Can you know with ‘certainty’ that the local authorities will allow you to make changes to a property before you’ve bought it?

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Buying a property for the majority is in itself a stressful, nerve racking and intimidating experience. Finding a suitable property, handling the negotiation and then the conveyance process can also be stressful.  If the property needs adapting, extending or simply some minor building works, this adds further to the whole buying process.

Most vendors and their selling agents appear to be helpful with their building and planning advice. But in the main they merely want the deal agreed for the maximum price, and will, more often than not say that it would possible to extend but, is ‘subject to planning consent’. Naturally no-one can give any definite indication of the likelihood of getting planning and certainly at the offer stage will not normally allow you the time to investigate the possibility. Too often we have heard the agent say ‘you have to take a view’.

But do people really take into account the local planning policies, the implications and issues that you could come up against? Do they even know the consequences of just assuming permission would be granted purely on the submission of an application when they view a property?  It is an expensive mistake if you get it wrong.

Understandably, not everyone knows the local authority’s and parish council’s planning laws and regulations when assessing the suitability of a property. It’s too easy to say that you should be in the know before you start even viewing suitable houses. But, do not be too alarmed as this information is available on the internet and is easily accessible; if in doubt most architects and some builders can certainly give you their professional view at an early stage.

People are very good at critiquing a property within a few minutes of entering it, finding fault with any or all aspects of the house. Having the vision to see the potential and opportunity for many is a rare quality.

So, you have found what you think is the right property, you think you can negotiate the right price and you can see the potential; if only this can be changed and that altered… It may mean some pretty major structural alterations and building works or what in the industry is called “minor alterations”. If the latter, it may well fall under what is called ‘permitted development’. This is based on size (less than or no larger than x square/cubic meters), impact or location.

If the former; trying to get some ‘certainty’ as to whether these structural alterations would be permitted before you can decide whether to buy the property is a real issue.

One relatively simple way is to go along to the local planning office and look at the planning history of the property you are contemplating buying. Knowing the history of the recent planning or changes that have been made to a property will help. Ask to speak to a planning officer or ask if they make appointments to discuss specific planning issues.

Most local planning authorities have adapted an on-line pre-application planning process where you complete some forms supported by scaled drawings. The planners will give you a good indication of whether an application is likely to be supported or rejected. Allow about 15 working days for a response and hopefully the reply will also include the reasons why not if your pre-application is not acceptable or does not comply with their regulations.

Dependent upon the scale of the structural changes you wish to make, appointing a qualified architect from the outset to handle the whole application process will almost certainly be your best option.

Be warned that the building application process for permission to make changes is a slow and sometimes excruciating procedure and can take a minimum of three months before you get a response!

To find out more about how we can help you please contact us by email on or telephone + 44 (0)1962 793100.

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