Everyone approaching a project like this should spend three years on planning, and six months on the really expensive bit – the building (says Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud). Don’t go down the DIY route if you don’t have to. Employ proper partners and builders, but don’t give them an easy time. Get three quotes for each job and references from previous clients. Follow up by asking how much work each firm has on at the moment. This is a coded message for “How quickly can you get around to me?” Draw up a written agreement regarding how long the project will take and what it will cost. Keep back five per cent for snagging work once the job is done. Before starting work, get a building report, to see if the house suffers from the construction curses of damp, subsidence or rot. If you are converting a church, a useful source is the Church Commissioners publication New Uses For Redundant Churches (call 020 7898 1000, church commissioners. org). Conversions are zero-rated but the rules governing the recovery of VAT are different to those applied to new build. With conversions, labour-only or supply-and-fix contracts attract a reduced VAT rate of 5pc.