People choose to self-build for many reasons, but in my role collating our readers’ homes articles, one that I’ve seen crop up time and time again is the idea that you can often get so much more for your money in comparison to buying a ready-to-move-into property from an estate agent.
This is undoubtedly a massive benefit of self-building. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that automatically means you have to do it all yourself in order to get the most out of whatever you’ve got to spend.
In reality, it’s actually all about understanding how and where to spread your budget. Generally, this means researching, planning and knowing when engaging the skills of qualified professionals is a good idea.
We’ve seen self-builders create their dream homes on a variety of different budgets, so don’t be scared off by dramatic projects you’ve seen on the television.
It’s true that you might face unforeseen costs – whether that’s because of a complicated planning restriction that needs extra surveys, or unexpected ground conditions requiring expensive foundations that you only discover once you start digging.
Perhaps a supplier is late and this delays works, or you need to fork out for a professional to redo something that someone else did badly.
But fundamentally, while there can sometimes be a few stumbling blocks, creating a bespoke home from scratch doesn’t have to be something where costs will spiral out of control and leave your finances reeling.
For 99% of self-builders it’s an adventure that will leave you with a home tailored to your exact needs and that, in many cases, ends up being worth more on the open market than it cost to construct.
This hand-picked selection of real-life homes demonstrates what your money could achieve. There are different structural methods, house sizes and style preferences, but what each story has in common is that the homeowners worked hard to maximise the potential of whatever budget they were working with.
With build costs ranging from £77,000 up to £749,500, these homes prove that careful planning and keeping an eye on fees as you go will ensure your project is a success.
If you’re planning a self-build, you can get a free estimation with Build It’s quick and easy Build Cost Calculator.
Location: Isle of Eigg
Land cost: Already owned
Construction method: Timber frame
House size: 50m²
Project cost per m²: £1,540
Saira Renny & George Carr had help from skilled friends and family to create this energy-efficient home on their remote site on a Scottish island.
Forward planning really helped with the long delivery times and extra costs due to freight fees. Their hands-on approach to the whole project allowed them to cut back on spending and develop new skills along the way.
“We held a house-raising event, where all our friends came over to help us get the timber skeleton into place,” says George. “We are very lucky to have people here who could help us to achieve a high-end finish.”
Land cost: Already owned
Construction method: Brick & block
House size: 251m²
Project cost per m²: £805
Granville Falshaw & Sandrine Garnier had lessons from six previous self-build projects behind them when they created a new home that blends traditional and contemporary styles. For his earlier projects, Granville worked with an architect to formalise designs.
But after setting up his own property development company, he felt confident to do the drawings and project management himself. Here, he worked hard to keep on top of the tight budget.
“I kept cost sheets – just three pages of A4 that were split into groundworks, main structure, plastered out and completed,” he says. “At the outset, I calculated how much the project would cost using current prices, but filled in the definite outlay as the build progressed.”
Land cost: £80,000
Construction method: Oak frame
House size: 230m²
Project cost per m²: £896
Emma & Simon Bradford were familiar with how the self-build process works through Simon’s job as a plumbing and heating engineer for oak frame specialist Border Oak.
Luckily, they could buy a patch of land from Simon’s parents and live with them during the long planning process as well as the build; they were very frugal in order to finance the works. Simon ran his business by day and self-built by night (with the help of his father, who is a builder), understanding that it was important to engage specialists when necessary.
“We are so fortunate to have such skilled craftsmen in the family,” says Emma. “Building our home was a labour of love for so long, but now we can relax and feel proud of what we’ve achieved.”
The package route
Jay Hubbard, managing director at English Brothers, discusses maximising your budget with a specialist house supplier
Research like mad because it will help you to understand why certain materials are priced higher, meaning you can make better buying decisions.
You may find it’s worth paying a bit more for something because it has a longer warranty or the company has a better reputation, for instance. Budget properly and seek advice to do so. Spending on a self-build specialist or technical advisor could well pay dividends in the long run.
Simple designs will be cheaper, taking less time to design, engineer and construct. Work with your supplier to strike a balance between what you want and what your budget will allow. Paying upfront offers a certain amount of cost reassurance, especially as a big chunk (if not all) of the structure is included in that price and because it’s one company delivering the work.
