Inspiration and advice for your building project
Successful self building needs a mix of many qualities, but are you cut out for the challenge ahead? We offer advice on all the things you need to consider when embarking on a self build project.
Magazines such as Homebuilding & Renovating – and websites like this - are a great source of design ideas and you should keep your favourite homes, rooms and ideas to one side to present to your designer. Once you have found your plot you should also pay close attention to the style of homes in the surrounding area; not only will this influence the planning authority in making their decision but will ensure – unless you purposely want to stand out – that the house fits into its surroundings and complements the neighbouring properties.
A good design will make the most of its individual site and, for this reason, coming up with sketches for ‘your dream home’ before you have bought a site is futile. Your plot will have unique features such as slopes, trees, views and so on — all of which should affect the house design you end up with.
A point to remember, if you like modern interiors but aren’t sure that the planners will let you build a modern home, then don’t forget that many of the finest self-built houses combine a ‘safe’ traditional exterior with very contemporary, open plan interiors.
It doesn’t matter how exciting your proposed plans are, if you can’t afford to build them then it’s all a non-starter. Natural inflation, your greater wages expectations and the increased equity you’re building in may well mean that it’s sensible to build the biggest house you can afford, and whilst you can always change the level of fittings and fixtures within a home, it’s not always as easy to make rooms bigger. Despite this, make sure you design to the budget — not the other way around. And never lose sight of the re-sale value of the home.
Adding a contingency to your budget is also a necessity. It probably won’t get used up in one calamitous event but almost certainly it’ll get used in the cost ‘creep’ throughout the project. And don’t forget about cash flow – you need positive cash flow throughout the job and you need to budget for things like the VAT that you’ll have to lay out and which won’t come back for up to 12 weeks after you’ve finished.
One of the first decisions you will need to make is which route to take regarding the management of the construction work. DIY project management is often the choice of those on a tight budget, since organising everything yourself can save as much as ten or twenty per cent of the overall cost. This is an option not to be taken lightly, however. Not only should you be prepared to research the topic carefully before starting out, but your life will no longer be your own. Managing subcontractors when you have no knowledge of the subject matter may well leave you open to exploitation by unscrupulous tradesmen. In reality, the most important skill you need will be the ability to juggle the often conflicting needs of your architect, subcontractors, bank manager and so on.
You may decide that a turnkey build is for you, where every aspect of the project is left to a single design and build company, but you will still be faced with a number of major decisions regarding layout and internal fixtures and fittings. If the idea of spending time choosing which kind of taps you prefer is unappealing, then perhaps such a project isn't for you.
Don’t underestimate the amount of your time that building your own home will take up. You have to put the hours in. That may mean being on site at the crucial times. It may mean a watching brief and on some days it might mean not being able to get away.
It’s important also to not underestimate the time that the project will take. Almost all projects take longer than originally planned and, just as with the money, you’ll need to add in a time contingency.
The reality is that most of us just don't have the time, know-how or inclination to do everything - and it often isn’t practical or economic to do so either. It remains a fact, however, that the more you can tackle personally from project managing to buying materials and labouring, the lower your overall build cost will be. Most people can bring some skills to a build, such as book-keeping, organising the paperwork, negotiating prices and ordering the materials or just tidying up on site. It is important, however, to take into account the true cost of your own time and make sure that your own involvement is not a false economy, either because you could earn more by doing work elsewhere, or because you fail to be efficient.
However young you are and however old and august they are, it’s you that should remain in charge — do not feel pushed out of the experience. This is your new home, not theirs. And if you’re not happy with how things are going, don’t hesitate to call a halt, take time out and think things through. Click here for our guide to working with builders and architects.
Digging your heels in can mean losing sight of the big picture — getting your new home built. Not everything will be 100% what you want.