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Grand Illusions?

We Brits are suckers for TV shows about property. Whether it’s Kirsty and Phil hunting down homes in primo locations, George Clarke shinning up the nearest copper beech to marvel at the miracle of designer treehouses or a hapless homeowner getting a dressing-down from Beeny for listing a house without first kennelling their noisome doggie six-pack, it’s all grist to the mill for the TV property veteran.

In many ways, the televisual obsession with all things property-related provides a boost for the architects among us. Time was when most people would have considered consulting an architect to be an activity reserved for the privileged few. Nowadays, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that more homeowners are consulting architects not only about full-scale, new-build projects but also about more modest conversions and extensions. Good design is being seen as an essential component rather than an optional extra, which is good news for the built environment as a whole.

The only problem is that some self-builders have unrealistic expectations about what it’s possible to achieve for their budget. An episode of Grand Designs recently showcased an amazing property build in Bath. It was an ambitious project that suffered a number of setbacks due to the inclement British weather and some unforeseen problems with groundworks. It’s reassuring to see that things don’t always go to plan – and of course it introduces an element of jeopardy into the mix. But it doesn’t always add up in the final reckoning. When the job overruns and add-ons like Cotswold stone cladding and bespoke handrails get thrown into the mix, you can bet there’s an impact on the bottom line.

Which would be fine if the culprits owned up to the overspend and admitted they’d been slightly conservative with their initial estimates of both time and money. But it’s at precisely this moment that they suddenly become coy about sharing the extent of their investment and simply confess to ‘exceeding the budget’. ‘By how much?’ presses Kevin, desperate to know the real cost of the seaside-rock-pink polished plaster wall that coils through the centre of the house, though he has to content himself with the tight-lipped but admirably vague ‘Well, quite a lot, actually’.

Our verdict? Dream houses make wonderfully entertaining TV but we take the fantasy budgets with a pinch of salt!

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