How to build your own home

House build
  • | by Dave Jenkins

Last week, housing minister Grant Shapps declared a call to action to“get Britain building again.” With 2010’s new build numbers hitting a low last seen in 1923, he’s definitely on to something.

So should we take matters into our own hands and get building ourselves? Over 14,000 people become self builders every year; here’s what they had to do to become one.

Where do you start?

Good question. There is a huge amount to consider; location, plots, materials, builders, sub contractors, insurance, project management, how much you do yourself. “Research is imperative, so do lots of it,” explains Raymond Connor of BuildStore.co.uk. “If you’re going to approach anyone with a view to financing this project you’ll need to be able to explain every brick and bolt in the house.”

So here’s where we start; consider your budget based on usual self-build mortgage standards of three or three and a half times your salary. With this rough figure, you’re able to consider everything, starting with where you build it.

Get Plotting

Land isn’t cheap, especially when planning permission has been granted. And beware if it sounds too good to be true. “It’s critical when you’re buying a plot that permission has been granted or there’s a dwelling to replace,” explains Michael Holmes, editor in chief at Homebuilding & Renovation Magazine. “Don’t get involved in land breaking schemes on the promise that planning may be granted. It’s a scam. Always check for current planning permission.”

In terms of value, plots in West and Mid Wales, Lincolnshire and the Highlands are the cheapest and can, with a bit of patience and hard searching, be as low as £10,000.

Material world

Forget the three pigs. Straw and twigs aren’t recommended. And even your classic brick and block model is beginning to look outdated. “Timber frame is more energy efficient because of the hollow in the walls,” explains Michael. “Or, more recently, structural insulated panels. If you go down that route then there are a lot less running costs later down the line.”

With rising fuel prices in mind, future efficiency is definitely worth considering. The question now is whether you opt for a kit house or design one yourself. Timber frame kit houses can be incredibly cheap. Basic two bedroom timber frame bungalows can be as low as £15,000 for all materials and construction instructions.

Meanwhile, typical architectural costs for a project the size of a three bedroom house are between £5,000-£6,000. It’s a relatively small amount in the scheme of things, but it really is a decision you have to make based on budget and practicalities.

DIY not?

“Some people want completely hands off and others want to do the entire thing,” explains self builder Gus Zogolovitch, managing director of self-build company Solidspace. “The one thing everyone has is common is patience and a desire to work hard. Just remember; building isn’t rocket science! It’s relatively simple technology – there are no moving parts. It’s a bit like Lego in a way, so don’t get bamboozled by people and believe in yourself.”

Only 5 per cent of self-builders will do the entire thing themselves. Even if you want the complete hands-on satisfaction, time and expertise are a huge constraint. Bricklaying, plastering, electrics and plumbing should be left to the professionals. As a result, the majority of self builders will save money by managing the project themselves and hire in the skilled help.

The more you do yourself, the more you’ll save. Total self builders can save as much as 40 per cent on the final cost, but you do need to be realistic with what you can do and how much time you have to learn the skills.

Let’s talk numbers...

Self build costs are broken down into price per square metre and include materials, kitchen and bathroom. Average prices differ from region to region, but £1,000 per sq m is a good rule of thumb for a small house. With a fair bit of DIY input, you can reduce this down to £800 or lower. Software is available to break down your costs to the very specifics when you get really serious.

As an added benefit, self builds are VAT free. But before you can relish in any savings, you need to get the cash first. Self build mortgages differ from conventional lending as the funds are provided at certain stages of the development. You’ll also be expected to have 15 per cent of the costs raised yourself.

“This is actually a benefit to first time buyers,” explains Raymond, whose company BuildStore.com offers a range of financial services. “15 per cent is cheaper than the 20 per cent necessary for a regular mortgage.”

And don’t forget...

The pros of self-builds are in abundance. Bar the obvious satisfaction of it being your very own, you’ve also built 20 per cent equity into it straight away and - unlike mass-built new builds - you’ve picked materials for efficiency and quality over price. But there are extra costs that might not spring to mind straight away...

Services may cost up to £6,000 to connect (and more if you’re heading into the wilderness). Home insurance is vital: not just site coverage, but public liability and employer’s insurance as you’ll be hiring contractors. Plus you’re going to need warranty, planning fees and building regulation fees. You may also need secure fencing and demolition costs if there’s a property already on the plot.

There’s a huge amount to consider. But, as any self builder will tell you, the satisfaction of having your own house will far outweigh any stresses you suffer along the way. “Standing back at various points throughout the build, and thinking ‘we're building our own home’,” smiles recent self builder Katie MacDonald who’s blogged about the whole experience. “To see a wall go up that makes part of your kitchen, or putting in the windows, and know it's what you want. Priceless.”