If you’re not familiar with the Homebuilding and Renovating Magazine, it’s best explained as being a kind of porn mag for self-builders and renovators.  It’s full of the most gorgeous, desirable and often downright expensive products – everything from door handles to whole houses.  As you read, you can look and dribble, but you can’t take the merchandise home with you.  The show based on the magazine is very similar – the self-build equivalent of a lap dancing club.

Homebuilding and Renovating is a magazine which is all about creating buildings which look great, feel great, are great to live in and are built in interesting places. It is not really property investment.  Nevertheless, the show is very interesting as it breaks the news of loads of fantastic new products that will end up in general use within a few years.

Now you’ll have to excuse me as I’m describing the stands at the show.  It’s fair to say that administration is ‘not my strong point’.  So you might well find the odd supplier is misnamed or worse!  Therefore, if you have trouble finding any of the products listed here online, drop me an email and I will look through my ‘highly organised’ notes to help you find what you are looking for.  For your information, I’m not getting referral fees from any of the firms featured, principally as I’m too lazy to sort it out.  So if you use one of these companies and they’re rubbish then don’t blame me!

A lot of what you see at the show this year will be in buy to let market soon, and the luxury new build market even sooner. There have been some amazing products in the show and some of my favourites are those aimed at the luxury market. For example, there were suppliers offering heated steam-free mirrors for bathrooms.  This is obviously a massive bonus in luxury flats – keeping the bathroom looking good and a great selling point when you show people around.

“Two-Take Visuals” are showcasing a digital picture system.  This is like a photo‑frame that shows video and still photos. These look very slick – ideal for luxury flats.  The great thing about this is that your tenant can always change the picture as and when they see fit, so they’re not stuck with a tired old decor scheme.  You can change it at the touch of a button depending on whether you are selling to a man or a woman when they come through the door.  Don’t forget to fix them firmly to the wall though!  Alternatively, you could pretend to the tenants that they’re wired directly into the alarm system, so any attempt to remove them will jam the alarm on.

At Picture House Plasma TV Fireplace, they have got a brilliant product – a fireplace or a cabinet which can be built in to the wall just like a normal fireplace.  But at the touch of a button, a plasma TV pops up out of it.  The result the TV can be discretely hidden in a home environment. If you are looking for something for your bachelor tenant to show off to his mates then it is going to be absolutely ideal.  If I could afford one, I’d show it off to my mates.

Just along that vein, another innovator is Tried Fusion who have range of E-keys – as they call them.  This is a product designed to let you into your house with fingerprint scanning.  So no matter how drunk you get, you can always come back and get your key in the lock. Just swipe your hand over and it will scan.

Added to the nice little toys for your rich tenants, there are plenty of practical ideas which will benefit the DIY enthusiast.  As property investors, we often forget that a lot of investors do like to do their own work, or provide tools for their staff.

One of the most impressive products that I have seen was a diamond tile cutter.  This allows you to cut tiles into fancy shapes and mesh them together to make patterns.  You can also fit them around appliances and pipes easily without having to munch away the tiles with the pair of pliers. I asked for a product flyer so that I could tell you all about this lovely bit of kit, but unfortunately they wouldn’t give me one.  So tough –they won’t get any business from this review.  Silly boys.

The same company also had an automatic screw-inserting machine, so you can screw stud work together very, very easily using a power drill. The screws are held on to the bit of the drill, and so consequently they won’t get scuffed as they slip on and off the drill bits.  This bit of kit basically upgrades your drill from a rifle to a machine gun.  Toy joy!  Can’t wait for their version for a nailgun.  All you’d need is a portable air compressor and you’d have your own little chain gun, just like in the computer game ‘Quake’.

People who are interested in getting the most out of their properties will often be interested in repairing rather than renovating. One of the products that I have used myself in the past, is the Renotherm roof insulation system. This is a product which made of PVA foam and is sprayed on in the underside of roof tiles.  I’ve got it in my house and it keeps the place toasty warm. If you have got a roof which is pretty far gone you can sort it out with a quick blast of scrambled egg – it saves the cost of replacing the roof.  Even on a decent roof, it will sort out the insulation a treat. It has been keeping my loft office toasty warm for a long time. There are several companies at the show doing that, it is a widely available product.  Personally, I’m to skinflint to use a branded product, so I got someone to do it on the cheap for me.

