A Beginner’s Guide to Self-build
How to get started on your project — plus, our guide on everything you need to know about building contracts
According to a Building Societies Association survey, one million people would like to build their own home in the next 12 months. Yet there were just shy of 13,000 self-builds completed in the financial year 2016/2017. A shortage of plots and the subsequent rise in price of those that are available explains part of this disconnect, but it is clear that there are people willing and able to self-build, but struggling to take the first step.
The process of self-building is challenging, but like any major life step, it can be made easier by arming yourself with as much information as possible.
Finance Your Build Getting your finances in order is the first and most im-
“Getting your finances in order is the first and most important consideration when it comes to preparing for a self- build”
portant consideration when it comes to preparing for a self-build. There are no two ways about it: you’ll need to ensure that you have access to enough money to complete your build.
First perform a realistic audit of your current financial situation, and then contact lenders to see what you will be able to borrow to fund your project. Mainstream lenders tend to be wary of lending on self-build projects, but there are specialist lenders who will be able to provide a range of options, like Buildstore, and provide tailored mortgage advice.
Self-build mortgages differ from traditional mortgages in that the funds are released in stages (either in arrears, where the money is made available after a stage of the build has been completed; or in advance, when it’s released at the start of each build stage).
At this point it’s also worth estimating (roughly) your build costs. Typically these can range from anywhere between under £1,000/m2 to over £3,000/m2, depending on your build route and level of involvement, desired finish, spec and where in the country you plan to build — our build cost calculator on page 194 and homebuilding.co.uk/ calculator should help.
Remember, you’ll also need to account for the cost of your plot, which will consume a sizeable chunk of your budget and set aside between 10% and 30% of your budget as a contingency. The golden rule is this: build cost, plus plot cost and contingency, should total less than the value of your finished house.
Secure a Plot Specialist plot-finding services (like plotfinder.net) are incredibly useful here, but they shouldn’t stop you from being proactive. Drive around the area you’re looking at to spot any potential opportunities, get on the website of local authorities and scan through the planning applications, and use Google Earth to identify any potential infill plots or where there might be room to build in existing gardens. Plots will rarely fall into your lap, so you’ll often need to be savvy to secure one.
Also, make sure you register with your local authority under the Right to Build ( righttobuildportal.org), which requires local authorities in England to keep track of the demand for serviced plots in their area. Choose a Build Route The term self-build can be something of a misnomer — you don’t have to lay every brick to self-build. A broader definition would see a self-builder as someone who commissions the home they end up living in.
It’s important to decide on your build route early in the process as it will have major implications on the costs. The majority of projects are handled by a main contractor/ builder or subcontractors project managed by the homeowners. However, you can also choose a turnkey or package supplier, who will handle all aspects of the design and build process, with minimal intervention from you — though this comes at a cost.
Create a Design Brief Most self-builders will employ the services of a professional when it comes to the design of their house — whether that’s an ARB/ Riba-affiliated architect, an architectural designer or an in-house designer at a package company.
“Whoever you choose, you will need to know that you can have a good rapport and are able to get on well together,” says Design and Materials’ Beverley Pemberton. “A
good designer is also a good listener and they will have flair, creativity and experience. Ask to see references and examples of the designer’s work, know their track record of planning approvals and ensure that they have a thorough understanding of the planning system.”
Before approaching a professional, you will need to know what your priorities are for your new home and come up with a brief. Make sure, as well, that your designer returns final drawings that are achievable within your budget.
Get Approval Planning can seem like a complicated beast – lessened somewhat if you find a plot that has planning permission already granted on it perhaps – but it’s about understanding the situation within the context of where you want to build.
You should receive an answer within eight weeks of submitting your application, but be sure to keep track of your application.
Receiving approval is not the end of your relationship with the planning officer. All planning permissions are granted with conditions attached. These can range from specifying what type of roof materials must be used to the date the project must start by.
Failure to address the conditions will invalidate your consent, making any work done illegal. Conditions must be formally discharged (or satisfied) in writing, usually through a form obtained through your local authority — and with a fee attached, of course.
You’ll also need to submit detailed building drawings for Building Regulations’ approval (or a Building Warrant in Scotland). Building Regs are national legal standards for design and construction that apply to all new builds. The assessment on whether your build will gain approval can either be carried out by your local authority’s building control team, or you can appoint a private approved inspector.
You may also be able to sort your structural warranty through an approved inspector, which may save some costs.
Go out to Tender Much like finding a designer, choosing a builder requires plenty of research on your part. Ask your designer, friends, building control, neighbours and anyone else you know who’s had building work done for recommendations.
Meet and interview as many as you can and ask them to quote on your project based on tender documents that your designer may have helped you to prepare.
Sort your Insurance As soon as contracts are exchanged on your plot, you will need to have insurance — usually a specialist policy for self-builders. A comprehensive self-build policy is advised. The policy will cover public liability, building works, employers’ liability and personal accident.
Arrange for Services Getting services to your site (if necessary) can cost between £500 and £10,000+, depending on your situation and whether the connection needs to be made across private land (where you’ll need to secure a wayleave to grant access to dig) or public highways (which may involve road digs). Though electricity and gas are not essentials during the build, a water supply is needed early on.
Start Building Turn to page 190 for our selfbuild schedule so you know what to expect during the build process.
Justin and Linda Tyers built their house themselves for £67k from straw bale and a timber frame.