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We recently built and sold 2 green eco houses in London.
This is a quick run through of the stages...
Green is the new black. Everywhere you look in the media, green, greenish and greener.
But walk about any city or town and do you ever see solar panels or a green roof?
It is better for your social life (and your conscience) to be a green developer - as everyone hates or is envious of normal property developers.
Green goes from a building that is normal looking with high spec energy efficiency, to zero carbon, passive heating, made of recycled tires, mud, old bottles etc. So take your pick on depth of green.
Rule 1: Ignore reality and plough on.
2/ Finding land
Land, land everywhere and not a square metre to buy... except at high prices.
This being Britain, any good land - near a road, town, or not on top of an old mine or next to a railway line - is hard to find. You will need Google Earth for initial area inspection, then check the value of the houses around. Then a visit. You will need lots of patience and plenty of time.
Unless you are lucky.
We used a land agent who came up with the perfect site - at the end of a row of terraced houses in London, a patch that used to be a garage - about 3 miles from home. However, a famous eco house, the Tree House in Clapham, was built on land from a high street estate agent. But if land is cheap there will be a reason.
Rule 2: Follow all paths and check thoroughly. Use a professional land finding (or listing) service as well as an agent, as you can waste a lot of time looking in estate agents, although there are exceptions, so do that too.
3/ Planning Permission
Council planning departments like eco so that is not a problem. They also have pressure to allow development on brownfield sites to prevent invading Greenfield areas. Hence the flurry of tiny houses in people's gardens - the 'upside down house' with half of it in a basement.
But watch out for the neighbours. Our eco houses were to be built in a normal Edwardian London terrace. The neighbours received a nice info pack before planning was granted. This just excited a local busy body into starting up a petition to stop an unusual house being built (it had wood cladding not brick). The planners then warned us that the local Councillor (as elected) would side with the neighbours in any committee decision.
So before we got formally rejected we redesigned the appearance of the building to look exactly like an Edwardian brick building complete with slate roof (recycled), bay windows and even a blind window at the top. The brick had to be London style. The wood cladding only survived at the rear of the house.
The finished building looked great, still had an eco spec, blended in with the 'street scene' and, as new, looked better than the ageing houses around it. But of course, the brick is not eco, and it cost more. Fighting the neighbours' petition would have taken years.
Incidentally the bigger developers can do what they like as they have more money - there are payments for larger developments (over 10 units) wich are varied but as an example, Southwark Council wants over £35,000 per habitable room, rising with larger developments. This is to go from the commercial developer towards public and affordable housing (filtered by many layers of Council bureaucracy) - that is to say, a tax. (From Southwark Council Affordable Housing Valuations Report 2005).
Rule 3: Follow the planners' advice - they are usually 'sort of' on your side, not the neighbours.
4/ Building Regulations
New building regs are very green - with high spec insulation, glazing and energy rules - the only unusual things to think about are toilets (have to also be on ground floor), disabled access (ramps) and sound proofing.
Planning covers the exterior appearance and street scene, plus amenity (room sizes, garden and balconies, but this seems nonsensical when you look at the tiny flats that get built everywhere these days). Building regs control the actual built specification. A building inspector will come on site periodically and check everything. Often they can be a bit enigmatic on rulings, say 'you should do' when they mean 'you must do'. This is to avoid aggro with irate developers and builders.
Rule 4: Do exactly as they say, resistance is futile.
Eco building is high spec so expect higher than normal costs. This is why clients on refurbishment jobs usually start off with green ideas, then drop them. The return on investment is low for some items (photovoltaic solar panels) or 'environmental' on others (green roof - although they provide very good insulation, especially in hot areas).
Rule 5: Spend as much as you can, it will come back in the sale. Remember, you are 'saving the planet'.
Buyers are more traditional than you think. It is easy to get caught up in the green hype and think everyone is into it. They aren't.
Common questions relate to maintenance of features such as solar panels or a green roof. They also might expect a green eco house to be cheaper. Sadly, no, as the high spec components are more expensive.
So be prepared with lists of benefits - save money on energy, water etc - and try and explain that general benefits like improving the environment have a positive effect on amenity and quality of life. For instance, a green roof will make you happier. 25% of UK homes are timber framed, so it is not as unusual or novel as it might appear.
Rule 6: Remember you are selling a high quality future proofed product, so be positive, don't drop the price unless you have to.