Economic uncertainties and current government policy mean increasing diversification in farming practices. Many projects include converting redundant barns and farmbuildings to let or sell for residential use, holiday lettings or commercial units.
Conversions can be complex: planning guidelines must be carefully considered (and expert advice taken) before putting in your application. Be sure the project is financially viable and the returns justify the expense: the Architectural Heritage Fund and your bank are useful starting points.
The Royal Institute of British Architects will have details of local architects with particular skills in the type of development you wish to undertake. Ensure all professionals engaged have adequate professional indemnity insurance and, to avoid difficulties later, enter into direct agreements with each professional. Agree the form of building contract to be used before you tender. Consider whether you need specific contracts for specialist tasks such as decontamination or an assessment for protected wildlife.
Once the property is converted, you will need to ensure that you use an experienced solicitor to draw up contracts or leases that protect your position and your other land. Remember, too, that the project may significantly affect your inheritance tax and capital-gains position. Before starting, review your personal tax position with your tax advisor.
Research is everything if you are considering a conversion. Drive round the area and assess whether there is local demand for the type of conversion you are considering. There are great profits to be made in property development, but there are also great risks; you should be very clear about this before starting.
Ruth Gray is a member of the Rural Business and Landed Estates team at Charles Russell LLP.