In today's financial climate, it is becoming increasingly popular for homeowners to look to extend their existing properties as opposed to moving. Furthermore if you are happy where you live, your kids are in school and you leave near friends extending your house to meet your needs instead of moving house makes a lot of sense.

The first thing that needs to be considered is what kind of extension will suit your needs. As each property is different in its design and relation to other buildings, the method of extension may be different between properties. In many cases though, the easiest and cheapest forms of extension are the single storey rear extension/conservatory, single storey side extensions and two storey side extensions/room over the garage. Loft conversions are also becoming increasingly popular.

The easiest way to decide what type of extension you want is to consider why you need to extend the house. Do you need an extra bedroom? Or an extra bathroom? Or additional communal space? It is then advisable to take these ideas and present them to an architect or draughtsman.

There are many different levels of service available from architects. Some will offer a full project management service from concept to delivery, whilst other may just provide plans for you, leaving you to liaise with the Local Authority and builders. Of course each option has a different cost and the quality of architects/draughtsman can vary greatly also. It is often advisable to ask an architect/draughtsman for built examples of their work before committing to a contract.

Once you have discussed your proposal with your architect and have some plans which suit your needs, it is then advisable to contact the Planning Department of your Local Authority with an informal enquiry. Firstly you will need to establish whether or not your proposal requires planning permission. Your architect may be able to advise on this, but some extra restrictions can apply to certain properties meaning that it is important that you gain confirmation, in writing from the Council as to what the position with regards to your proposal is.

It is often the case that if your proposal does need planning permission that a minor alteration may bring it within the guidelines to avoid needing planning permission. Many Councils will advise you if that is the case and I recommend that such advice be taken as it could potentially save you time and money in the long term. Generally, if the need to make a planning application can be avoided whilst delivering a house extension that meets your requirements then this course is to be advised. Avoiding a planning application means that the Council will have only very limited control over the extension and perhaps more crucially, occupiers of neighbouring properties will not be able to object to your proposals. It could also potentially save you additional costs as a result of the information requirements that are required to accompany a planning application.

If your proposal does need planning permission, then a planning application must be made and should be submitted before building work starts. It is important to consider this when scheduling work as planning applications can frequently take as long as 8 weeks or sometimes longer to work their way through the system.

Before submitting a planning application, it may be worth sending your local Planning Office a copy of your proposed plan along with a letter requesting pre-application advice. This will enable the Planning Officer to provide you with some pointers as to how an application may be viewed and what issues may arise during an application. If these issues can be addressed before you make your formal application it could potentially result in a smoother planning application process.

When preparing to submit your planning application it is important to ensure that you have all the information that is required prior to submission. This will potentially save time as if the application is complete then its time will start from when the Council receive the application. If the application is received in incomplete form then it will be delayed as the Planning Department will have to contact you to request the further information before the application time period can start.

In many cases the application will be passed without problems. Around 95% of planning applications are ultimately approved. If you have employed an architect who is used to working in the local area, they will often be familiar with the Council's design criteria and will often design house extensions in the first instance with these policies in mind.

Sometimes however, local residents may oppose your plans, sometimes with justification. Accordingly it is always recommended that you discuss your plans with your neighbours prior to making an application. One of the easiest ways to upset your neighbours is when the first they hear about your proposals is through the letter that they receive from the Council. Ideally, any issues which the Council may have with your application will raised by the mid-point of the application process. These concerns may result in the Council asking for amended plans or if there is not enough time to do this and/or the issues are considered too fundamental to be addressed within the timeframe then it may be requested that the application be withdrawn. This is becoming more common in the light of the target driven environment within which many Planning Departments now operate. If it is likely that the application will exceed its 8 week target period, many Councils will seek to have applications withdrawn or may even refuse an application in order to meet their targets if there is anything wrong with the application.

If your application is refused or you choose to withdraw it, do not panic! Planning Departments are not generally, by nature excessively confrontational. Indeed, whilst they can sometimes appear dogmatic and maybe obstructive, many Planning Officers will be more than willing to assist you as best they can in order to achieve a compromise between their policy requirements and what you wish to achieve. If you application is ultimately refused and no compromise can be reached with the council, do not forget your right of appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.