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October 19, 2010
Bespoke Home Design: Managing A Custom Development
Custom tailoring has always been the hallmark of a luxury product. One only need consider the prestige and value of a handmade suit from a Savile Row tailor to appreciate the value of bespoke fitting. Likewise, ultra-luxury homes can be made much nicer if they are custom fit to the owner’s needs. One has less need to compromise and the property search can be shortened by not needing to find exactly the right property. As well, savvy buyers can save money by avoiding developers mark-ups, which are typically 20% of their total costs.
There are difficulties to bespoke fit out though. The first is finding the property. Start with a square footage and a general area you are hoping for. Then look for properties which are in need of refurbishment, or which have not been improved for over 15 years. You will end up looking at a lot of properties which at first may make you blanche, but remember that you are intending to tear it all out and start over, so it doesn’t matter if you like the walls, carpet or furniture because you are changing all of it. This requires a more objective and imaginative thought process. Does the wall layout fit with what I am wanting? Are there the right amount of floors? Is it in a bad enough condition that I am getting a good discount on the property?
Unfortunately, to have this level of work done on a property, it may be best to look outside of the more traditional Ultra-prime locations. Kensington, Knightsbridge, Belgravia, and Mayfair are all filled with Grade II listed buildings, many of which are not sold as freehold. This means that you will have to get the freeholder’s permission (probably through paying him a premium) and then have a much more difficult time with the planning council. What’s more, these sorts of areas are less likely to have disused or unrefurbished properties than others, so finding a discounted property may take more time. Consider instead the areas around Regent’s Park (St. John’s Wood, Primrose Hill and Baker Street) or Hampstead. These areas are well loved and quite prestigious but much more amenable to the level of works expected for a fully bespoke finish.
Once you have found your property, you have to source the right people for the job. If you have hired a buyer’s agent, they will be able to do the project management for you, and source all of the parts of the process. Otherwise, I would suggest finding architects who have done similar work in the area. Go on the local planning website and search for recent planning applications in and around the street you are buying on. Most of them will be done by an agent, usually an architectural firm. They will be able to work to whatever degree of involvement you would like them to, from just coming up with the plans to complete project management.
Finally, allow for things to take time. Rent a house for a year or two and wait for the project to finish. The worst thing that could happen is that you are overpaying and arguing with contractors because the house you were supposed to move into is still a construction site. If instead, you have rented someplace reasonable and set the project end date at the start of a rolling break option, you will be able to save yourself a good bit of stress.