I am sure like most people, leaving behind a legacy to your children is high on your priorities, and the project I’m about to share with you is definitely my proudest achievement yet for so many reasons. I learnt an insane amount of lessons along that way that I look forward to sharing with you so that you don’t make all the mistakes I did.
I was really new to property, and up until this point, all I had purchased was a little 2 bed house in North Wales. I didn’t have the experience or understanding to realise what sort of challenge I was getting myself in for when I had the idea to try and get planning to convert my nan’s old detached garage. This wasn’t just a normal garage; it was, in fact, a Grade 2 listed building in a conservation area and an area of outstanding natural beauty on a privately owned gated estate! My grandad had thought about trying to get planning on it before he passed away, but never tried as he believed, and was told, it would be impossible. This is where my blissful ignorance came in as I wasn’t aware of what I could or couldn’t do, so at my own expense, I decided it was worth a shot and little did I know it would be a 2 year battle to make it happen!
Being in the building trade as a full time scaffolder, I knew several local builders who could connect me with a planning agent to help get the ball rolling. He came round and said to me that he thinks there is a slim chance it could happen, but there’s still a chance, and the way I see it is you may as well spend the time fighting for something amazing to happen as that time will pass anyway.
So here comes my first HUGE mistake… I didn’t inform the neighbours of my plans as I didn’t even think about it and wasn’t aware they would all be notified by the council by letter anyway and I should have spoken to them all individually and could have answered and handled any objections upfront! Instead, the planning application went in and everyone on the private road were really, and I mean really, against it. Every day I would check the local planning portal, and more and more objections kept showing up. They even held a residence meeting about me and my plans and refused to let me come to defend it! I went to the head of the associations house and took my plans to prove to them it was actually going to enhance the road and be a benefit to the street. I asked him to take notes to share my side of the story to the rest of them at the meeting, and still everyone objected to the council individually and also as a collective. I was public enemy number one.
Mistake 2 – The planning consultant I used and had received nothing but feedback off of was taking forever to respond to the extra information the council required and also took weeks and weeks at a time to respond to me, but because I believed he had a great relationship with the council, I was too soft and didn’t push hard enough. I was settling for a terrible delayed service and didn’t have the confidence to call him out. The application came back over 5 times with so many different issues like drawings not to scale, inaccurate roof pitch etc.
Highways recommended refusing the application and so did the conservation officer, so the council said unless we can get them on board, it’s a definite NO.
Mistake 3 – After months of negotiation and changing the plans to even include a garden schudel depicting what species of plant and its precise location and height in the front garden. Even with all the objection, I was finally granted planning permission with 18 conditions! I had done it, after 2 years it was finally done… WRONG! I found out the planner had forgotten to put in for listed building consent with the original planning application, so we would have to submit a whole new different application that everyone will be notified about and have the chance to object to again!! I just couldn’t believe it the dream could be killed again! The lesson is get a competent power team!
Mistake 4 – After getting listed building consent, it was now time to start figuring out the next steps. So I contacted the electric and water companies to work out how much it would cost to connect, but being at the end of a private road, there was a huge problem. The one cable that fed the last houses was tested and wasn’t strong enough to spur off to power my house and the whole 400m long road would need digging up and replacing which just wasn’t financially possible, so after all that my dream was dead. Make sure you plan the services like Gas, Water, Electric, Drainage, Telephone line etc well in advance! After a load of top negotiating and agreeing specific types of radiators and low energy systems the electric company agreed it could be possible!
Mistake 5 – Not agreeing on a price upfront and also not having any money! Once planning was granted it was now time to agree on the price I would purchase the garage for to which my uncles then got involved, which really added a layer of issues as now there were even more people who had to agree. They instructed 3 local agents to come and value it, the value without planning - £30,000, the value with planning £125,000. Now because I was the one who obtained planning would you agree I earned the uplift in value? Well because I wanted to make sure my nan wouldn’t have to worry about money ever again, I wanted to pay her the £125,000 as a promise I made to my grandad that I would take care of her. We agreed the £125,000 and delayed the payment until I had refinanced the property and because of my lack of experience could get lending so I had to raise the whole build cost privately through my newly built network which I managed to do in drips and drabs but I made it happen!
Mistake 6 - Now with all the utilities agreed and the builder confirmed we started the rip out and taking everything back to brick. But again another issue came up. The back of the building was the boundary wall to a neighbouring property, and the neighbour refused us access, so we couldn’t remove the windows or do the remedial outside works or replace the old roof, so again, more issues to overcome. But not only that, when we went to start digging to connect the services, we were stopped by another neighbour as we hadn’t received permission to dig up a privately owned road. As you can imagine, the stress of this project was driving me insane, and as always I had to create work with situations and negotiate approval for both these problems.
So far it's been over 2 years of constant fighting, problem solving and an emotional rollercoaster while working full time with a young growing family.. who would want an easy life anyway….
Do you want to focus on what you do want in life versus what you don't want?