The Side Return Extension – Making the Most of Limited Space (Part One of Two).

The side return extension is a relatively new term in the lexicon of builders and homeowners alike, and here we are going to take a closer look at the journey to its arrival as a great way to extend and maximise the ground floor space of your home. Once you understand the ingenious nature of the side return extension, that it maximises the use of available unused space (the emphasis here being on the word ‘unused’), the chances are the more you will see it as a viable option for your current Victorian terraced home.

Here at Vitex Construction Ltd. Aside from renovating old properties and building new properties in London and the Home Counties, we also specialise in side return extensions, so we thought we would share some of our knowledge with you in a series of two hopefully useful and informative blog articles.

What is a side return extension?

A side return extension is a ground floor, single-storey extension associated with Victorian terraced property and which occupies that external space between the kitchen at the rear and the wall of the neighbouring property. Side return extensions are architecturally designed to open out the living space in your home and, usually, to provide you with a larger, open plan kitchen-living area. Additionally, many side return extensions are built with a glass roof to bring in as much natural light to your home as possible.

Understanding Victorian terraced housing

To understand why side return extensions are associated predominantly with Victorian terraced homes, it helps to understand the original design. Prior to the 1940s, aside from homes built for the very affluent, houses were not built with indoor toilets or bathrooms as we know them today. With Victorian and Edwardian terraced houses, there would be an outside WC, usually at the far end of the garden or rear yard, and taking a bath meant filling a metal tub with hot water. In the smaller, ‘two up two down’ terraced houses, taking a bath involved putting a metal tub in front of the fire and filling it with hot water. With the ‘arrival’ of indoor toilets and W.C.s in the post-Second World War era, many of these smaller terraced houses required extensions to make room for a bathroom.

  This was not the case for the larger Victorian terraced house that would be home to the middle classes. Most of these Victorian terraced houses of this era were built on a fairly standard layout of two reception rooms, a kitchen and a scullery on the ground floor, three bedrooms and a bathroom on the first floor. You will also notice the word ‘bathroom’ on the plan, but do not be misled. In Victorian times, the bathroom was a room which contained no plumbing, but which had a cast iron bath in it and a washstand with a bowl. There was no W.C. That was outside and would generally be there, even for newly built houses, up until after the Second World War.

However, the good news was that from the 1950s onwards, incorporating a ‘modern bathroom’ in these properties was easy as there was already a designated room. There was never a need to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ and sacrifice any space.

Victorian design created the perfect layout for side return extensions in London

Earlier on we stated that side return extensions were so effective because they utilise available unused space. In the floor plan above, you can see exactly what we mean when you look to the left of the kitchen and scullery. All that space is used simply as a means to access the rear courtyard or garden. With space at a premium and property prices in London continuing to soar, not everyone who wants a larger home can afford to move. Beyond that, many Victorian terraced houses have already converted the loft space to maximise the number of bedrooms, but this, in itself, can create an imbalance in the dynamics of the home. Too many bedrooms and not enough ‘living space’ doesn’t work. The solution to this problem can be the side return extension.

How much does a side return extension cost?

There is no single fixed figure for the cost of a side return extension, as much will depend on the design and size. In London, building costs are not cheap and we are not going to pretend they are not. Unfortunately, when it comes to building property, ‘cheap’ usually equates to very poor quality.

What you should concentrate on with regard to a side return extension is whether it will meet your needs. Will the additional living space give you what you need? If it does, then let’s examine the financial side.

As a very general rule, a side return extension can cost between £50,000 and £95,000 depending on the size and design. This figure does not usually include internal furnishings or finishes like a fitted kitchen or ceramic tiled flooring.

We have created a handy cost calculator for you to use to give you a good idea of the likely costs of a side return extension, but this is purely a guide.

Is a side return extension a good investment?

According to property specialists KFH, it is. “Improvements which do generally offer a good return on investment include: Extending into the side return or garden to create a large, open plan kitchen / reception. These extensions add the wow factor and are hugely sought after and therefore tend to sell extremely quickly.”

Beyond this, there is also another factor that many of you may fail to include in your budgeting between extending your current home, or moving, and that is what we call ‘dead money’ – money you are simply ‘throwing away’ when you move.

What are we talking about?

Well, according to the Evening Standard, a Victorian terraced house in London had a value at the end of 2019 of just under £500,000 with an average year-on-year growth rate of 5%. However, to keep the sums simple, lets take an average price of £500,000 for your current home, and a price of £750,000 for your new home.

  To sell your current home, if an estate agent charges you 2% + VAT, you will have to give them £12,000. Stamp duty on a purchase of £750,000 would be £27,000 and you could add around £5,000 for conveyancing and miscellaneous fees for the sale and purchase. Factor in £3,000 for removals and bang, you have just spent £47,000 that you will never see again. Ouch!

Investing that £47,000 in a side return extension will not only improve your current home, but you will also get a financial return on it. Doesn’t that make more sense? 

Design, legal and planning aspects of a side return extension

Beyond what we have told you above, there are the design, legal and planning aspects, which we will cover in the second part of this blog article, which we hope you will find just as useful.

In the meantime, if you are in the early stages of wondering if a side return extension could be a solution to your current needs, why not give us a call and we’ll be more than happy to come out and see you, have a chat and provide you with a no-obligation quotation, at absolutely no cost, guaranteed.