They still make them like they used to

Penny Jackson finds a house with the best of both worlds
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The Independent Online
It is easy to miss Stephen and Alison Briegel's home. Friends slow down in their cars, then drive on, still searching for a distinctively new building among the older houses in the leafy Surrey road. Their eye is more likely to be caught by the roughly drawn name stuck in the window than by the fresh lines of a house just months old.

Not all owners of a new home would wish it to be so unassuming. But to the Briegels it represents a triumph. They have built themselves their ideal house - one with an interior layout of their choice with an appearance that suggest age but is not mock period. A year before they would never even have dreamt of living in a new house. Until then they were part of that vast section of the population who always saw themselves living in a period house.

"We were intending to buy one and do it up," said Stephen Briegel. "But after having given up with London because of prices and searched without success in Surrey we decided to look for land." As a partner in Allen Briegel, a company specialising in new homes, land and development, it would seem an obvious step. The fact that they had not considered this option before was a measure, they say, of their attachment to old houses. "For that reason we wanted to be able to build something unique and in an area with an established community. Neither of us could envisage living on a new development," he said. This left them with a hard search ahead. Building land is scarce and expensive, particularly in a prime area like Surrey. Most land is bought up by the big developers and not many individuals would be able to compete with them. But the developers had not spotted the potential of the Briegel's plot. "It was a small piece of derelict land, 30ft wide and 100ft long, and close to another house," said Stephen Briegel.

After negotiating for the land, the Briegels bought it for pounds 83,500, down from an asking price of pounds 110,000. They then contracted a small, local company, Alexson Developments, to build the house. They had to choose someone who could be trusted to work to a high standard in a sensitive area. The house next door, for instance, is listed. "We insisted on having the house rendered in order to age it. We also wanted a conservatory to run the full width of the house for which we needed new planning permission," said Mr Briegel. It is not just the details of cornice and skirting boards - few developers would exclude them these days - that give the house such an established feel. A Cotswold stone fireplace with deep shelving alongside gives the sitting room a cottage atmosphere. The entrance at the side of the house allows for a large room at the front and a sensible sized hallway.

In a recent survey of new home buyers, Savills concluded that the majority of new home owners wanted a period facade with the conveniences of a modern home. Buyers also expected good value for money and higher standards of workmanship than in a survey conducted in 1992. Then, only seven per cent were satisfied with their house, whereas this year that figure has risen to 31 per cent. Stephen Briegel believes that since the property slump, the quality of work has improved enormously. "Buyers are getting value for money. In all this house, which has five bedrooms, cost us pounds 196,000 to build, about the same as our house in London was worth. But now this one could be sold for pounds 250,000." As it was a new house, there was no VAT to pay. So is there anything that they miss? "The high ceilings," said Stephen Briegel. "There is that feeling of space you can't always create in a new house. But we don't miss the upkeep of an old house. We have not had one problem with this house. Not even a dodgy drain."