10 Steps to Your Dream Home

Self-building gives you the chance to create a totally bespoke custom home. Here are 10 key steps to a successful project
Chris Bates, Editor of Build It magazine
by Chris Bates
6th September 2019

1. Find a building plot

Tracking down the right site for your project can seem like a headache, but don’t panic – over 13,000 people manage it every year! There are plenty of online resources to help, such as Plotsearch, but often word of mouth is the most powerful tool – so let local residents know that you’re looking to join their community.

Assessing self-build land before purchase

2. Arrange finance

One of the first things you need to have in place on a self-build project is funding – and having the finance available right from the start could be crucial in sealing the deal on a plot.

Dedicated self-build mortgage products are now widely available through brokers such as BuildStore Mortgage Services. These work on a stage payment basis, so funds are released at key points throughout your project – either in advance or in arrears, depending on the product you choose.

3. Set a realistic budget

Despite what you might think from watching shows such as Grand Designs, most custom home projects don’t end up turning into money pits. That’s because the majority of self-builders take a sensible approach to budgeting, setting a firm and realistic figure for the project before the design stages begin.

Modern Home Clad in Zinc

We’ve seen self-builders create their dream homes on a variety of different budgets. Discover what you can build for your budget here

You should always include a contingency – at least 10% of your overall budget is prudent. This money should only be used for unexpected costs during the project, such as additional foundation requirements or unavoidable delays. If you still have the contingency at the end of the build, you can consider upgrading interior finishes or landscaping schemes.

4. Find a designer

Whether you choose a package supplier (who will literally design and build your home for you), an architect or another house designer, be sure to choose someone who understands your requirements is able to produce thoughtful responses that fit with your budget.

Explore architects and house designers from our Architecture & Design directory:

5. Get in touch with the planners

Early contact with the planners is the best way to figure out whether your project is viable. Most local authority planning departments offer ‘pre-application advice’ (some will charge for this service).

This can help you get a strong idea of what your planning officer will and won’t accept in terms of general style, size and any materials stipulations. It’s a great way to make sure you stand the best chance of getting planning permission when you come to submit your application.

timber frame house with large windows

6. Choose a building route

Many first-time self-builders choose to use a package company to guide them through the design and build process. These companies usually offer customisable standard houses as well as a bespoke design option.

new home clad in charred larch

For this stylish yet modest home, the prefab route proved the most efficient build route. Explore the home here

Other self-builders prefer to use an architect and main contractor or professional project manager. Many like to project manage the build themselves, with a view to saving money by keeping a close eye on labour and materials.

Often, your architect or package supplier will favour a particular construction system, such as brick and block or timber frame. But don’t be afraid to take the lead if you have strong views on using a particular build method.

7. Get the essentials sorted

Before you progress with a project, it’s crucial to make certain you have the appropriate consents to build, including planning permission, building control approval and any special permissions (such as listed building consent).


You should also safeguard your investment by getting the right contracts, warranties and insurance in place. Even if your contractor(s) already hold insurance policies, you’ll still need to take out specialist self-build insurance from providers such as Self-Build Zone or BuildStore.

8. Prepare your plot

The first step in physically getting your project underway is to prepare the site for the building work. That means sorting the groundworks – from clearing vegetation to levelling the plot (if required) and accurately setting out the trenches. Your main contractor or a dedicated groundworking company can deal with this stage as well as drainage and the foundation pour.

9. Get building

Starting work on the structural shell of your home is an exciting time. Most self-builders choose between two construction methods for their project, both of which are pretty much on a par for cost-effectiveness. Brick and block is the traditional and familiar favourite, while timber frame is great for quick, predictable construction schedules. Many other systems are available, including structural insulated panels and insulating concrete formwork, and it’s worth researching whether these might better suit your project.

Explore an array of companies from our structural systems directory:

Loosely speaking, your home building project will fall into five stages: foundation work; getting the house wind and weather tight (roof on, windows and doors in); first fix (the initial services, structural carpentry and plastering work); second fix (work carried out after plastering); and the final decoration. If you’re planning to oversee these elements of the build yourself, be sure to check out our in-depth project management advice.

10. Enjoy your new home!

With building work complete and the interiors finished, you’ll be ready (and probably raring) to move in to your dream home. There are a few practicalities to consider – such as obtaining the Completion certificate from building control, ensuring any small issues are dealt with as part of the ‘snagging’ process and making that all-important VAT reclaim. But now you’ve reached the end of your self-build journey, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labours.

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