Do you want to improve your home but don’t know how to go about it? Or are you thinking of selling your house? Then why not hire an architect to reveal your property’s hidden potential? Here’s some inspiration from a new breed of architectural services that will turn your vision into… a virtual reality!

For every homeowner in search of a vision, a number of Irish architects have put together a new, virtual design service. What they’re offering is in fact very similar to what they traditionally do, the only difference is that the product is more conveniently packaged for today’s market, with a preliminary design service (3D drawings and floor plans) as well as full costings.

“Estate agents will tell you there’s development potential in a house but sometimes they’re wrong. What is true most of the time, is that there’s even more potential than expected!,” says Claire McManus who along with Colin Tourish of Open Architects, offer a ‘Virtual ShowHouse’ service. “That’s exactly what we’re tapping into with our virtual designs.” Meanwhile Paul O’Callaghan, architect and founder of another virtual design service called ‘prep’, agrees these virtual home improvements should help the ailing property market. “Whereas in the recent past people would take a property, renovate and extend it, and then sell it on, that is no longer viable or desirable,” he says.

Paul’s new architectural ‘prep’ service, an acronym for ‘property review and enhancement proposals’, offers prospective buyers, sellers and homeowners the opportunity to visualise how they can upgrade their home. “Our architects will design drawings and provide expertly rendered visuals to show prospective purchasers the potential in the property, and provide them with a ‘Master Plan’ for its development, either all at once or in phases,” he says. At a time when many properties are not selling, this should indeed prove to be quite a useful service!

Prep-ing your home also allows you to quickly (the design service takes about six weeks to complete) and conveniently visualise how you can upgrade your home for your own enjoyment. The costs are predictable too, as you’ll only have to pay a predictable fee, of €950 + VAT for the total design package, including keeping the copyright on the design and 3D drawings. The initial consultation is free and once the house is sold, you pay an extra €1,750 to €3,750 + VAT depending on the size of the property. “We try to devise designs which would be exempt so that the prospective purchaser will not have to worry about securing planning permission after the purchase,” he says. “This not only saves time but also money, including the cost of lodging an application. It also avoids opening up any questions that might exist over certain elements, such as existing septic tanks.” Open Architect’s Virtual ShowHouse offers a similar service; they however charge differently: €500 + VAT for the consultation and drawings, plus €2,000 + VAT if the property is sold or €1,000 + VAT if it isn’t. The price also includes printing and copyright.

Paul O’Callaghan in fact only recently completed his first prep. “When my mother passed away, my brothers and I were left with her detached house in a village in Co Wexford,” he says. “It occurred to me that the existing house, although in good condition, had a lot of potential for improvement and re-imagining to catch up with standards of design and layout which have become the norm since the house was built in the 1970s.”

For Claire McManus, the inspiration came when she was house hunting, noticing that property websites lacked the vision required to get people interested to commit to a viewing. “Once 3D design services catch on, we’ll be seeing renditions and drawings on these search engines, which will really help homebuyers see what can realistically be done with the house.” Indeed, as a buyer or a renovator, you get to pick and choose which parts you want to do up – and which you may want to leave for another day. The important thing is to see that the property does indeed have hidden potential. After that of course, you will still need to hire an architect to put together the construction drawings and get a quantity surveyor to draw up a precise bill of quantities. But a ‘prep’ or a ‘Virtual ShowHouse’ will certainly give you a fair indication of what can be done with your home, and most crucially, how much it is likely to cost.

*Prices quoted were correct at time of publication: April 2011