. You could spend it all on a kitchen but, if you want to, you can get something pretty special with that amount.”

Once hired, Morris did a survey of the whole house. He thought it was odd that the basement only went halfway under the property so, bearing in mind that money was tight, he had a few exploratory holes made in the wall. What he found surprised everyone. Under the front half of the house was a room-sized hole, with an earth floor. 

Film fans: the Westcott's chose to use their new basement for an exciting cinema and games room

Family cinema room 
Morris knew that, subject to planning permission, he could turn this into a proper, extended basement. And since the family are movie buffs, they ended up with a cinema and games room, a spare bedroom and a bathroom.

Upstairs, they took out the pointless lobby, and knocked the kitchen right through into the odd dining platform, creating a big, open ground floor with front-to-back light and a friendly kitchen-diner leading directly to the living area.

On the back of the living area, using permitted development rights, Morris put a small extension with bi-folding doors and a roof light, which draws the small yard and the living space together, and brings even more light into the house.

There is also glass set into the floor here, sending light down to the basement. 

Space and light: the opened-up dual-aspect ground floor

But there was still money left. On the first floor, which the boys took over, the main bathroom got a revamp, and the older brother got his own en suite bathroom. For the parents on the top floor, the clumsily placed bathroom was moved, which created space for a romantic picture window and glass door out to the roof terrace.

The house is completely different now. Three bathrooms, more light, and space that works in the way the family wants it to, particularly on the opened up dual-aspect ground floor, plus the amazing basement, is a lot of bang for their buck.

The basement even went through planning permission with no problem because hardly any excavation was needed.

So if you’re on the horns of a stamp duty dilemma, ask yourself: is moving really the answer?

  • There are a few places left for New  London Architecture’s Don’t Move, Improve! free open day on Saturday January 24 in Store Street, WC1, where you can have a chat with an architect. For full details visit
Peter Morris at
Builder: TR Properties Ltd at
Ground-floor flooring: walnut from the Natural Wood Floor Company at
Bi-folding doors: supplied and fitted by pmwindows4you at
Kitchen appliances: from Elan Kitchens in Fulham at
Oxford Antracita ceramic wood-effect bathroom floor tiles: from Porcelanosa at
Ona wavy bathroom tiles: from Porcelanosa, as before 
Bathroom white goods: from the Bathroom Discount Centre, Fulham, at
White paint throughout: Linet at
Sound system throughout the house: by Sonos at

New Stamp Duty rates
When you buy a home these are the stamp duty bands you'll fall into:
Value of home Tax rate
£0-£125,000 0 per cent 
£125,001-£250,000 two per cent
£250,001-£925,000 five per cent
£925,001-£1.5 million 10 per cent
£1.5 million-plus 12 per cent

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