How to Afford Your Renovation and Have it Approved

Monday, April 20, 2015

Last month, I shared some insight into how to choose the ideal property for renovation, a process I’ve been through myself a number of times. Now it’s time to talk about what happens next.

There are two major roadblocks to a successful renovation: achieving all work within budget and passing planning approval.

Let’s start with the money. Realistic budgeting will demand, in one way or another, compromise. Even clients with the most money to throw around haven’t lost the notion of value and want to see the most made of their investment.

In renovations, the most common battle I encounter is whether to spend money on restoring the structure or on adding new features. It’s rare to be able to afford complete realisation of all aspects. You need to seriously ask what is a need versus a want for either side and what work can be done to achieve both.

For example, rather than building a new extension, think about how the internal structure can be reconfigured to increase the perceived space through open plan environments, light penetration and interior design tricks. This way, you can fit a new kitchen into the house and make essential structural improvements at the same time.

There are also logistical issues that can add significantly to your costs. A property without street access might need cranes on the roof to bring in materials while a conversion on the first floor or above will need a complex conveyor belt system, not to mention careful consideration for neighbours who will be disturbed by the process.

At the end of it, if you’re really struggling to hit your budget, figure out everything that can be achieved later on without asking approval from your local planning department and put them on hold for another day when they’re affordable.

Speaking of planning departments, sometimes it might feel like they exist solely to get in the way, but their primary concern is maintaining the quality of the housing stock. You should think from this perspective and make improvements to the property central to your case for approval.

It’s one of the reasons I recommended finding a wreck to renovate. The worse condition the original structure is in, the stronger your case that you’re making an improvement not just for your own gain, but to the benefit of the wider area.

There are also a few qualities that – due to government initiatives – planning departments are particularly fond of.

One is energy efficiency and sustainability. Councils across the country are trying to push down their carbon footprint to meet EU targets that grow stricter by the year. Reducing the running costs of the property you’re renovating is essential to gaining approval and – though initially expensive – could save you money in the long run.

Next is accessibility. With our ageing population and increase in child to parent care, new homes are expected to either be accommodating to those with reduced mobility or be easily convertible into one that is. Again, this is a feature that may add to your bill but one you’ll be thankful for when you or your relatives need a home that’s easy to get around.

And even if you have no heartfelt interest in efficiency or accessibility, they’re attractive bullet points if you ever want to sell – which is something everyone can appreciate.

There are also some hard and fast rules that will dictate the planning success of any build, whether it be renovation, extension or a brand new property. Negative impact on neighbour amenity, deep basement excavation and even damage to the root structure of valuable trees will significantly reduce your chances if they’re not exhaustively justified.

Then if it’s a listed property and/or in a conservation area, you’ll have to make efforts to preserve its appearance and character or be prepared to fight a lengthy battle.

Either way, seeking advice from those with extensive knowledge of the local planning department and who have gained their trust is paramount if you don’t want to waste months if not years struggling through the rejection process.

At DGA, I’m proud to say we have a fantastic pass rate despite the often controversial ambition we strive for on behalf of our clients, with contacts across the boroughs and beyond who aid our efforts in having dream homes approved with minimal compromise.

By John Dyer-Grimes