If self build sounds like something out of reach for you, think again. Building your own house isn't limited to vast mega-mansions — there are self build homes for every budget and for people who aren't interested in rolling up their sleeves and necessarily building their homes with their own hands.
While self build may not be as popular as it is in the likes of continental Europe right now, that could all be about to change. New schemes, designed to make building your own home easier, are growing year by year, with the likes of Help to Build and Self Build Wales, alongside custom build schemes such as Graven Hill. There are also a greater number of providers of self build mortgages than before, while a recent review by MP Richard Bacon has advised the government of ways to increase the amount of homes self built in the UK.
The benefits are numerous, from getting a space tailored to your exacting needs to the chance to make a profit on your build if you ever come to sell, self build is definitely worth considering in your quest for the perfect home.
Of course, self build is likely to be far more challenging than simply buying a new home, but if you get to grips with the process with this helpful, complete guide, you'll be armed with all the information to both anticipate these challenges and succeed with your project.
What Does Self Build Mean?
What Defines a Self Build?
Self build refers to when an individual commissions a house to be built on a piece of land that they own to live in. Self build usually encompasses a process where the would-be homeowner has control over the build, and can work with an architect, architectural technologist or design and build team to create a home that fits their specific requirements.
Self build is often lumped together with custom build, but the terms aren't interchangeable as, and differ by the amount of involvement the individual has in the build and in the self build project management. While approximately 11,000 self build homes are built each year, less than 10% of those homeowners were physically involved in the process by taking on the building work.
Self builders choose to be much more involved in the creative process than those who choose a custom build, taking part in the design stages, choosing tradespeople and deciding on finishes without the limiting scope of a developer's involvement.
How Much Does it Cost to Self Build?
A self build project could make as much as 25% profit in the final value of the home in relation to the build costs.
On average, a self build house will cost somewhere between £1,000 and £3,000/m² to build.
You will also need to be aware of the factors that may cause your build costs to skyrocket, such as:
- Location: land prices and labour costs will vary across the country
- Size: the bigger the house, the more expensive it will be to build (although careful design can help achieve some economies of scale)
- Plan, shape and layout: the simplest and most cost-effective floorplan is square
- Number of storeys: multiple storeys make better use of the land and can reduce foundation and roof costs per m²
- Specification: if you want premium or non-standard products, expect your build costs to rise considerably
- Involvement: depending on how much of the work you are capable of taking on yourself, you can substantially reduce your build costs
Is Self Build Cheaper Than Buying?
As previously mentioned, the average profit on a well-managed self build project is 25%, meaning you'll get more house for your money if you build rather than buy.
However, self build mortgages are less widely available, meaning there may not be products offered to suit everyone's financial situation.
This may mean that traditional self build routes require time and financial input that is unfeasible for most first-time buyers.
However, where self build is not viable for some people, the idea of custom build may suit. This route removes some of the obstacles faced by self builders, including finding land, securing planning permission and getting services to site.
This is also a more hands-off approach, but still offers the chance for an individual home that meets individual needs. Custom build sites are usually managed by developers who can give you more information on the financial requirements.
Financing the Build
How Do I Finance a Self Build?
You’ll need access to money to buy a building plot, to pay for professional services such as architectural designers’ fees and any site surveys required, and to fund the build itself.
The money may come from savings, equity in your existing home, through a self build mortgage or a combination of all three.
Surprisingly few high street banks provide formal facilities for self build finance so you’ll likely need to approach a specialist provider.
Self build mortgages tend to follow one of two structures, an arrears-type mortgage and an advance-type mortgage. An arrears mortgage are more common, but will require you to front money for a stage of the build yourself, but will pay you back at the end of that stage.
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.
Build cost + plot cost + contingency < the value of your finished house
For those that have the option, building on an existing plot that you (or family) already own can be an attractive option for this reason.
(MORE: Building on a Garden Plot)
Finding a Self Build Plot
How to Find a Self Build Plot
Specialist plotfinding services (like plotfinder.net) are incredibly useful when it comes to finding land, but they shouldn’t stop you from being proactive.
- Study the local area. Drive around or use Google Maps to look for homes on large plots that have either a large side garden, or infill land
- Contact experts. Some package companies, such as Potton or Border Oak, hold lists of available plots online
- Visit local auctions. Many opportunities are sold buy auction so it’s worth finding out who the key agents are in your area
- Check the local authority’s website for recent planning applications. In most cases, details of the owner or agent are included and there is nothing to stop you contacting them directly.
Plots will rarely fall into your lap, so you’ll often need to be savvy to secure one.
(MORE: Finding a Plot)
When assessing your plot, look out for:
- planning permission that has expired, or is about to expire
- any access issues
- any covenants
- services — are they already in place?
- title deeds — make sure these deeds are ‘absolute’ rather than ‘possessory’ or negotiate on the plot price accordingly
Also, make sure you register with your local authority under the Right to Build, which requires local authorities in England to keep track of the demand for serviced plots in their area.
Self Build Routes
Which Self Build Route to Choose?
The self build process is flexible enough that a self builder can decide just how involved they want to be in the project. Make this decision early as it will have major cost implications.
The majority of projects are handled by a main contractor/builder or subcontractors project managed by the homeowners, but you can choose different routes for different stages of the project, depending on your skills or available budget.
Think about how much time you will be able to dedicate to the project — the more you can be involved, the more money you can save — but this rule only applies if you take on jobs within your capabilities.
Choosing a Construction System
What Self Build Construction Systems are Available?
