How I saved thousands on my home extension
If you're planning to take advantage of the relaxed planning permission rules and build a home extension, make sure you follow these tips.
The Government recently announced a month-long consultation on whether homeowners should be allowed to build extensions of up to 25 feet (double the current permitted size) without planning permission, for an ‘emergency’ period of one year only.
The coalition claims the proposal will boost house building and revive the economy – no doubt they’re hoping it might win a few votes with wealthy, middle-class property-owners, too.
Unfortunately, Lib Dem party members don’t agree, voting overwhelmingly against the move at their conference last week. Many fear that if the planned changes do go ahead, it will lead to conflict with neighbours and huge, unsightly additions to buildings springing up everywhere.
I can see their point. After all, if the current restrictions limiting the size of extensions (without planning permission) aren’t there for a good reason, why isn’t the Government planning to reform the law permanently?
Getting planning permission
Furthermore, although it is time-consuming, I don’t think it’s difficult to get planning permission for large extensions at the moment – as long as your plans don’t have a negative impact on your neighbours or the environment. And I’m speaking from experience here. Last year, I managed to get planning permission for a 30m extension to my north London flat, despite living in a conservation area and having no permitted development rights.
Still, I can’t deny it was stressful. I wrote the successful application myself, which took a lot of time, effort and research. It cost me £150 in fees, and took eight tense weeks. And that’s a relatively quick turnaround – if the application goes to the planning committee, or is turned down and you appeal, the process can easily take months or even years.
So yes, if you are thinking of building a large extension, being able to forgo all the bureaucratic red tape involved with getting planning permission will definitely save you stress, hassle, money and time. Here’s how to do it cheaply:
Choose a problem-fixing builder
You need a builder who can solve problems cheaply and quickly, rather than asking you what to do when. Let’s face it, you probably won’t have a clue.
I interviewed a number of builders for the job, and when I say interviewed, I actually asked them interview-type questions like: ‘How would you approach this problem?’ or ‘How do you plan to minimise the disruption during this stage?’. I cannot tell you how good the builder I eventually chose was at solving problems. I’d come home, and he’d say: "Unfortunately, there’s this completely unforeseeable, potentially extremely expensive major complication... but don’t worry, I’ve already worked around it using this complex, little-known and very cheap method.”
Keep the neighbours onside
Our elderly neighbour had five conifers in his back garden and when the building officer saw them, he insisted we increase the depth of our foundations dramatically. This would have cost us thousands of pounds extra. But when our neighbour found out about this, he very kindly offered to cut down all his trees – just to save us money!
We were flabbergasted. We had consulted him throughout the planning process and tried to be considerate throughout, but I think it was the kindness and respect our builder had shown him over the garden wall that truly won him over. Which leads me nicely onto my next point...
Hire trustworthy tradespeople who you can get on with
As I explained in How I saved £1200 on my new boiler, dealing with recommended independent tradesmen can be a lot cheaper than dealing with a big firm, and you have a closer, more direct relationship with them which makes it easier to sort problems out.
Plus, if you get a word-of-mouth recommendation, their personal reputation (effectively, their livelihood) is at stake and they are often prepared to go the extra mile as a result.
Even if their quote isn’t the cheapest, I’d recommend going with the tradesperson you instinctively trust most to do a good job – it’s likely you will save hundreds of pounds in the long run.
Keep on top of your finances
I opened a bank account just for spending on the extension, then used the lovemoney.com MoneyTrack service to see what I was spending money on easily as it divides your spending into categories. Every few days, I also updated our budget for various parts of the build, our savings account balances and all our building spending into a shared spreadsheet.
This allowed me to make informed decisions when faced with a potentially costly dilemma. We also took out the market-leading 0% credit card so we could keep our savings in our ISAs for as long as possible, pocketing the interest on the ISA while paying nothing on our debt.
Be on your guard
One mistake I made was panicking because the floorboard or bathroom I liked was on sale for a limited time only. In fact, it turned out it was discounted pretty permanently in various sales throughout the year.
Happily, I’d only put down deposits and not paid in full, so I could choose which ‘sale’ price I paid at the point of delivery. You just need to make sure you check all the current prices before you pay in full. You also have to be on your guard about measurements. It might seem obvious, but a mistake here can literally cost you a fortune!
Have you extended the size of your home? Was it a stressful experience? What would you do differently? Do you plan to take advantage of the Government's planning changes? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below
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