Deciding to self build provides the opportunity to create an individual home tailored around your lifestyle. It can also be a route to creating a home which adapts with relative ease as your needs change and, for many, self build offers scope to build a low-maintenance and/or energy efficient property to boot.

Those who self build often achieve a larger home and garden compared to buying a new home on the open market, and typically enjoy a 25% profit on their investment.

There are different self build routes you can take depending on your budget, available time and skillset, but whichever route you choose, the process requires careful thought and planning and you will need to make some key decisions before any building work begins.

This ultimate guide to self build takes you through the process and highlighting all the key stages — from finding land and securing finance, to gaining planning permission and choosing the best construction system, all the way to snagging and reclaiming VAT on all eligible items at the end of the project.

What is a 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 this does not mean you have to get your hands dirty and lay foundations or build walls yourself. 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.

Traditional-style self build

Adrian and Sandra Girling’s traditional-style self build is brimming with design innovation

The majority of self builders choose to be 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)

How Much Does it Cost to Self Build?

On average, a self build house costs will be somewhere between £1,000 and £3,000/m².

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 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

(MORE: Self Build Homes for Every Budget)

Why Do People Self Build?

  • 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
Home for life self build on a budget

Serial self builder David Snell has just completed his fourteenth self build on a budget of £130,000

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.

(MORE: How to Custom 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 self build mortgage provider.

A traditional mortgage (where the finance is released in one lump sum at the end of the project) is not feasible. 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).

Self build home with build costs of £100k

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

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 a Self Build

contemporary family home on the site of derelict garages

Darren and Lucy Henderson saw the potential in a small brownfield site in Bournemouth that housed four derelict garages. It is now the location of their contemporary family home

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: The Complete Guide to 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 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

Choose 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.

Choose a Self Build Construction System

oak frame self build

Homeowners Sheila and Geoff McGaughey chose oak frame as their construction system for their self build project in Surrey

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:

  • Masonry
  • 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.

Designing a Self Build

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.

Do I Need Planning Permission to Self Build?

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).

Find the Right Builder

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.

(MORE: 5 things you should never say to your builder)

Insuring Your Self Build Project

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 Will You Live During the Project?

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

How Long Does it Take to Self Build?

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.

Create a Snag 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.

Reclaim VAT

oak frame self build in Hampshire

Homeowner Shelagh Krasno was able to reclaim £18,000 when she completed her first self build project in Hampshire

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.

Obtain and keep hold of all VAT receipts to submit with your claim.

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