Pool your resources, save time and add money

Published in the Daily Telegraph, 18Nov2006

Take the plunge - getting rid of your swimming-pool could increase the value of your home. By James Trollope.

The symptoms of swimming-pool fatigue crept up on Paul Myles this summer, shortly after he turned 50. There was the sweat from preparation and maintenance, the irritation of rising bills and the guilt of contemplating 14,000 gallons of unused water from the window of his cramped study in the parched South East.

A nervous breakdown would have been understandable; instead, he found a cure.

"As I was painting the empty pool, which is 32ft long, 15ft wide and 6ft deep, it suddenly hit me that I could make better use of the space by converting it into an office," he says.

Truly, a Damascene moment in the deep end - but was it a vision that his wife, Kathy, and two children would share?

Son Louis, 23, wasn't impressed but, as neither he nor his older sister, Jo, 28, still live at the parental home, their opinions caused no more than a ripple.

"Louis was upset and I was a little bit sad. But I'm pleased from a ecological point of view, " says Jo, cradling Finlay, her new baby.

It was decided that Louis would have to lump it, while Paul would accommodate his grandson's aquatic needs by investing in a splash pool. That just left Kathy.

"Persuading her was difficult," says Paul. "In fact, it was harder than getting her to marry me."

The couple built the pool 20 years ago, shortly after moving to Lewes in East Sussex. Since then, as well as taking up about half the garden, it has become a symbol of family fun.

"I must admit that I didn't want to lose it at first," says Kathy, who works from home as a dress designer. "Apart from all the happy memories, it's a beautiful thing. But I did finally see that it didn't make a lot of sense because, despite all the sun we've had this summer, it wasn't used enough for the amount of work that went into maintaining it." So, the man who did most of that work eventually had his way but not without a tinge of regret.

"Getting it ready in the spring when the water is pea-soup green is a bore, and then you have to paint it every two or three years. But seeing it shimmering in the sun when you get it right can be wonderful. Then again, you can use it only for about 12 weeks of the year and after the children left our priorities changed."

The clincher was the jaw-dropping energy expenditure, which had pushed the pool's running costs up to about £1,500 a year.

Although he trained as a structural engineer, Paul, 52, organises art exhibitions (past ones include works by Rodin and Henry Moore) and has just completed a psychology degree at Sussex university. As he also works as a builder, a bigger office had long been on his wish list.

"Lewes District Council, the planning authority, had never been asked for permission to convert a swimming pool into a studio/office but they were very good about it and we got the go ahead."

Paul has built up from the bottom of the pool so that only the roof of the new building rises above the old water level. The chalet-style design reflects that of the main house.

The new office cost about £25,000 but Paul calculates that it has added about £90,000 to the value of the property, based on the fact that living space in Lewes is worth £300 per sqft.

"I think it's a great investment. If you're selling a house with a pool, you lose about half your prospective buyers because they just don't fancy the hassle of owning one. That can reduce the overall price of the property by about 5 per cent. Our new building has general appeal. It could be used as an office, a grannex or even be rented out."

Sensibly, he canvassed several estate agents before taking the plunge. "The consensus was that if you're selling a large country house with plenty of land, buyers might expect a pool. However, if the pool takes up a lot of the garden, from an economic point of view it might be better to get rid of it."

But leaving aside the economics, what about the glamour of those poolside parties?

"The snag was that you never enjoyed them quite as much as your guests did. I was always worried about the potentially lethal combination of alcohol, glass and deep water. It's rather like boats; it's better having a friend who owns one than owning one yourself."

But despite this fighting talk, next summer, when the sun peeps into his new office, I suspect that Paul might just hanker after that rectangle of sparkling blue. Then again, he'll have more money to spend on a fabulous holiday.