One of the most impressive things that I saw in this show was Plaster Wall Loudspeakers (www.amina.co.uk). These are exactly which what they say on the tin, you would not believe these are speakers which you can actually plaster over – so you can have a surround sound system that’s invisible. The result is absolutely clean and slick. You’d think that it would sound awful but it doesn’t.  They’re actually really good.

Obviously, there is a whole host of suppliers offering integrated home audio and video services, themed lighting, and a whole host of other products that are really moving the buy to let market.

If you are a kind of person who wants to get premium corporate tenants, then this show is a good place to come where you can see a lot of the ground breaking audio and video stuff. My personal view is that this is going to become more and more commonplace as the time goes on. I think we are going to see a greater acceptance of home AV integration at the top end of the buy to let market.

If you want to make a flat in a block really stand out then an easy way to do it is by sticking a plasma TV in the wall.   This flat then becomes the one that the people will rent first. When you think that you are paying in £250,000 for a flat, spending £1500 to put a wicked television in, or £3000 perhaps to put in one that slides up and down in a fireplace, isn’t that much extra.  It could make sound commercial sense if it means that you have fewer voids and thus a better real yield.

The same is true for the lighting systems, door entry, etc. Everything counts to impress the tenant. If you take a bog standard flat in a block and upgrade it to the nuts with a huge suite of IT tricks then you are going to see a substantial change in your tenant’s perceptions.

For people who are self-building investors looking to develop properties, there are plenty of products as well. If you are the kind of person who wants to develop small properties on single plots then Beko Wall Form has always been a favourite product of mine. It is like Lego for grown ups. You can build a whole house out of it. Back-fill the thing with concrete and lo and behold, you’ve built yourself a house. It is a genius system and it is ideal for small projects on in-fill plots when you’re not working to standard sizes this and forms. You can work it around corners, you can work it in strange lines, you can do whatever you like.  Andd if you don’t like what you’ve built – just pull it to bits and start again.  But don’t tell the sour-faced planners.

There are also plenty of opportunities for people who are looking to get absolutely the most out of high value ground. There were a number of companies that provide basement development systems.  The various firms specialise in new build, digging out existing properties or improving existing basements to make them habitable.  There was even a piling rig at the show – I hope they didn’t use it in the floor of the ExCeL Centre.

If you are looking for a company to build a basement for you, the National Underpinning and Piling and Basement Company would be a good place to start.  Being national they may not be the cheapest in the business but the chances are that they know what they are doing.

If you are in the business of providing corporate let properties with all the bills included or houses in multiple occupancy, then you might want to take some steps to cut down your heating bills by doing something like putting in individual radiator valves. Honeywell is a company which offers this kind of technology.

Home Tech, who offers a solar-combi boiler. This is the first product I’ve seen in the market that offers a solar system that can be linked up with a conventional combination boiler. Admittedly, this product is pretty expensive and probably won’t go into investment properties for some time. Complete installation is likely to top five grand, compared to a conventional boiler which is just over a grand.  However, there are likely to be home energy ratings and tax advantages to play for in the near future, and this kind of kit will be the way to get it.  A product which is currently new and expensive will start to look a very sensible investment as its price falls and incentives are put in place to encourage its uptake.  In my view, this kind of product is going to become essential in the future.   After improving home insulation and energy efficiency, installing solar hot water is the cheapest and easiest way to cut down energy use.

When it comes to running your own projects, it is important to know what is going on with the costs.  There are a range of different software products around that can help you. Estimater Xpress is one of these tools. I have not had a chance to look around the software but if you’re the kind of person who likes to work every last cost out, rather than waving a wet finger in the air, then it’s the kind of software that will help you.  Personally I’m not, and there’s about as much chance of me sitting down and costing screws as there is of me poking my eyes out for fun.

As usual, there was a decent bookshop on site. I picked a couple of little books about which are pretty good – I read them on the train when travelling down to London to networking events.  It is always nice to get some extra training – to get some ideas from other people about what is hot and what is not. “How to Find and Buy a Building Plot” is an ideal book for you if you are looking to acquire a site. There is also its companion “How To Get Planning Permission” – an ideal book if you are looking at evaluating the planning potential of the sites and trying to work through the planning process.  I only paid for one of these books.  I went up to the cashier to try and negotiate a discount on two, and lost the argument.  Being the absent minded fool I am, when I checked my bag afterwards I realised I’d picked up both books.  But I’m plugging them here, so hopefully the gods will not look on me too unfavourably for my inadvertent theft.

