Home renovations in Dubai are often about luxury and opulence. Some residents buy expensive houses and then spend even more money to transform the property into their dream home. But whether they've added value to the property is another matter altogether. The home renovation trend peaked about a year and a half ago, says Manfred-Franz German, managing director of German Star Multiservices, a Dubai-based maintenance and home renovations company. At the time, everyone was buying freehold with the intention to sell at a profit.

"It was a big boom back then. Although fewer people are renovating at the moment, we still have regular contracts from those who wish to improve the quality of their home. More importantly, once the market picks up, those clients will have the upper hand when it comes to selling, as their homes will be of a higher quality than others in the neighbourhood."

Make a splash The most common renovation option is the installation or improvement of an existing swimming
pool. Manfred says that despite the popular belief that kitchen and bathroom renovations will add the most value to your property, the trend in Dubai differs from the rest of the world.
"Here, potential homeowners crave space. The more rooms a house has, the better.

A custom-made swimming pool also dramatically increases the property's value. Finally, if you really want to go all out, replace normal tiled and wooden floors with marble." Karl French, who lives in the Arabian Ranches with his wife Lisa and daughter Aliya, says that when he moved into his Hattan home, the first area they looked at renovating was the pool."We put in a large gazebo, a swimming pool, a Jacuzzi and a treehouse," says Karl. The French family also added several water features, tropical plants and paving to keep the ground cool in the summer months."When designing a garden, one should put the pool in first. Everything else can be built around that," says Karl.

The couple asked Pools By Design to create a pool that made the most of the surrounding view of the
golf course. Karl and Lisa consider the pool, which cost about Dh500,000 to build, a sound investment. The family knew that in a city like Dubai, pools are a popular way of relaxing after work.

Villas vs apartments

Manfred says that most of his clients live in freehold villas. "Making even the smallest renovation requires permission," he says. "Depending on the developer of your property, renovations can be extremely easy or nearly impossible to carry out. Although the rules for apartments and villas are the same, there are limited changes that can be made to an apartment." Most clients who have invested in freehold apartments go to Manfred for minor renovations such as painting or stucco work. While villa owners also face the permissions process, they're more likely to get potential changes approved, says Manfred.

"However," he adds, "making even the slightest change such as replacing a pipeline in the pool is illegal and might land you in court if you haven't got prior permission from the developers. In general, most developers are easy going and 99% of the time, the homeowner and developer reach an agreement as to how much of the property they are allowed to renovate and to what degree." He adds, however, that some developers are more difficult than others and can even
reject a change in paint colour.

"Most people come to us with requests to remodel, or add special lighting, marble floors, or change airconditioning ducts. While the client has the final say in what sort of renovation he wants done – from adding marble counter tops in kitchens to fixing floors – it is eventually the developer who has to give the thumbs-up first. Traditionally, a client would come to us with hopes and dreams for their house. After detailed discussions, we submit a plan to them which they then take to the developers for approval.

The standard practice is to leave a Dh5,000 deposit with the developer once he grants approval. On completion of the remodelling or renovation process, the developer comes to inspect the changes. As long as they are identical to what was approved on paper, the client gets their deposit back, we get paid, and the home owner not only has a more beautiful home to enjoy, but has probably just increased the value of his property."

Budget your build "The general rule of thumb in home renovations is to set a budget," says Manfred. "The accepted average over the last few years is to invest up to 30% of the value of the house in renovations. But we've had clients who have paid more for their renovations than the price of
their property. They want a house that's very unique." Although Karl did go over the 30% budget when planning his home, he stresses the importance of home improvements paying back in value and providing the family with a space to enjoy.

Karl says,"We renovated the house for ourselves. We wanted to live somewhere which felt like our own home rather than a developer's project. Although we did keep a budget in mind, it's difficult to give a precise assessment of how much profit will be generated from a particular renovation based on current versus projected market value of the property. When we bought the Hattan house in July 2007, we paid Dh9 million. Over and above that, a further Dh4 million was spent on renovation.

A year from the date we bought the house, the market value of the property, along with our renovations, was bringing in offers for Dh18 million. Today, we would still make a profit of Dh1 million on this house after the cost of renovations," he says.

While the outdoor area, pool and gardens were quite clearly the highlight of the French home, the couple also added a Mark Wilkinson kitchen, a snooker room and remodelled the interior living space to create individual rooms as opposed to an open plan living area. They also opened lift shafts and fitted floors to create storage on three levels; added a driver's room and built an exterior room with a bathroom, which is currently used as a gymnasium, but could easily be converted into an office space or a studio. Manfred cautions people against going overboard when altering a property's existing features. Converting a shed, garage or parking space into a bedroom or a maid's room may make no difference to the house's value; it may even decrease its value.

For many people, place to park is more important than having a spare bedroom. And when hiring a contractor, do your homework, he advises. If you want top results, use specialists."We went to three different companies for our home, based on their area of expertise," says Karl.

Manfred adds that before renovating, bear in mind the current market value of your house. "Don't aim too high. Look at the neighbourhood your house is in. While variations in price are fairly acceptable, when the cost of your home is almost twice the cost of the house next door to yours, a prospective buyer would naturally consider the other house. Alternatively, if yours is the only home in the block without a garage, consider investing in one. At least the value of your
home will be on par with others in the neighbourhood."

Count the cost

Quite often, internal changes can be easier to make and cost less than structural changes such as roof replacements or insulation, says Manfred. As a homeowner, check with the contractor what is included in the quote given, he advises. Does the total bill include the materials used, labour and cleaning?

If you need to take out a loan to renovate, now mightn't be the best time – depending on your financial circumstances. But if you have cash in hand and have wish to renovate your home, your timing couldn't be better. In the current climate, Manfred says renovation services are readily available.