Building your own home – or self build as it is known – can be incredibly rewarding. However, like any large project, it can be potentially stressful if you don’t really know what is involved or where to start. This guide will help you get started.

1. Get Your Finances Straight

Everything starts – and eventually ends – with money. Get a clear answer on what you can borrow from your bank (try Buildstore for specialist self build mortgage advice) and get a sense of the total pot of money you have. Then begin to cost your project.

If it’s a self build, you’ll need to allow for the plot price to be factored in (the portion of the total pot it takes depends on your local housing market, but is typically 50 to 80 per cent in more expensive areas). At this pre-design stage, you can do no more than guess a price for the building work, which for new build homes should be around £1,300/m2 and for extensions, realistically, £1,500/m2. Until you begin to agree a design, and a build route, it’s nothing but guesswork at this stage — but it will be enough to go to a designer with.

2. Find the Site

For extenders and renovators who already own a home, it’s not a problem. But for would-be self builders, finding the right plot opportunity can be the most difficult thing they’ll do. Get active — and serious.

  • Check the weekly list of planning applications submitted and decided in your local authority area.
  • Register with your local authority under their Right to Build schemes.
  • Use Google Maps to try and identify bits of land in side gardens that are yet to be built on, and write to the owner (you can find out who owns it through Land Registry) to see if they’ll sell to you.
  • Register with Plotfinder, which has details of private individuals selling land without wanting to go through estate agents.

Eventually, it will happen — so when it does, make sure you have the finances ready to purchase.

3. Create a Design Brief

Before you engage with a designer, you need to work out your own priorities — they can’t tell you what you want, just find smart ways to help you achieve it. Think about overall styles, of course, as well as more tangible elements like kitchen space and the number of bedrooms, but don’t get too bogged down in the detail just yet. Any good design will be an individual reaction to the site and the needs of its owners.

4. Engage a Designer

You can burn through a lot of money on design work that goes to nothing if the designer has little idea of how designs work to build budgets (so see evidence of how they would do that when you interview them), and if the drawings they produce are not capable of being built. These two elements are just as key as the ability to draw nice spaces — so choose carefully, as designers will be critical people in making your project a success.

Whether you choose a designer, an architect or just a draughtsman, good design is worth paying for and investing the time and money in — expect to allocate between five and 10 per cent of your budget for design work. Your designer will see your project through planning and Building Regulations approval and get you to a stage where you can engage with builders.

5 Things you Need to Know about Building

The VAT Question

If you’re building a house from scratch, your project qualifies for zero rating for VAT purposes — a huge saving on labour and materials of 20 per cent. In general, the only thing you can’t claim back is the initial professional fees (for example, designer fees) and non-fixed items such as furniture and carpets.

If you’re renovating or extending, you’ll pay the full rate unless the house has been empty for more than 10 years, in which case it is treated the same as a conversion and is zero rated. For properties empty for between two and 10 years, a reduced rate applies.

Package Companies

So-called package (or turnkey) companies will offer an inclusive design and build service, usually based around timber frame construction systems. They have a lot of benefits, including the marriage of design and build costs at an early stage.

Warranties

Get a structural (10-year) warranty on your self build project. You won’t be able to remortgage without one, and it can provide useful assistance in addition to Building Control inspections.

Health & Safety

The latest CDM Regulations around health and safety on site are applicable to self build and renovation projects. Make sure your designer and/or main contractor makes reference to them early on.

How Long?

The average self build project takes around a year on site and at least a year in the pre-planning.

5. The Build Route

In the same way that some homeowners decide to design their own homes or extensions, around 10 per cent of self builders and home extenders take on the build of the project themselves. However, the vast majority use main contractors or manage their own subcontractors (or, in reality, take both routes for certain parts of the build, managing their own subbies at the later stages of the project and usually getting stuck in with some DIY as money runs out towards the end).

Clearly, the more expert layers you add on, the more expensive the build gets. In most cases, main contractors will be adding on between 10 and 20 per cent on top of the core labour and materials prices. Additional project managers and other experts will also take their share. Choose your build route based on what time and skills you can realistically give to the project (both in terms of DIY, project management and design work) — and don’t be afraid of using experts.

6. Finding Builders

Choosing a main contractor is part heart, mainly wallet. Meet at least five and invite them to quote on your project, using fully detailed tender documents (that your designer should have helped you prepare). Armed with fully detailed information, the prices you get back should be accurate and probably keener than if you left a lot up in the air to be decided on site later.

Ask your designer, neighbours, friends, Building Control and more for their recommendations. That way, you’ll end up with a favoured builder that you can communicate with, who understands the project, your budget and your design ambitions best — and, hopefully, comes within budget.

7. If It’s Over-Budget

If the quotes come back too high, then you’ll need honest feedback from the builders. Get them to break down costs but you need to be willing to listen to hard truths. Your original cost/m2 budget at this stage has been pushed and pulled by your design ambitions, the size and scale of the project and of course the specification (your choice of products and materials). Get suggestions on how to reduce costs — ultimately, you may need to engage with the designers again.

8. Enjoy the whole experience!

Having builders on site working away creating these amazing new spaces for you and your family is a brilliant life experience. Where possible, try your best to enjoy it — it is a life-changing project, after all, and you’ll be spending more money than you would do on anything else.

See the spaces come to life, embark on a huge shopping trip, meet new friends along the way and experience new things — what’s not to like?

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