ARCON Software were at the show, exhibiting their amateur CAD solutions. I have used Home Design Studio 3 which I bought some time ago. This is not the ARCON product but if you are into doing development projects, having a CAD system like this is great.  It can save you employing an architect. Personally I think there’s a huge amount to be said for leaving things to the professionals but I certainly wouldn’t knock any investors who decide they want to take a hands-on approach.  Modern software is pretty cheap and very sophisticated, and with a bit of effort you can learn to do a very professional job.

One of the features of the show is obviously that there are lot of products that are designed to make houses look just distinctive.  This includes everything from driveway products to slates.  That’s what the self build market is all about – people who do not want the usual Barratt boxes.

There is also a flip side to this is that there are huge number of products designed to make houses look in keeping with the local environment and the local vernacular. If you are putting forward a planning permission project where you are trying to construct in a difficult historical setting, you are going to need a lot of help to find the right suppliers.  At this show, there were suppliers of everything from iron rainwater goods and timber tiles or original handmade bricks. There is no substitute to coming and seeing the actual products when you are trying to match colours and create a building in your mind. You can’t do that properly on the internet, so this show is the place to come. These small and awkward planning permission projects are ideally suited to small developers, and it makes this show a natural place for them to gravitate towards.

There is a company exhibiting a product called Rain Racer, which is very useful to treat your windows with.  I use this at home, and the result is surfaces that repel water for years after the application. If you try to make sure that your property always looks in tiptop condition for both your tenants and buyers then Rain Racer is an ideal product. It is not very expensive and the results are certainly quite impressive.

At the higher end of the market, tenants will probably expect filtered water and East Midlands Water Company are one of the firms that can offer plumbed in water solutions. It saves householders the expense of buying bottled water and it can be plumbed to fridge to give clean cold water on tap all times.  Personally, I think that filtered water is completely pointless, but then I’ll probably end up turning into a girl from drinking contraceptive pill residues.

If you are a hand-on person then there are displays from ScrewFix and the other usual suspects that give you an opportunity to get decent prices on tools. Trade Pro are here as well, giving you credit with suppliers and cards that are designed specifically to buy materials on.  These are all for a particular section of the market – but if you are in it, it is an ideal show for you.

Safelincs Limited do a fire escape ladder product which should be ideal for helping people to get tricky conversions through building regulations. The ladder is pretty cheap, only 350 to 500 pounds depending on what you are buying for one or two story project. That’s the price for a folding ladder that fits snugly against the wall of the house. They also do a sealed design which you can roll out from a cavity wall.   I had to design a similar product as a project at university.  Quite frankly, theirs is better. My design was much more complicated and expensive, and I nicked the idea from a German firm.  Just before we did our presentation for the project, we realised that the prices we’d been given were for the scale model and not the full-sized version.  There wasn’t time to change all our figures so we gave the presentation with very straight faces, and no-one ever suspected. Fortunately for the world, I’m a property investor and not an engineer nowadays.  I think this product is interesting as a conscience-saver.  My personal number one property nightmare is the idea of someone dying in a fire in one of my houses. I guess statistically speaking this is going to happen to some landlords some of the time, but I hope and pray it’s not me.  I’m sure I’d never be able to come to terms with that.  Having a single fire death would wipe all the profits out for me. I’d rather go and work as a bin man than have someone’s death on my conscience.   If I was doing a property where I was worried about the fire accessibility £350 for peace of mind is not a lot of money. The cavity wall ladder is expected to come around in £250, so if you want a new house or if you are doing a flat conversion, that would be an ideal product.  It may also help convince the planners and the building regs people that your proposed development is safe enough to permit.

Showers have moved on a long way. They used to previously be utilitarean products, but now even on quite low-end properties costing under £100,000, I am starting to see some pretty serious showers coming in.

World of Water have a range of products which include mirrors, consoles, with phones and installed seats inside the shower units. I think the low-end property I’ve seen with this type of kit look overdone, but for the high-end properties, it is definitely the right way to go. If you want to impress your girlfriend and you have money to splash around, why not rent a flat with a fantastic shower? A World of Water shower will set you back about 2.5k.  For this you get a little bath base, a control console, integral lighting and obviously the shower itself – including all over body jets. Some buyers and tenants are bound to think that’s important.

