It’s difficult to find the perfect home. That’s why many buyers are happy to spend time and money altering a house to suit their needs. If this sounds like you, then chances are when you go to an open inspection you will spend a lot of time considering what changes you can make to the house in question. Home renovations can be an exciting if somewhat daunting prospect. There are a few important things to consider before you take the plunge and decide to purchase a property.

First you need to establish if the changes you wish to make will need to be cleared with council and, if so, are these changes likely to be approved? It can be a rude shock for home-owners when they discover that local councils have very strict guidelines for development that may completely preclude some development ideas. The main areas of concern for councils are streetscape issues, views, privacy and amenity. Basically when you submit a development application to council they will want to be sure that your proposal will not impact negatively on your neighbours, the local community or the streetscape. As long as they can be convinced that this is the case your application will most likely be approved.

To assist council planning officers with their assessment of development applications, each council has a set of guidelines in the form of Development Control Plans and Local Environment Plans. These documents can be purchased at the council and are often available online. They are available to anyone and are an invaluable tool during design and planning of a renovation project to ensure you don’t waste time submitting a proposal that has no chance of being approved.

The main issues that will affect a home improvement will be floor space ratio, setbacks, privacy, view-sharing, car-parking, height limits and streetscape issues. The floor space ratio or FSR refers to the ratio of proposed floor area to the site area and basically establishes the allowable density for a site. Local councils have a set allowable FSR for every site within their council area and it varies according to the type of zoning as well as the dominant development density in an area.

Setbacks refer to the amount of space you must leave between your proposed building line and the boundary. There will be different setbacks for front, rear and side boundaries. Sometimes you may even be required to build right up to a boundary if this is the established pattern in a street. Privacy issues will affect whether or not you can have a window, balcony or deck facing a neighbour’s yard. You may need to think about privacy screens, obscure glazing or use landscaping elements to assure council that the neighbour’s privacy will not be affected.

In areas where views are an issue you will have to prove to council that proposed building work will not block your neighbour’s views. It may be necessary to prepare view diagrams or even a model to demonstrate this. Height limits are imposed according to the predominant and/ or desired future scale of an area. This will determine whether additional storeys are feasible or not. Finally streetscape issues will determine whether you are limited in terms of roof forms, paint colours and other finishes, the viability of a carport or garage etc.

The more complex a proposal is, the more sense it makes to engage a professional to assist. Somebody who has experience working with councils and preparing development approvals can save you a fortune in fees and wasted time. They also have negotiation skills that may assist in convincing council that a development idea has merit. It’s worth getting advice and talking to council before you purchase just to make sure your great ideas have a good chance of reaching fruition.

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