Refeathering that empty nest

As a parent, it is both an emotional and exciting time when your grown children leave the "nest" and find homes of their own.

"And if this co-incides with your own retirement," says Dr Piet Botha, chairman of the Nationlink estate agency group, "you may well decide to relocate to the coast or downsize to a smaller, more manageable property.

"But in many cases these days, 'empty-nesters' actually want to stay put, and use the extra time they now have available to nurture a new business or hobby, study or become seriously involved in local community services - and at the same time find new uses for those now-empty rooms in their existing homes."

Probably the most common conversion, he says, is spare-bedroom to study or home office - which is certainly more comfortable to work in than a corner of the kitchen. "Even if you don't work from home, a bedroom dedicated to a home office is a great place to pay your bills, conduct Internet research, exchange emails and, if you have a digital camera, download, edit, and print your photos."

The idea of speciality rooms has also become extremely popular recently, Botha says. "These can include media rooms, wine cellars, zen or meditation rooms, sewing rooms, libraries and dedicated spaces for hobbies such as pottery, beading, scrap booking, flower arranging and leatherwork.

"A media room, for example, can be soundproofed and kitted out with all the extras such as surround sound, an extra-large TV screen, and super-comfy chairs. Alternatively, having a hobby room means the dining room - finally free of homework, school projects, study guides and empty coffee cups - can be reclaimed for dining instead of becoming a depository for your own work-in-progress."

Other ideas include setting up a home gym so that you can finally make the time to get into better shape, or creating a playroom for visiting grandchildren or friends' children.

Or, if you have a spare room located next to the main bedroom, why not knock down the wall between the two and create a master suite - an extravagant private space with a proper dressing room, a sumptuous bathroom and a private lounge area where you can read and relax?

"Many empty-nesters are making these sorts of changes to their homes now, says Botha, "feeling they deserve some luxury after all their hard work. They do need to be careful, though, not to overcapitalise their properties, and also not to customise them so much they will not have wide appeal when the time comes to sell.

"Consequently, they should seek the advice of an experienced local agent before embarking on any major project that could materially affect the value of their home."

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