Architect Tom Gresford shares his experience of buying land at auction.
Interview with Tom Gresford
Tom Gresford of Gresford Architects qualified as an architect in 2002, set up his own practice in 2006 and for the last 5 or 6 years has been increasingly focusing on low energy and sustainable design.
Tom finds auctions an interesting way of purchasing unusual properties and quirky development sites that perhaps aren't found on sites like Rightmove, and he has bought 3 or 4 using this method himself.
Do your research and employ a planning consultant
Buying at auction is much the same as buying any plot, in that you should do your research first, even though there's no guarantee of being the successful bidder. Tom recommends hiring a planning consultant to do 5 or 6 hours of work on the site and local appropriate policies, probably costing around £500 or £600, to advise on the likelihood of gaining planning consent.
Look for potential where others may not see it
Tom explains that because the market is quite overcrowded, he tends to steer away from anything straight forward. Instead he looks for quirky or unusual things that other people might not think they can do anything with. His Chieveley Passivhaus was an old water tower which was one of 6 assets being sold by Thames Water at a Savills auction. He did a planning study for each of the 6 and identified this as being the one most appropriate for development.
However, there are never any guarantees in development! Tom gives an example of a site he purchased in Staines. Because it was on a flood plain they fought to try and get planning permission for 2 years and went to appeal, before deciding to sell the plot on. Tom thinks there will also be people willing to pick up these pieces of land, as they may have different intentions for its use.
You should always go into an auction with a limit!
Tom says that you should always decide in advance what the maximum you are prepared to pay will be. Without that you may end up paying considerably more than the land is worth. You should go in having an idea of the land's value, so if you had to exit the deal you would know how much you could expect to get back on it.
Deciding what price you're prepared to pay may also be dependent on your motives for buying. If you're buying it to build your own home then you may be willing to pay more than if you're buying it as a development opportunity. Tom does say that the majority of people at these auctions are professional investors, but that you can always spot who are the self builders!
“There’s no rule of thumb and you never know who you’re going to come up against, how deep their pockets are and what they might be thinking on the day.”
Buying at auction is an incredible adrenaline rush
Tom has lost out on far more bids than he has actually won, but says there can be an incredible adrenaline rush, particularly if there are quite a few people bidding. He tends to wait for a while before starting to bid, and is always clear with himself what level he is prepared to go to. He says if for example you get to that limit and there are still 3 other people in the bidding for it then you know you're not going to win and just have to walk away.
Try to remain aloof and detached
While it can be a thrilling experience, Tom advises caution in getting carried away because it can be a real emotional rollercoaster. That is particularly likely to be the case if you're buying the site to build your own house.
“You wouldn’t choose to buy somewhere if you didn’t want to live there, but then the very fact you want to live there will mean you’ll get emotionally attached to the idea.”
Trying to remain aloof and detached is a good way of helping you to bid in a sensible manner, and also help you deal with the emotions of potentially not having the winning bid, which statistically you are unlikely to have.
The brief for Chieveley Passivhaus was based on an imaginary family
Because there was no client for this build, Tom had to imagine a scenario around which to design. They worked on knowing what tends to be popular, which is a 4 bedroom house, the master bedroom having an en-suite, a family bathroom and then a downstairs toilet. Their imaginary family were interested in modern design and were concerned about the environment and low energy living.
When the house was put up for sale they received 3 sealed bids from 3 sets of people with very differing profiles. None of them previously had an interest in Passivhaus but saw it as a massive advantage.
“We were showing that you could build beautiful modern houses in the Passivhaus way.”
They went down a construction management route of procurement so Tom believes that despite it being a Passivhaus it probably cost the same as most people would build a standard house. If you used the same procurement method but not built to Passivhaus then it would have been cheaper because there are elements such as the blinds, triple glazed windows, MVHR etc that totalled around £15,000, that you don't have on standard buildings.
With the house being west facing to take advantage of the views, they have used manual blinds to take advantage of winter solar gain without having the problems of overheating in the summer.
“It’s just a really good house. A really good, well designed, beautiful, comfortable to live in house…It demonstrates that you can live a really comfortable life with having absolutely minimal impact on the environment and the dwindling resources that we have to face up to.”
Find out more
Visit the website of Gresford Architects
Follow Tom on Twitter
The Hub update
The Hub draws on our experience of video and audio production to bring you more in depth information to help with self build projects.
Our current video case study is following Alex Baines' Long Barrow Passivhaus project, which is an insulated concrete formwork, semi earth sheltered construction. We've worked our way up from the basement to the first floor ICF walls and soon we'll be going into the roof.
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