26 April 2011

Extensions and House Hunting, Things to Know Before You Buy

When looking for a new home, you may want to find somewhere you can extend, either as an investment or to accommodate a growing family. But how do you know what permissions you will need or how big you can build and where?

Permitted development rights
Well, there are two main types of permission to consider. Many minor developments can be carried out without any formal permission under 'permitted development right' or 'PD'. These rights apply to most houses in England and Wales and can be surprisingly generous, allowing a range of rear, side and rooftop extensions plus potentially half of the garden can be given over to a home office or cottage industry.

The Planning Portal's online 'interactive house' includes a good, visual introduction to the types of development available under PD but I would strongly recommend asking an architect to discuss any detailed plans as the interpretation of PD rules can be quite tricky. While permitted development rights allow you to avoid making a full planning application, it is worth securing a Lawful Development Certificate, which can avoids disputes regarding permissions in the future. Again, it is worth an asking an architect to help with this process.

Restrictions apply to listed buildings and those within conservation areas. Some new homes also carry restrictions under 'Article 4 Directions'. However, there are no specific restrictions to PD rights within the greenbelt, meaning that permitted development rights are particularly valuable to suburban home-owners.

Full Planning Permissions
For more larger extensions, or work to listed buildings or conservation areas, you would need to apply for a full planning permission. Each local authority has its own policies about what is acceptable and what is not. Many publish advice specifically regarding residential extensions. Despite (or perhaps because of) the diverse array of guidance documents, it can be hard to generalise about what extensions might be allowed under a full application. If the ability to extend is critical to whether or not you want buy a property, you can always ask an architect for advice. You may wish to make a conditional offer on a property, which agrees a price subject to gaining planning permission.

Most councils have a process of pre-application advice, although the value of this varies widely. Submitting an outline application (as opposed to full) can provide greater guarantees about your options at a lower initial cost. Again, an architect would be able to handle this process, translating the planning gobbledegook whilst providing a creative and bespoke new scheme for your home.

Finding out more
We have prepared a handy click-and-print guide for you to use when looking at properties. Just click on the image opposite and print the image at A4. The guide highlights some questions to ask of the agent and things to keep an eye out for when visiting the property. You may find the agent struggles to answer many of the questions but anything you can find out will help your architect get an idea of what could be achieved.

Finally, you can find official guidance to permitted development rights here and the original text of the relevant act of parliament here.

If you have any questions, either John or Ellie would be happy to answer questions about PD. Just email us at the usual address, studio425@london.com