This first entry was published originally on the 3rd April 2013 and received 2,340 views on the old Ebuild forum
We first decided we’d like to build ourselves a house several years ago, but with both of us working full time we did little more than think about it for a few years. Then, almost out of the blue, I was given an opportunity to take early retirement in September 2010, with a favourable pension and a tax free gratuity. So started our adventure!
We looked far and wide for a building plot, with our only constraint being that we didn’t want to be more than around a couple of hours drive from where we currently live, in South Wiltshire. After much looking through plot search web sites, calling around estate agents and even cold-calling people who had put in planning applications for plots, we found a few that looked interesting, ranging from Ross on Wye, across the Cotswolds and down to Somerset. It seemed that plots in our part of Wiltshire, or the adjoining counties of Hampshire and Dorset, were very scarce, or beyond our budget. The first plot that caught our eye looked wonderful, it was fairly large, situated on the site of an old mill, just on the Welsh side of the Wye valley. After doing some basic research into the cost of getting services in, the likely planning constraints we may face (it only had OPP) etc, we made an offer which was accepted. Unfortunately we then encountered two major problems during the legal searches. The first was that a large part of the plot was actually being used by a neighbouring house as part of their garden. The second was that at some point a public footpath had been moved, without consent. Despite months spent trying to get these issues resolved, it became clear that the footpath problem alone was likely to take at least a year to be fixed. Reluctantly we pulled out of the deal and had a re-think about our plans.
The next few months were spent driving around looking at both plots and some houses that we thought might have some potential. As advice to anyone else going through this, all I can say is use every tool you can get your hands on to try and look at places before driving miles to see them. We made extensive use of Google Earth and Streetview to look at potential plots, and this quickly gave an indication as to what the local area was like (at the date of the imagery, which is often a few years old). Even then we made long journeys out to view plots that turned out to be hopeless. Generally, the worst of these came via the “free to the seller” plot sales services. We quickly found that the best source seemed to be Rightmove, although the filters on their search facility were often poor, meaning that plots might well be listed as houses, for example.
In October 2011 we found a plot just a short distance from where we currently live, much to our surprise. As it was only half an hour’s drive away we drove over to take a quick look. Despite all the undergrowth and untidiness, we could see straight away (well, by using a bit of imagination to visualise what it’d be like without all the mess) that the plot seemed ideal for our needs. The house would face more or less south, giving the potential for good solar gain and photovoltaic panel performance. The plot was small, but this suited us as neither of us are keen gardeners. It was also semi-rural, right on the edge of an ancient village, opposite an old mill (in fact it is on what was the old orchard that belonged to the mill at some point). The price looked good, too, even if the plot itself looked less than wonderful in its present state.
Having been caught out by the first plot, before making an offer for this one I set about finding out as much as I could about the likely issues and costs of building on it. This plot had a chequered planning history, with several applications on file and a few refusals, and it was clear that there had been a lot of local opposition to developing it. I also discovered that there was no water main or sewer within reasonable distance, so we knew that the costs of getting these services in to the site was going to be high.
Armed with this knowledge, we negotiated the price down to a lower figure, to allow for the added costs imposed by the nature of the plot (it slopes, so needs a lot of ground work) and the difficulty with getting water and sewerage services in. By early December 2011 we had agreed a price and started the legal process to buy the plot. Our hope was that we’d be able to start work during the late spring of 2012.
Once again we found we had a boundary problem, severe enough to cause a major problem with the approved plans. The next 9 months were taken up with protracted legal arguments, ending when the vendor finally agreed to get the boundary positions shown on the Land Registry title amended to reflect what was actually on the ground. We completed the purchase in early November 2012, more than a year after first seeing the plot and deciding to buy it.
The next task would be to submit a new planning application, for the house that we wanted to build, rather than the one that was currently approved, and get it through before the introduction of the Community Infrastructure Levy.
Stay tuned for part two of this tale, where we venture into the interesting world of local politics and planning.