In last month’s blog, I explained how, after just two days of plot hunting with my wife Linda, we had found not one but two adjacent plots of land for sale in Berry Hill in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. We offered to buy both plots from the vendor — with a view to building our next self build on one, and selling the other.
With the offer on the plots accepted, we entered the familiar period of frenetic anxiety, which many people experience at this stage of buying a plot. Would it all go smoothly? Would we be trumped or gazumped? What could we do to ensure that things went our way?
For starters, we built up a relationship with the vendors — a lovely couple who we’ll be pleased to call neighbours. We made it clear to them that we intend to live in the new house closest to theirs but that we’d be selling off the other plot.
Tweaking the Existing Plans
We then went to see Kevin Cooper, who’d drawn up the original plans, to talk about making a few changes to the design. We felt that the two identical, mirror image houses that had been accepted by the planners didn’t chime with the diverse nature of the other houses, cottages and bungalows in the area. I also felt that they were too intrusive on the street scene and that, if at least one of the houses presented a gable end to the road, this would be alleviated.
When we were living in self build number 11, some 10 years ago, I’d dreamed of a smaller house as a last home, which would basically be a one bedroom bungalow with two further guest bedrooms upstairs. I got out my pencil and drew what we wanted on the same footprint of the approved house on plot one, and once Kevin had drawn it up, I went into Forest of Dean District Council and discussed it with the planners. They seemed thrilled as it negated many of the reservations that they’d originally held.
Meanwhile, word about the plots was slipping out. The agent telephoned me again to ask my intentions. Standing on the plot one day, I saw at least two local builder’s vans drive slowly past. I spoke to James Warry, my solicitor, and asked him to move as quickly as possible.
I have no doubt that, had they been there, Les and Pat, the vendors, would have had lots of people knocking on their door. However, they had been on holiday in Ireland and Les had been taken to hospital over there. Pat rang to tell me that she’d arranged for the documents to be sent to them and that their daughter would be bringing them back signed. We exchanged just before Les was shipped back to Gloucester hospital where he recovered and was sent home a couple of weeks later. The plots were ours!
As soon as we knew that we had exchanged contracts, we commissioned Timothy Coe of Wilson Associates to carry out the intrusive mining survey. He had previously carried out the non-intrusive mining survey which was required in order to get planning, and he’d told me that he didn’t think we had anything to worry about. Nevertheless, we’d taken a chance on him being right, and he was. The drilling rig ‘refused’ at 2m, which meant that it had hit bedrock and we were in the clear.
I made a fresh planning application and attached a copy of the report to it. The existing planning permission had required the carrying out of the mining survey prior to any commencement of work and I didn’t want that condition repeated on any new consent. If possible, I was going to make sure that there weren’t any ‘prior to commencement’ conditions, as these can hold up a start on site by up to two months.
I also approached the service suppliers. There is no gas in the area, but there is a line of three-phase electricity poles across the forest to the rear of the plot and a transformer on a pole. There is also a single-phase line of electricity running slightly closer to the plot and across the front of the adjoining cottages to a pole on the other side of the road.
I spoke with Andrew Haywood of Western Power Distribution and we arranged to meet on site. When we did, he said that one possibility was a road dig but that would be quite expensive. He offered to investigate the possibility of bringing the service from the pole at the rear and underground beneath the forest land to the back of the plot. This would need the consent of the Forestry Commission but Andrew felt that this would be forthcoming.
At the same time, I had a conversation with Severn Trent Water, who advised me that there was a water mains across the forest land at the rear, close to the line of the electricity poles. The quotation for the electricity came back as £1,439.88 for each plot and £641.36 for the water for each, inclusive of infrastructure charges (there are no mains sewage drains available in this area). Both services followed the same route and we should be able to put them on either side of a single trench.
A Solution for the Second Plot
I’d sent the plans for both houses off to Estimators Limited to be priced up. They’d come back with a figure of £105,000 for the labour and materials for our new home.
Interestingly, Bruce Bendall, my builder friend from the area, approached me to inform me that he and his wife Kathy would like to buy the second plot, but they’d have to sell their home first. Would we wait?
Back in the 1980s, Linda and I built our ninth self build on a plot of land that we’d exchanged in return for building the vendor a house on one part of his garden. It had worked well, although we’d had to build the vendor’s house first, so that he could move into it before we knocked down his old one for us to build on its plot. Could Bruce and I come to a similar arrangement?
I spoke to my solicitor who produced a contract for Bruce and Kathy whereby they’d buy the land in exchange for building our home. In the end it didn’t work out because Bruce wasn’t registered for VAT. So we agreed to sell the plot to them for £115,000 and, in return, Bruce agreed to sign a contract to build our new home, contiguously with his own, for the total of the labour element in the document from Estimators Limited. We will each now reclaim the VAT element on eligible materials, as individual self builders.
Next month: David receives planning permission for the alterations, and work starts on site