Fo­cus on

Ju­lia and Robert Adams had a lucky escape dur­ing their sec­ond self build, when they nar­rowly dodged buy­ing a sub­stan­dard plot un­der shady cir­cum­stances. Here, Ju­lia shares their story… and how you can avoid the same thing hap­pen­ing to you

Build It - - CONTENTS -

Self builder Ju­lia Adams re­veals how she nar­rowly avoided buy­ing a prob­lem plot

Tell us about the site that you ul­ti­mately de­cided against buy­ing.

While brows­ing an es­tate agent’s web­site, we found a plot in Glouces­ter­shire with plan­ning per­mis­sion and build­ing con­trol ap­proval for an at­trac­tive eco house. It looked bril­liant, so we re­quested all its doc­u­men­ta­tion to put in our ten­der. De­spite con­stant re­minders, the es­tate agent only made files avail­able to us a week be­fore the ap­pli­ca­tion dead­line, and some were still miss­ing with just days to go. It wasn’t fan­tas­tic ser­vice.

We put in our of­fer, sub­ject to re­ceiv­ing the right in­for­ma­tion, and won the bid. Then we started to find is­sues. There were pock­ets of Fuller’s earth – a type of ab­sorbent clay sus­cep­ti­ble to move­ment – in the area and an undis­closed gas main un­der­neath the foot­print of the pro­posed prop­erty. The north-western site bound­ary was un­marked and the ven­dors re­fused to clar­ify it cor­rectly. When my hus­band, Robert, took mat­ters into his own hands, he found that a neigh­bour was us­ing 25m² of the site as a drive­way! We were left un­sure of what ex­actly we would be buy­ing and if we would be plunged into a le­gal bat­tle with the res­i­dents next door.

Key doc­u­ments about ground con­di­tions were also miss­ing. There was, how­ever, a 2014 pre­lim­i­nary ge­o­log­i­cal sur­vey ap­prais­ing the land’s con­di­tion. I con­tacted the ge­ol­o­gists, who told me they had rec­om­mended con­duct­ing a full sta­bil­ity study, but the ven­dors had de­clined. This was when alarm bells re­ally started ring­ing. The plans for the eco home utilised ex­ist­ing foun­da­tions that were dug in the 1970s, when plan­ning per­mis­sion had been granted for 12 homes in the area, but ul­ti­mately left un­de­vel­oped on this site. Now we knew any new house would be built on po­ten­tially un­sound ground­works.

What were your thoughts af­ter un­cov­er­ing these is­sues? We were con­cerned that with the lim­ited ma­te­rial avail­able, and un­der such rushed con­di­tions, less tech­ni­cally-minded buy­ers might see the plan­ning per­mis­sion with build­ing con­trol’s ap­proval and feel happy pro­ceed­ing with the pur­chase. In re­al­ity, there was ab­so­lutely no ba­sis for any con­fi­dence this dwelling could be con­structed in the man­ner it was be­ing mar­keted.

The ven­dors kept push­ing us to ex­change. When we re­quested more in­for­ma­tion, they told us to buy it as is, or they would call off the sale. We re­alised they were con­ning us and pulled out! We told our es­tate agent, but they said it was the buyer’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to do their due dili­gence, and are still rep­re­sent­ing the site. What have you learned from this process?

I didn’t know that build­ing con­trol might as­sume ex­ist­ing foun­da­tions are ap­pro­pri­ate when mak­ing ap­provals. This is be­cause it’s not their risk; it’s the struc­tural en­gi­neer’s or the self builder’s. I don’t think this is com­mon knowl­edge. I worry un­scrupu­lous ven­dors will think that, if they get plan­ning per­mis­sion for a pro­posed house, they can trick peo­ple into un­der­tak­ing an en­deav­our they only re­alise is im­pos­si­ble when their bull­dozer hits a gas main, for ex­am­ple, or they find some pock­ets of Fuller’s earth, or sim­i­lar is­sues, un­der­ground.

How do you think these sit­u­a­tions can be avoided?

You have to be ruth­less and walk away if you sus­pect any foul play. Just be­cause build­ing con­trol has ap­proved a de­sign, or plan­ning per­mis­sion has been granted, it doesn’t mean all is well un­der the ground. Also, you can’t al­ways trust that es­tate agents are act­ing in your best in­ter­ests. They might be very per­son­able and pro­fes­sional, but never for­get that any sale comes at your risk alone.

Keep ask­ing for all the de­tails and make sure you have at least a cou­ple of pro­fes­sion­als around you that you can trust. We used the same project man­ager, An­drew Davies at Ro­man Projects, from our first self build to ad­vise us, who was great. Also, I’m not tech­ni­cal, so when I looked through the avail­able doc­u­men­ta­tion I didn’t no­tice that there were some im­por­tant cal­cu­la­tions miss­ing. My hus­band, who is much bet­ter at as­sess­ing these things, spot­ted it and flagged it as a worry. So it re­ally helps to have some­one savvy on hand to as­sess whether the in­for­ma­tion avail­able all adds up.

You should also al­ways choose an ex­pe­ri­enced spe­cial­ist land ac­qui­si­tion so­lic­i­tor and don’t be scared to add con­di­tions to your pur­chase. We used the Best Value Con­veyanc­ing agency, which finds you a firm of so­lic­i­tors that are suit­able for your needs. They sourced us a pro­fes­sional in Lon­don called Ross Milnes and we ne­go­ti­ated a fixed fee for his ser­vices. He was great.

How did this time dif­fer from your previous self build? It was much sim­pler be­fore. Back in 2009, there was more land for sale than buy­ers, so it was quite easy to find some­thing good. Plus, our first site was lo­cated on bedrock on top of a hill, so there was no sta­bil­ity is­sue. Say­ing that, back then as first timers, we didn’t even think to check for is­sues be­fore start­ing our build. We just want to make sure other peo­ple don’t end up in the same sit­u­a­tion we found our­selves in this time. For now, we are still look­ing for a plot!

What ini­tially looks like a dream plot could end up be­ing a night­mare if you don’t do your re­search and due dili­gence

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