Let’s have a Party! (wall agreement)

You have your scheme, you get your planning permission. You specify your structure, stairs, means of escape, spread of flame, conservation of heat and power. You get your building regulations plans approval. Are you ready to go? Not quite… If you have neighbours adjoining your proposal there’s a pretty good chance that you are going to need a party wall agreement. That’s what the law says. The Party Wall (etc) Act may not be that exciting but it serves a very noble purpose – it sets out a (sort of) clear procedure that can prevent and remedy neighbour disputes when one of you has construction work done to form a new wall on a boundary, or to work on an existing wall that separates two structures. Here’s how it works. You want an extension that goes up to or even a bit over the boundary, or you need to put a steel into the party wall to make your loft room roof, whatever makes the music. You give a notice letter to your neighbour, ideally along with some home made cake and a cup of tea, which tells them about the work. They give you a letter which consents to the work described. There you have it, you have a party wall agreement.

Now I don’t want to tell you everything about the Act, or the relevant case law, but there are a couple of headline points that you need to know. You can read the Act here. There’s also this handy guide – which for some reason is longer than the Act and harder to understand. Both documents are very useful – they define the party wall, say what your rights to use are, describe the notices and set out procedures for resolving disputes. You can also read the official guidance here. Many have tried and failed to explain the Act in simple terms – I will just give you a couple of pointers based on my experience. Buyer beware! If you are in any doubt, go to a professional. Architecture students, buy Speaight and Stone.

Why, oh why, do I have to serve a Notice?

It’s not about the Notice, it’s about the Agreement. It’s your neighbour’s wall too (or their boundary) and if you don’t have an Agreement they can take you to court and
get the judge to tell you to take down that new extension you just paid for. Not the outcome we wanted.

Talk to your neighbour

Find out early doors if they are going to be okay with your scheme. If they hate it, or you can’t find them, get a party wall surveyor in to do everything. Look for RICS or a member of the Pyramus & Thisbe Club (I know!). The Act gives you wide powers and procedures to get your work done and muscle through a dispute but any technicality can set you back. For example, if the Notice is not served correctly, it can be rendered invalid. So don’t go in unprepared if your neighbour is hostile. If your neighbour lovingly embraces your proposal, you can do it yourself and save some money.

Which Notice?

There are three kinds of notice under the Act. If you are building a new wall on or up to the boundary you need a notice under section 1 (Line of Junction Notice). If you are asking to do work to an existing Party Wall or floor you need a notice under section 2 (Party Wall or Party Structure Notice). If you are digging a hole for foundations you will very likely need a notice under section 6 (Foundation Notice). This is also known as a 3 metre or 6 metre notice.

So for some common examples, a new loft room in a terraced property may need a Party Wall notice to let a new steel into the existing Party Wall, or take out a chimney breast. If you have a new extension up to or on to the boundary, you may need a Line of Junction Notice and Foundation Notice especially if your neighbour’s building is old, in which case your new foundations will likely be lower than the old foundations.

I think that’s my taxi outside

Sorry if today’s post was not as exciting as the invitation suggested, but actually all I want you to take away in your party bag is that you can’t just start on site without an agreement from your neighbours if you have a party wall / new wall on the boundary. See you next time and thank you for a wonderful evening!

Small but perfectly formed

Site progress at Eastlands Road. The scheme is for a little extension and internal alterations to bring much goodness to this compact family home. By going out just 3.5m under larger permitted development we are moving out of the tiny kitchen and into a garden facing kitchen dining room. The existing dining room will become the full time home office / part time guest bedroom / formal dining which will gain glazed pocket doors (that slide away into a false wall) to give a borrowed view into the garden through the new room. The old kitchen becomes a utility / laundry room and a separate larder. This takes two space hungry functions out of the kitchen so that it does not need to be big to be great. Our lovely (really lovely) builder is working to suit the client’s school holiday cycle and has split the work into phases, taking out a bulky redundant chimney from bedroom 3 and the old kitchen during the autumn term break so that the children can be away during the dusty work.


How to save money on your architect’s fees

I know what you are thinking. I wonder how much this is all going to cost? Well, preparing a fee for a new client is a tricky business and reading through a fee proposal can be a nervous moment. Here’s some help for you.

The easiest way to save money on your architect’s fees is to hire someone with no insurance, who doesn’t pay tax and is not on the Register of Architects. Thanks for stopping by, have a nice day.

If you have decided to look for someone who is honest, there is a lot you can do to save money on your fees. Here we go:

1. Decide what you want.

If you ask for a fee from an architect to come up with some ideas for your home, how will she or he price this? You can learn a great deal from your architect, who is an expert in design, problem solving, knows about construction and can develop the project requirements into a brief to deliver real benefits to you. If that is what you need, great. But if you know that you are looking for a garden office with a composting toilet and solar panels, say so. Show the architect what you have done already to identify your requirements and solve the problems. If you have a builder on board, tell them. Help your architect to price only the work you need done.

2. Decide how much service you need.

Many of my clients ask for a full service, which means I am with them from the initial sketches through to settling the final account with the builder. That’s a lot of service. If you only need planning and building regulations approval, say so. If you are not sure ask for prices for both. Ask your architect to explain what she or he will do and decide for yourself if that is money well spent.

3. If you want a lump sum fee, say so.

There are three main ways for the architect to price your work. You can pay a percentage of the final build cost. This should be somewhere between 8% and 15% for a small project with a full service. I tend to avoid this with small projects as it is pretty hard to work out what the fee will be, especially if we don’t get to site. You can pay an hourly rate, which has low risk for the architect, but can give the client the shivers, even though this is usually the cheapest fee. Ask your architect to show you the time allowances and the rates and make sure that you don’t ask for too many changes. If you ask for a lump sum fee, you are asking for a fixed price service. The fee might not be the lowest but you know what you will pay for each stage of the works.

4. Start with a feasibility.

For many of my clients, cost is the test of the scheme. If the scheme is too much, it won’t get built and the architect fees will have gone for nothing. Ask your architect to do a feasibility with a guide price. Your architect will probably ask for an hourly rate so that she can be protected in case the service requirements grow out of hand. Ask for an hour limit, say twenty or thirty hours for the feasibility. Once you have it, ask for a lump sum for the rest of the service. Much of the work will have been done already – the plan, the brief, the site visit, so the lump sum should be a lot less. You may get back more than you have already spent.

5. Ask for a reference.

It may seem counter intuitive, but if you want value from your architect, find out how good their service is by getting some references. Have you ever taken your car to the garage and then decided to go elsewhere next time? You usually only get one shot at an architect, who is responsible for designing and delivering your project with the best result, the least stress and no nasty surprises on site. You may wonder why a set of drawings might cost more than a good German washing machine, but if your scheme gets finished on time, to the agreed contract sum you have gained something worth thousands of pounds, all thanks to one person.