When we first started our build, I said to Bruce – my builder friend and owner of the adjacent plot – that, as everything was going so well, I couldn’t help but wonder whether there were any nasty surprises around the corner. You have to take some chances when you buy land and build your own home, and you can’t sort everything out.
For instance, getting a price from service suppliers to bring electricity and water to site requires plans, which cannot really be finalised until after you’ve legally completed on the purchase of the plot. The quotations came in and seemed quite acceptable, but Western Power’s chosen routes crossed forest land at the rear. That meant that we would need to obtain consent from the Forestry Commission.
I reckoned that a fair price would be around £1,500 for each plot and my solicitor, on the basis of his experience with other clients, agreed. We waited weeks for an answer from the Forestry Commission, but this is seemingly an organisation where the wheels appear to turn exceedingly slowly. They eventually came back with a figure — £10,000 for each plot.
With the foundations in and the concrete oversite levelled (as covered in my last blog), the internal leaf of the external walls is going up.
One of the biggest problems has been that the maps used by the statutory undertakers seem to be hopelessly out of date. For example, they show the boundary of the forest land as intruding upon our plots; something that is palpably wrong as both plots are registered with the Land Registry in our names. They also show the forest land as including the road and a large section of our neighbour’s home and garage; again, wrong.
Anthony Haywood from Western Power Distribution has been extremely helpful and, now that we’ve proved to him that the road isn’t Forestry Commission land, he’s provided us with three alternative quotations:
- the first is to come overhead down the road to a new pole in my front garden, which I am not that keen on;
- the second is to come underground down the road, which will cost around £5,000 per plot;
- and the third is to move a pole in our neighbour’s garden, replace it with another and then bring the service in overhead to a new pole in my back garden. This last option will cost around £3,000 extra per plot.
Luckily, we have a backstop in that when I purchased the two plots originally, I insisted on reciprocal rights for services to cross the land retained by the vendors. If we have to, that’s what we’ll do. But it’ll create huge problems for our neighbour, with a temporary interruption of access, at a time when he’s not too well. If we can avoid going that way, we will, but if all else fails and we have to go through next-door’s land we will do our best to mitigate the effects and the costs of reinstatement.
Pressing Ahead with the Build
As the following few weeks rolled on, mine and Bruce’s houses grew rapidly, with the internal leaf of the external walls racing upwards, followed by the external leaf sandwiching the cavity insulation. My wife Linda and I spent as much time as we could on site and, to be honest, we did change a few things from the plans — particularly in respect of internal partitions and position of doors. But we did nothing to interrupt progress and, as I write this column, we have reached first lift of the scaffolding and the lintels will shortly be going on.
We could be ready for roof trusses very shortly but, as both houses are being built contiguously, we’ll wait until Bruce’s house is ready for the steel joists that will be necessary for his different design, so that we can utilise a crane together.
With the external walls being built quickly and the internal partitions in, David is nearly ready to install the roof trusses.
With the approaching roof on, now is the time to investigate so many things, and Mrs Snell and I have a massive shopping trip list, including kitchen units, tiles, wood flooring, etc. It’s daunting but it is so much fun. I sometimes wish that there weren’t so many choices but, to be truthful, after so many self-builds, we’ve honed down some of the options over the years.
As we’re planning for this to be our last home, we have to think in terms of futureproofing the house so that it will accommodate us in our later years. This means wider internal doors, level access, easy-use tap fittings and so much more, but surely, most of that is common sense anyway, whatever age you are.
Top Tips for Project Success
However much you pore over the plans before the house gets built, there will always be things that you can’t think of or realise until it’s there in the flesh.
- Make a point of visiting every day, especially at night when the site is quiet.
- Take chalk with you and a note of the measurements of all of your main furniture. Draw out the positions of each item in the room.
- Imagine the doors and which way they will hang and open.
- If internal partitions need changing, do it before rather than after they’re built.
- If external windows need moving or changing, then you may need to consult the planners. In my experience, most planners are and will be pragmatic.