Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Property/Land Development - Do Your Homework! - The Value of Desktop Studies

In the very early stages of a project, whether acquisition or development, a great deal of freely available information can be obtained to help to decide whether or not it would be worthwhile progressing to the next stage.

Source: http://www.the-self-build-guide.co.uk/

The internet is an invaluable resource for property and construction professionals and there is a great deal of information that is freely available to anyone who knows where to look.  If you are buying or selling property or giving advice to a client in respect of a particular building or indeed any construction project, there is a whole host of free ‘desktop’ information that can be attained without leaving the comfort of your office, or your home.
Over the last month we have had unprecedented rainfall in the UK making the hosepipe bans issued by numerous water authorities a few months ago seem ridiculous.  The result of all this rain however, is rivers bursting their bank and the Environment Agency issuing flood warning and alerts up and down the country.  A visit to the Environment Agency Website, provides access to their flood map, which details information relating to flooding around rivers and the sea, by simply inputting a postcode.  This information is free to access and can provide an indication of whether flooding may be an issue, and if so lead to more extensive investigations. Given the disruption, cost implications and difficulties with insuring properties at risk of flooding, this is a simple way of making an initial assessment at a very early stage.

When inspecting a building or a site it is also fundamentally important to investigate what is going on around the site and in the immediate vicinity, and to not just focus on the building or site itself.   Imagine a scenario where you complete an inspection and you fail to identify that that the neighbouring land, with the unspoilt, idyllic rural views has planning permission for a new housing estate, or your neighbour is about to start construction of a side and rear extension which will abut your boundary.  Nowadays, most local authorities publish planning applications on line, which are freely accessible by anyone.  There is also the opportunity for comments on individual applications during the consultation period. This type of investigation followed up by a phone call to the planning officer if necessary, can uncover important information that could be the determining factor on whether a client may which to proceed or not. Failing to establish this information could result in a potential negligence claim if the client can prove that they have acted on your advice and subsequently suffered a loss!  The local authority will also provide you with advice on historic planning and building regulations applications if requested.

Another useful tool that has become prominent over the last few years is on line mapping. Google Maps, is an exceptionally powerful free on line resource.  Prior to undertaking an inspection of a building I would use Google maps as a navigator (to find find out where I was going), as a locator (you can use satellite view to zoom in and out to see what is in the surrounding areas including neighbouring land and buildings and to look at roof configurations), and also as walk through (using street view allows you to 'take a walk' outside and around the building where you can see neighbouring buildings, roads, and other  interesting details and information.  This simple and free method of on line research can be used for example by house hunters to decide if they want to view a potential home, or indeed not waste there time and focus on others.  This is particularly useful for those looking for houses in areas that may be some distance from their current abode. A note of caution however, is that Google Maps is not 'real time'.  The images that you view may be a number of years old, however, as long as you appreciate this, you can still obtain some really useful information.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) provide a free on line map which indicates concentration levels of radon throughout the UK. Radon is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, naturally occurring, radioactive noble gas and is considered to be a health hazard if HPA threshold levels of 200 becquerels per cubic metre of air in homes is exceeded. It would therefore make sense to make use of this free online resource to establish if radon is something that may require further consideration.

Professional advisors will undertake thorough investigations when advising clients and will utilise some of the free resources discussed above in addition to other investigations such as location of services, land registration searches, mining history, ecological surveys, and numerous others that will demand a small fee.  In the very early stages of a project, whether acquisition or development, a great deal of freely available information can be obtained to help to decide whether or not it would be worthwhile progressing to the next stage, and at what point it is necessary to appoint professional advisors.  You will require professional advisers to find and interpret all sorts of other information as an acquisition or project progresses, however you do not need to be professionally qualified to access this free information, it is just knowing where to look.

I am sure that readers of this article from outside the UK will be able to find similar freely available information in their country of origin, by undertaking a small amount of Internet based research.

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1 comment:

  1. Other immensely valuable information is also freely available, like whether your building, or a nearby one, is English Heritage listed, or stands in a Conservation Area. Both of these factors may have a very significant effect on what you can and can't do with the property. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/protection/process/national-heritage-list-for-england/

    As importantly, you should ensure that any alterations to the property you want to buy or lease have the necessary consents in place. If they don't, you could be facing the legal and financial consequences of putting right unauthorised works. Checking is a job for a professional and specialist advisers are available, as is specialist insurance. Assessing your development requirements as well against heritage restrictions should be done long before the surveying and contracts exchange stage.

    Finally, change of use. Many buildings, previously in a commercial or public use, can make interesting and unusual homes. However, be sure that you have taken well informed advice from a planning consultant before embarking on a scheme of alteration or conversion. There may in some cases be special protection for the conversion of say pubs to non-pub uses and you should be sure that there is a high likelihood of consent before taking it any further. You can get free advice from the local planning department as a preliminary view.

    Dale Ingram, Historic Buildings & Planning Consultant