Taking on a self build project can be a stressful process, especially if you are doing it for the first time, but that stress can definitely be outweighed by the benefits of creating a home that exactly suits your needs and the immense satisfaction of bringing the project to fruition.

This complete guide to self build will explain the process and highlight what you can expect through every stage.

What is Self Build?

A self build is an individual house that has been commissioned by an individual homeowner to perfectly fit their exact requirements and tastes.

But while approximately 11,000 self build homes are built each year, less than 10% of those homeowners were physically involved in the process by laying bricks or other similar building work.

The majority of self builders are much more involved in the creative process, taking part in the design stage, choosing the tradespeople and deciding on finishing touches.

(MORE: Starting a self build? Make sure you are aware of these essential resources)

Self build home with build costs of £100k

Robin Cochrane built his own home for £100,000 in the Scottish Highlands

How Much Does it Cost to Self Build?

On average, your self build costs will be somewhere between £1,000 and £3,000/m². But there are multiple factors that will affect your build cost:

  • Location: land prices and labour costs will vary depending on where you choose to self build
  • 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 products, expect your build costs to skyrocket
  • Involvement: depending on how much of the work you are capable of taking on yourself, you can substantially reduce your build costs

(MORE: Estimate your build costs with our Build Cost Calculator)

Why Should I Self Build?

There are numerous reasons people choose to self build, including:

  • You can usually save up to 30% on the market value
  • You can usually build something bigger than you could buy for the same money
  • Your home will fit your exact needs and preferences
  • You can add the latest home technology or sustainability measures at the design stage
Passivhaus self build in London

Elizabeth Sharp chose to self build on the site of her former home’s garage and rear garden, creating a Passivhaus that offered incredibly low energy bills

Is Self Build an Option for First-time Buyers?

While more traditional self build routes require time and financial input that is unfeasible for first-time buyers, the idea of custom build may suit. This route alleviates 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.

Self Built Modern Family Home

Ed and Anna Chipperfield have succeeded in self-building a new home that marries simple contemporary design with a family-friendly layout

How do I Finance my Project?

First perform a realistic audit of your current financial situation, and then contact lenders to see what you will be able to borrow to fund your project.

Self-build mortgages differ from traditional mortgages in that the funds are released in stages (either in arrears, where the money is made available after a stage of the build has been completed; or in advance, when it’s released at the start of each build 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.

The Golden Rule:

Build cost + plot cost + contingency = <the value of your finished house

Finding Land for Sale

Specialist plotfinding services (like plotfinder.net) are incredibly useful here, but they shouldn’t stop you from being proactive.

  • drive around the area you’re looking at to spot any potential opportunities
  • get on the website of local authorities and scan through the planning applications
  • use Google Maps to identify any potential infill plots or where there might be room to build in existing gardens

Plots will rarely fall into your lap, so you’ll often need to be savvy to secure one.

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.

(MOREHow much should you pay for a plot?)

Self build home on awkward plot and tight budget

Faced with an awkward plot and a tight budget, Tom Allen and Natalie Scroggie have self built a striking contemporary home for £170,000

Choosing a Self Build Route

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.

Creating the Design Brief

Most self-builders will employ the services of a professional when it comes to the design of their house — whether that’s an architect, an architectural designer or an in-house designer at a package company.

Securing Planning Permission

When you self build, you’ll have to apply to your local authority for planning permission.

All planning permission is granted with conditions attached. Failure to address the conditions will invalidate your consent, making any work done illegal. 

You’ll also need to submit detailed building drawings for Building Regulations’ approval (or a Building Warrant in Scotland).

Finding Tradespeople

Much like finding a designer, choosing a builder requires plenty of research on your part. Ask your designer, friends, building control, neighbours and anyone else you know who’s had building work done for recommendations.

Meet and interview as many as you can and ask them to quote on your project based on tender documents that your designer should have helped you prepare.

Self Build Insurance

As soon as contracts are exchanged on your plot, you will need to have 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.

Get a quote now to protect your self build

Bring Services to 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.

A £200k Oak Frame Self Build

Michael & Katie Walker have self-built an oak frame home for £200,000

Where to Live While You 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

Schedule of Works

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.

Snagging

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.

VAT Reclaim on a New Build

If you’re building a new house, the DIY Housebuilders Scheme allows you to reclaim from HMRC some of the VAT that you have paid out for your project. 

You can only make one claim and that must be made within three months of the project completion.

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