Choosing to build your own home is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make and as such it shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. Here we explain the self build process so you’ll know what to expect, what to prepare for and what you can achieve on your budget.

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Self Build: What Does it Mean?

The term self build can be something of a misnomer — you don’t have to lay every brick to self build. A broader definition would see a self builder as someone who commissions the home they end up living in.

A £200k Oak Frame Self Build

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

Around 11,000 self build homes are built each year, but 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.

How Much Does it Cost to Self Build?

Typically your build costs will be somewhere between £1,000 and £3,000/m². But it is worth knowing the factors that will affect how much it will cost to build your own home:

  • 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: How involved you are prepared to be? Depending on how much of the work you are capable of taking on yourself, you can substantially reduce your build costs

If you’re looking to self build on a budget, then follow these 10 tips.

Is Self Build an Option for First-time Buyers?

Traditional self build routes may not be feasible due to the time and financial input required, but first-time buyers could consider the custom build route. 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.

How do I Finance my Self Build Project?

Getting your finances in order is the first and most important consideration when it comes to preparing for a self-build. 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

How do I Find 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, and use Google Earth 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.

Useful advice:

Self Built Modern Family Home

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

Choosing a Build Route

It’s important to decide on your build route early in the process as it will have major implications on the costs. The self build process is flexible enough that a self builder can decide just how involved they want to be in the project.

The majority of projects are handled by a main contractor/builder or subcontractors project managed by the homeowners.

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 ARB/RIBA-affiliated architect, an architectural designer or an in-house designer at a package company.

Planning Permission

When building a house, you’ll have to apply to your local authority for planning permission.You might also want to employ the services of a planning consultant to help navigate the process.

However, receiving approval is not the end of your relationship with the planning officer.

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 a Builder/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.

Find a tradesperson

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

Arrange for Services

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 Are you Going to Live?

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

What’s a Typical Self Build Schedule?

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.

What Can I Achieve on my Budget?

We’ve compiled a handy list of self build projects with a range of build costs so you can get some kind of idea what you can achieve on your budget, including this home in the Scottish Highlands which was build for £100k. Please note these costs are based on build cost only and do not include the plot cost.

Self build home with build costs of £100k

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

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

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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