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Builders and neighbours - the hurdles of extending your home

More and more of us are thinking about extending and making modifications to our homes.   Its cheap to borrow money and relatively straight forward to secure planning permission or build within permitted development parameters.  My experience having recently gone through the process is that local authorities are far less relaxed about planning projects  than they were at one time, and obtaining consent has become more of a formality these days.   

You still require building regulation approval, even if you are constructing whiten permitted development rights.   Again, with a good detailed plan this has become far simpler to procure.  

So once consents are in place you may think the headaches are over.   Well I am afraid not. The first problem we faced was finding a reputable builder who was interested enough to quote for what was viewed as a ‘small’ job, even though it involved the creation of 200 square meters of new space. Four or five years ago builders were scrambling around for work and quoting for anything that came their way.  There was a shortage of work due to the financial recession, property development was slow and there was hardly any demand for building services.   How this has all changed.    A good builder is now very hard to track down.   Most builders have jobs on their books for the next 18-24 months and those who are able to fit the work in will almost inevitably  take longer to undertake the work due the shortage of electrical, plumbing and plastering  contractors.  The net effect of this is that it is going to take longer not only to find and vet a builder but to also complete the project. 

If you have never used a builder before or do not have access to reliable recommendations the task of souring a reliable contractor is not easy.  I know from my experience that working with a contractor on a three month project involves the same tolerances and flexibility which feature in any successful relationship. Its like a marriage and you really do need to get on with your builder to ensure the build goes according to plan.  If you are constantly falling out with each other, the scope for heated conflict and perhaps disaster will be increased.  

Keep in mind also that if the builder likes you and the relationship is good the builder will inevitably make sure the finished product is one that you will be pleased with.  Indeed you need a builder who understands the brief and will act as an advisor with all of those many decisions you will be required to take during the build. 

Before selecting a builder, do talk to the builders past customers, read reviews and go and have a look at some of the builder’s previous work.  Also check out the financial position of the builder if you can.  If the builder is a limited company you will be able to access their accounts online. Also most importantly make sure you have a contract drawn up to detail the work to be undertaken and the intervals for payment.  Never pay you builder any money upfront.  Make sure you pay for stages of work as and when they complete.  

I also recommend the engagement of a  project manger to be on site regularly to make sure the build is happening according to plan and to be available to make decisions on the timing of delivery of materials and the organisation of the various trades. 

This brings me on to another area of risk and that is your relationship with your neighbours. Never assume as I did much to my cost that the relationship with your  neighbour is made in heaven and will continue forever.  Like any relationship your long standing relationship with your neighbour can break down.  Forget all of the BBQ, dinner parties and other happy moments which you have ver the years shared with your neighbours, since when it comes to building works, people can change and change quite dramatically.   

If you need access to enable some of your works to be carried out then you will need the consent of your neighbour.  You also need the consent of your neighbour to carry out work to a party wall.   My advice is that how ever well you think you know your neighbours always make sure that you establish a Party Wall Agreement with your neighbour before you commence work.  This should avoid issues over access and arguments around potential damage to your neighbours property caused by the building works. Don’t fall into the trap of relying on the good faith of your neighbour. 

Problems may arise and if they do the best advice is to try and sort these with your neighbours direct. If this is not possible then you may need to resort to the engagement of  a specialist surveyor who may be able to mediate or a solicitor who can consider access rights under the Party Wall Act 1996 and or Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992.

You have to live with your neighbours and falling out with them should be viewed as a last resort.  However do not let an awkward neighbour who has no reason to make your life difficult stand in your way.  You have a right to extend and carry out building works to your property providing you have all of the necessary consents and  you should be entitled to exercise that right without unreasonable interference or obstruction. 

MJP Conveyancing are solicitors who provide legal advice and services to clients based in England and Wales and who can be contacted on 01603877067 or via email at


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