If you are running a bigger site and you want to be there to control things, it might worth looking at Caravan Hire UK. These guys will hire you a mobile home that you can put on your site.  You can use this as a home, a site office or both. In the long run, it can cut your costs. Why bother driving all the way up to Manchester from London to look at a site, when you can just hire a caravan and stay on the site?  A decent office space on site can save loads of hassle.  It alleviates problems with wet muddy drawings and crucial bits of paperwork that aren’t to hand when they’re needed.

One of my favourite property improvement products of all time has got to be the Sun Pipe System. This is a roof window coupled with a long shiny pipe that you can use to draw light into the dingiest corners.  If you are trying to create a kitchen/living room and you’re worried about the kitchen feeling dingy then, why not have the sun piped down from the roof? These are also ideal for landings, basements, en-suites etc.  This obviously helps improve people’s mood and gives them a feeling of being connected to the outside world. I have seen the effects of these inside the houses that have been built and it really does give a lovely improvement to what can often be dark and dingy corners.

Kitchens can often be a difficult place to heat despite the number of warm appliances they have. This is particularly true in older properties that tend to be less well insulated.  It’s hard to put a radiator in a small kitchen.  I know this from personal experience – I’m quite cold right now! A Smiths kickplate heater will fit under the kitchen cupboard. You can get these models in either electric or ‘wet’ versions. Don’t compromise your comfort, style and space in a kitchen – as this room often sells the property.  Simply spend the money, get a kickplate heater, job done. Additionally, their Shore Line product is a low-level radiator that fits all around the wall rather than just being a single panel radiator. It is ideal for places like conservatories where you cannot necessarily get a radiator in.

If you got yourself a plot by fair means or foul and you want to stick to a house up on it, then there is an alternative to the hassle of dealing with your own builders and architects. You can employ a “turnkey” company. For example, Potton sell themselves as building dreams on a very large stand will do the job from start to finish for you. Obviously if they are paying for the prime site at the show they’ve got to extract this overhead from their customers – so personally I would not chose to use the company like that.  But you can find plenty of other kit house companies who will come and take over the entire construction process without you having to lift a finger. So if you manage to get yourself a plot, all you have to do is get the planning application in and get a company to come along and do the build for you.

One of the knickknack products that I am a particular fan of is by straightlinesuk.com. It is a basically an A4 pad with what could be best described as some Velcro-type material on it. This has the magic effect of enabling you to do a completely straight lines free hand.  Not only that, but it’s marked up with a grid, so you can knock up scale drawings in a flash. When you go into a house you can draw an accurate plan in around 10 to 15 minutes, if you’ve got a sonic or laser measure. You can then give an accurate description of the layout to estate agents and buyers long after you have been around to visit a property. Personally I have a cracking visual memory and I rarely forget details inside houses (apart from central heating systems), so generally speaking I find I can get away without doing this exercise. However, for people who haven’t got such a good visual memory then the straightlinesuk.com product is fantastic, and it will rarely be out of their hand.

If you are developing a property that is off mains drainage then you are going to have do something about your septic tank.  Having to constantly empty your cess pit is a big problem for many buyers, so why not invest in the treatment drainage systems which requires less frequent emptying. WPL Ltd. offers a contained solution, which treats the waste. WOS products only needs maintenance every three to five years for a de-sludge whereas a conventional solution could need emptying once or twice a year. If you try to sell your property on to a buyer who is not interested in the hassle of dealing with his shit twice, but still wants to live in the country, then a WPL product represents a potential solution to the problem.

Obviously, the show is aimed primarily the home builder market.  Therefore, there’s no investment property and no investment schemes, but the day is very much worthwhile to stay on top of the market and keep your properties in high demand.  You are certain to find ways to save money and new ideas.

At the end of day, investing is about lifestyle choices. It is not all about what is right and wrong, a lot of it is about what you enjoy doing and what you have a passion for. If you love getting active in a building project – whether that is by designing or by getting your hands dirty – this is the show for you.  I got started in property because I like playing with buildings.  This show is a fun day out for us Grand Designers.