Property buying is all about compromise. They say the perfect house doesn’t exist but deciding where to make those tricky sacrifices can be stressful – do you choose space over location, garden over an extra bedroom, noisy road over lack of a decent school? Compromise is required in spades when buying pre-existing period property: you are effectively moving into a medieval architect’s idea of ceiling height (head-bangingly low), a Victorian gentleman’s version of understatement (garish Minton tiles and fussy architraves) and a post-war developer’s notion of aesthetic charm (concrete slab). Of course you can always adapt what’s there but if you’ve already blown your life savings on the fabric you might find that nasty teak kitchen cabinetry hangs around for longer than you’d like.
For those who simply refuse to compromise, building your own home may well be the only viable option, although you’ll need to take on board the considerable stress involved. Building from the ground up can be a long and arduous process. First you’ll need to find a plot of land and an architect who shares your passion for building something uniquely ‘you’ (try not to skimp at this stage). If you’ve set your heart on living in the country you’ll want to take into consideration views, nature and the general lay of the land. Bear in mind that planning rules are notoriously strict in the UK so whatever you build will need to compliment your immediate surroundings (more on that later), oh and don’t forget about things like floodplains, flight paths and subsidence (you’ll need a good surveyor for that).
Your chosen plot will almost certainly come with a grotty bungalow attached – this is good as it means you won’t have to worry about basics such as joining the grid. You will however need to factor in about £90 per square metre for demolition work although if said bungalow is riddled with asbestos the cost could be considerably higher.
So now that you’ve found your Elysian idyll and hired an inspirational architect you’ll need to think about collaborating with a quantity surveyor who will monitor costs and a project manager who will oversee the work. The next four or five weeks of planning will be your honeymoon period where you will pore over beautifully crafted scale models and drool at perfectly rendered images of the finished structure (fantasies may need to be reigned in a bit at this point).
By now, you will be itching to get your hands dirty but don’t even think about sending in the diggers. At this stage the only sods you’ll be encountering are the ones down at the planning office, for it is they who will laud over every architectural nuance and have final say on what your finished house actually looks like. This is where things often turn ugly, so expect plenty of sleepless nights and blazing rows with jobsworthy officials who like to say ‘no’.
When it comes to new build, planners always err on the side of caution, especially if your chosen plot happens to be in an area of outstanding natural beauty and your architectural masterpiece shows any hint of originality or flair. Pity poor Will Griffiths who spent seventeen months trying to get his stunning John Pardey designed magnum opus through a wall of visionless bureaucracy. His local planning authority threw every risk adverse obstacle in his path, costing him extra design and consultancy expenses on top of an already spiralling budget. Almost two years on and the diggers may or may not be about to move in pending final approval of material and colour selection.
For business manager Les Hurdiss by far the most stressful part of building his mock Georgian pile outside Shrewsbury was negotiating with devious planners who had initially earmarked his plot for five local authority approved houses. When that particular project fell through those same planners refused Les permission to build his single dwelling claiming the third of an acre plot simply wasn’t big enough. Rhyme and reason rarely show up to planning meetings and your enemies will do everything in their power (and boy do they love power) to thwart your dream. Don’t expect the war to be over by Christmas.
When the watered down version of your original plan finally hobbles through the excruciating planning procedure you can look forward to a year or so of intense building work. If this is to be your only home, you will probably have already moved your family into an on-site caravan so you can be on call when disaster strikes. If that doesn’t sound stressful enough, remember you will be paying around £2500 per square foot depending on the quality of the finish with an average 20 per cent contingency cost on top of that. Oh and everything will take much longer than you think.
But these anxiety-inducing considerations only partly explain the sluggishness of the market. John Pardey has been designing people’s dream houses for thirty years and can’t remember a worse time. Brexit has created such an insecure milieu that many families and individuals are sitting tight, waiting to see what the outcome of the mess will be before embarking on a grand project. But for those brave enough to have taken the plunge the eventual rewards almost always outweigh the years of stress and planning law insanity.
It has taken about five years for Tony Narula and his wife Charlotte to call their remarkable Glass River House home but it has been worth every rollercoaster minute. Their magnificent structure overlooking the Thames at Henley has been specifically designed for what Narula calls ‘later life living’, meaning they have future-proofed the house so they never have to worry about troublesome steps, awkward corridors and narrow doorways. Charlotte is so in utterly in love with the place that she now resents having to go out. ‘I don’t even want to go to Waitrose anymore so I’ve started ordering in.’ So, no compromises there then.