Shireen would pack three very different books this summer.
My New Year’s resolution was to practice ‘mindfulness;, a state in which you focus your errant mind on the present so as to stop stressing about the future. However, I appear to have already broken this resolution as I am focusing on the work that can begin at our house, now that we have received a letter from Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s Planning Division. In accordance with the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the Town and Country Planning Regulations 1992, we now have… full planning permission. I am visualising the extra loft space we will gain, the guest room and my office space – and our family home finally taking shape.
The permission is subject to standard stipulations: work must not start later than three years from planning permission (let’s face it, if it did, my ashes would be scattered over the site), and must be in line with drawings submitted. The only caveat exceptional to us was our roof must match that of our neighbour. Strange as it’s a different period and not architecturally part of the four terraced houses alongside it. Having bought the house late last summer, I feel that finding the path to the centre of the Hampton Court-sized maze that constitutes town planning is a feat which Thomas Wolsey would be produce. That is even though I have understood little about the process, have done even less and left it all to our architects De Rosee SA. The credit is all theirs.
Once planning permission was granted, a company carried out ‘opening up works’ (£330 excl.VAT). To me, these look like a bouncer has brawled in our home, punching holes in the walls and floors. Though from the debris, Rob, our structural engineer, drew up a quick scheme (four drawings) of what’s going on beneath the surface. He now knows where the joists lie; where the large structural components are like the steels and which part of the existing structure is in line with our scheme. Some parts may need reinforcing and others may not be up to today’s standards.
Having studied Rob’s findings, Max, our architect, declares: ’We need a fair bit of structural work.’ Max will worry about that, while my husband and I worry about our weekly outgoings of rent plus mortgage on the new house – and potential spiralling costs over which we have little control. In an attempt to lessen some of this expenditure, we have contacted a VAT consultant. (How many consultants does it take to renovate one house? I’ll let you know next September). We had hoped raising the roof will constitute ‘new build’ and exemption from VAT. It doesn’t. If I were to build a modern bungalow or convert a cow shed (note the plethora of Oxfordshire barn conversions), there would be zero VAT. But restoring a pre-Georgian house still carries the heavy 20% penalty. We could get 5% rating on energy savings work if we insulate all the internal walls. Solar panels – if we can still afford them – are VAT exempt.
The next steps will involved putting party wall agreements in place. This involves many more conversations with our neighbour’s surveyor that one would logically imagine (read potential for high fees). Max is also working with two possible contracts to cost the works. Both contractors will give a provisionally priced tender then, once we have chosen the preferred contractor, a second tender will be put together with exact prices. Max puts it like this: ‘Don’t let’s discuss hinges until we know that we can build a bathroom.’
I’m with Max. Not least because he is worried we are going to be over budget. He is wondering whether to contract out the demolition work that’s required before the makeover can begin. This could save us two weeks and some money if we find a builder who needs the cash. Meanwhile, Max is putting together a schedule of the cost of the sanitary ware, appliances and lighting. The contractors appear to need these costings.
I keep trying to imagine standing with my husband, wearing hard hats, in own building site before Valentine’s Day. Not very mindful, but it does the trick.