While your choice of superstructure material will have little impact on how your finished self build looks, it is well worth considering the available construction systems:
- Timber frame
- Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)
- Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF)
- Oak frame
- Cross Laminated Timber (CLT)
- Natural materials, using such materials as straw bales, hempcrete and cob
Some self builders are less concerned with how the house looks ‘under the bonnet’, and are happy to leave the decision with their architect or structural engineer.
It's worth considering that while some construction methods may outwardly appear more expensive than others, they may reduce costs in other areas, such as time spent on site, or the overall build time, which all need to be considered in the final budget for your construction system.
How to Design a Self Build
Do I Need an Architect for a Self Build
While some self-builders do design their own homes, you’ll more than likely need a designer on board to help you formulate plans for your dream home. This might be an architect, architectural technologist, an architectural designer or an in-house designer at a package company.
Finding a suitable designer and completing the design process is likely to take at least a couple of months but may well take longer.
(MORE: Find an Architect)
Do I Need Planning Permission to Self Build?
The Planning Hub is a new online resource that will help you understand how to get to grips with complex planning rules. Join today for access to easy-to-read guides which will provide you with key information to help you secure planning permission.
When you self build, you’ll have to apply to your local authority for planning permission.
The cost of submitting a planning application varies across the UK, but is currently £462 in England. However, the real cost of obtaining planning permission arguable comes from preparing the plans and documents (the design fees) in readiness for submission and any accompanying surveys (such as ecological surveys) that may be required.
You should find out when your local planning authority has approved your application after eight weeks — although more complex schemes can take longer.
All planning permission is granted with planning conditions attached. Failure to address the conditions will invalidate your consent, making any work done unlawful.
Self Build and the Building Regulations
- excavation for the foundations
- pouring concrete for building foundations
- building the oversite
- building the damp-proof course
- a visit prior to completion
- a final visit on completion
Finding the Right Self Build Team
How to Build a Team for Your Self Build
You can establish contact with and line up a builder, main contractor, package company and/or subcontractors during the design and planning processes, but you won’t get an accurate quote for the work until your Building Regulations drawings have been finalised.
One of the best ways to find a builder and/or subcontractors is through word of mouth — ask your designer, friends, family or neighbours who’ve undertaken projects, and anyone else you know locally who’s built their own home, for recommendations.
Much like finding a designer, choosing a builder requires plenty of research. It’s best to meet with them to discuss your project and to ask them to quote (your designer can help you to prepare tender documents). It’s also a good idea to visit a project they’ve completed and to talk to previous clients.
The best builders and subcontractors will be booked up months in advance, so it pays to start your search as early as possible.
What Self Build Insurance is Required?
As soon as contracts are exchanged on your plot, you will need to have self build insurance — usually a specialist policy for self builders. A comprehensive self build policy is advised and will cover any public liability, building works, employers’ liability and personal accident.
Getting Services to Your Self Build Site
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.
Where to Live During a Self Build
Very few self builders are in the position to remain in their existing homes while building a new one, so you will need to consider where you are going to live while you build your dream home.
- Staying with family/friends: the average self build project takes around a year on site, so if you are planning on staying with friends or family, make sure that you are realistic about the timescale of the project
- Renting temporary accommodation: this is an option, but an expensive one (even more so if your project hits any unforeseen delays)
- Living on site: erecting a temporary home on site, or staying in a caravan or mobile home, offers an opportunity to keep an eye on the site during the build, but may take its toll over a longer build time.
How Long Does it Take to Self Build a House?
Once you’re finally ready to start on site, you’ll need to know what happens and when, regardless of how physically involved you are in the process. This typical self build schedule will give you an idea of what to prepare for and when.
The time your build takes will depend on the construction method you choose. Some modern methods of construction, particularly those that are made offsite, require less time than traditional block construction. On average for a typical two-storey, three-bedroom house, you're looking at around 40 weeks, while some methods, such as structural insulated panels, can reduce this timescale by as much as eight weeks.
What is a Snagging List?
Despite lacking a concrete definition and not being part of the JCT suite of building contracts, it’s generally accepted that snagging concerns identifying parts of the work that have been completed, but may require remedial action prior to official sign-off.
Do I Qualify for CIL Exemption?
The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) imposes a fee on the creation of new homes, which is determined by the local authority and is based on the size of the house.
The good news is, subject to criteria, self builders are now exempt from paying CIL. However, the four-stage exemption process must be followed to the letter.
How Long do you Have to Live in a Self Build?
While there's no limit on the amount of time you have to live in a house before selling for the likes of reclaiming VAT on your build, if you've obtained the Community Infrastructure Levy exemption, you'll need to live in the property for a minimum of three years. If you sell up and move on, you'll be required to pay CIL in full.
How to Reclaim VAT on Your Self Build
One of the major benefits of self build is that you can reclaim VAT on most of the building materials. VAT-registered builders and subbies should also zero-rate their invoices (while, of course, if they’re not VAT-registered, they shouldn’t be adding it to bills in the first instance).
In general, you can reclaim for all materials that are fixed into the house, although interpretation of this can be quite complex.
You can only make one claim (using the VAT 431NB form) and that must be made within three months of the project completion.
Obtain and keep hold of all VAT receipts to submit with your claim. Don’t underestimate the time you’ll save by keeping your VAT receipts safely in one place as you go along.
Sarah is Web Editor of homebuilding.co.uk. She began her career more than a decade ago, working on the editorial team of Public Sector Building magazine, before joining the wider Homebuilding & Renovating team as Social Media Editor in 2012. Since purchasing her first house in 2015, Sarah has been adding to the ever-increasing list of home improvements she needs to make; including extending over the garage, resurfacing the driveway, replacing existing flooring and revamping the kitchen. Fortunately, in her eight years on Team Homebuilding, including three as web editor, she is not short on design inspiration or top tips to tackle or project manage these tasks herself.
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