Although it is popular converting an old building for use as a domestic property can be an especially controversial issue with local planning authorities. Before starting, read through our top hints for bringing an old building into modern life.
Nothing can be taken for granted.
It is quite natural to assume that is a building is sitting empty, then you should have a free hand to buy it and convert it into a house. Unfortunately, many local authorities have planning policies defining what criteria they consider when determining what they will allow to be converted into residential use. Even more confusingly, these rules can differ greatly from one authority to another.
Taking an old barn and converting it into a house can be accepted without question on one side of a road, but the exact same planning proposal can be refused immediately if ti happens to lie on the other side of a district boundary. So just going ahead and buying a vacant, non-residential building with the aim of converting it, is risky.
Check before buy, in some locations it can be a snap, in other a chore and a completely futile exercise in others. Either do your own homework by aiming a few informal questions to the local planning department before you buy a property, or talk to a local planning consultant, who will be able to fall back on their local knowledge to offer you all of the advice you need.
Properties preferred for commercial use.
Local councils, espcecially in rural areas are increasingly preventing residential conversions. This is in line with Government policy and something which is supported from Westminster. Redundant buildings, from shops to schools, churches to community halls, are being left empty because the only people interest want to convert them to houses. The building may be perfect for conversion to a house, but some local authorities will deny approval if there is any chance of the property being used for commercial, or community purposes.
You may have to resort to a sustained marketing campaign to prove that there is no viable alternative before the planning authority accepts the change of use. Then again, other local authorities may be far more relaxed and give permission without so much hassle. So before jumping at a conversion opportunity, it is worth checking. You can even have an option written into a contract of sale, that the sale is only finalised when you have planning permission granted.
Structural and environmental condition
It may be stating the obvious, but if you want convert a building to a home, it does need to be physically suitable for conversion. Many planning concultants have experience of barns which have simply collapsed during conversion. This results in the loss of any planning permission which has been granted. As the owner, you would be is left plot of land and no building to convert. To counter this, many planning authorities do require that a full structural survey is carried out and the report is submitted with any planning application for a building conversion. Even if you don't a structural survey carried out by a fully qualified surveyor should always be carried out before purchasing any property.
It isn't just the building itself which needs to be checked, the ground and surrounding area needs to be examined by an expert. Whether you are converting a barn or a shop, check that it is suitable for a home.
Keep your tastes within your budget
If you are ever thinking of undertaking a conversion or renovation project, it is important to bear in mind that it is expensive. Contrary to what may seem to be common sense, it is usually considerably cheaper to build the house of your dreams from scratch. It is so very easy to be optimistic and drastically underestimate the costs of a conversion.
Complying with planning requirements can push what is already an expensive proposition out of your price range. This is especially the case when dealing with a historic building. Planning requirements can mean you have to use high-quality materials, wood window frames or cast iron guttering to 'retain the original character of the building. These can be imposed upon you by the planning authority and you can discover that you have no choice in the matter.
This can be incredibly costly when you are dealing with a building that is listed. You may still get permission for the conversion but the scope to which additional costs can run is often impossible to predict, not to mention possible delays. Any buildings in a conservation area, of historic value or listed come under the auspices of the conservation officer. This is a key role at the local council planning department and they have the task of dictating to you what conditions they apply to your planning permission. This can add huge amounts to the costs so to avoid the unknown you need to open up a dialogue with the planning department as early as possible.
Future extensions to the property.
Assuming that you negotiate the perils of planning permission and you have converted a non-residential building to a home, then things become a little easier. Planning policies which restricted what you can and can not do to a non-residential property no longer apply as the building is now officially a dwelling. The rules preventing extensions or new windows will be relaxed. In many cases you will gain Permitted Development Rights meaning that there are countless things you can do to improve the property without needing permission.
This means that when you are considering the initial design of a conversion you should bear in mind that once converted, future expansion is far simpler. It should be something which you use in your approach to the initial application for permission. This is contrary to traditional planning wisdom, rather than asking for more than you want in order to 'compromise' down to what you originally wanted, you can ask for less and once you have acheived this, going onwards and upwards becomes possible.
Of course, this is another situation where you need to speak to a consultant. You may end up stuck with a smaller building as there could be other restrictions which apply, such as with listed buildings or in green belt areas.