Predictable timeframes are another benefit of this route – especially as package homes can get to wind and watertight stage very quickly on site. It also means costs associated with scaffold and plant hire, site security and even interest and rents payable can be more accurately estimated.
Handing jobs over to a professional could save you time and money. The worst thing is to do a job yourself only to find you don’t have the time, tools, or ability to do it properly, meaning you need to pay a qualified pro to step in anyway.
Project managing it yourself could save money, but you can’t put a price on your spare time and moments spent with family. Managing a self-build is often a lot more work than you’d expect – save up, pay experts and enjoy the process.
Land cost: £285,000
Construction method: Timber frame
House size: 184m²
Project cost per m²: £1,603
Dennis & Maureen Stephens have created a bespoke modern home in the same village that they’d lived in for years. After attending Build It Live and other self-build shows, they decided to go down the package route, tasking Potton to deliver the project to weathertight shell stage.
The couple sold their house and rented during the works to free up equity for the venture, investing the cash carefully to take advantage of good interest rates. They did jobs themselves to save money, including dealing with the planning application surveys, clearing the site and fitting the roof insulation.
“We get a quarterly rebate thanks to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and fuel our woodburner with trees that we removed from the site,” says Maureen. “Our house is cheaper to run than our previous period property.”
Land cost: £60,000
Construction method: SIPs
House size: 147m²
Project cost per m²: £1,727
Terry & Shirley Rose were left a sum of money when Terry’s father passed away and wanted to invest it in something special. After realising the south east was out of their budget, they set their sights on the Scottish Highlands, as they enjoyed visiting friends in the area.
Inspired by an article on modular construction, they chose to have the house built in factory-finished timber pods. “Our supplier, Boutique Modern, hadn’t previously built something this size, but they were enthusiastic and prepared to work with us,” says Terry.
“As a result, and because we were learning together, they gave us a discount.” Built in the factory over four and a half months, the house was delivered in seven modules and put together in 24 hours.
Land cost: £185,000
Construction method: Oak frame & SIPs
House size: 130m²
Project cost per m²: £3,431
John & Ann Sterry engaged the design skills of their architect son to self-build. They initially set a project budget of £200,000 for the plot and £300,000 for the build, but expected costs to rise during the works.
They decided to leave it all in the capable hands of experts and are thrilled with the result. Their new home is light and airy thanks to extensive glazing throughout – this provides solar gain, which works as a free heat source.
Although they went over their initial budget, the couple were able to cover the extra expense through their income and by dipping into savings.
Working with your budget
Self-build consultant Mike Hardwick offers advice on how to stay on top of costs
A tight budget can be worked to, but many self-builders want something more exclusive than a home built with basic materials. When finished it should be worth more than it cost to construct, but don’t confuse that with creating it on the cheap.
Location is key. You can spend loads building to the highest quality, but if it’s in the wrong part of town then you might never see your money back.
Building work always costs a bit more than you think it will. If you’re looking to create a detached home in an area where you can afford to buy a similar sized house, you’ll be in a good financial position to build your own, but to a better quality.
Estimate costs using the Build It Estimating Service for a good idea of how much you need to budget.
Keep a spreadsheet of each element’s price and stick to it as you go along. You could employ
Spend the serious money on items that will last the life of the house and dictate the quality of the build. I would concentrate my cash on external wall finishes, roof covering, windows, doors and staircases because they add value.
It can be tempting to splash out on kitchens, bathrooms, smart tech and eco products. But try
A big budget doesn’t mean you don’t have to be careful. Anyone can spend money, but getting value for it is much more of an art form; just because you’re spending vast sums of cash, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re adding value.
Land cost: Already owned
Construction method: Insulated concrete formwork (ICF)
House size: 330m²
Project cost per m²: £1,697
Colin & Diana McCabe already owned the perfect self-build plot, so sold their cottage, put possessions into storage and rented nearby.
The couple thoroughly planned every detail, driving up and down the country sourcing virtually every element themselves. “I’m a bargain hunter,” says Diana. “Looking around is much more fun than going into one shop and buying everything.”
But being careful with their budget throughout allowed them to splash out on a few high-end details. “I love my range cooker, music system and expensive floor tiles,” says Diana.
Location: Portwrinkle, Cornwall
Land cost: £500,000
Construction method: Hybrid timber frame
House size: 289m²
Project cost per m²: £2,547
Mark & Alisha Lyndon bought an overgrown site that faced the Cornwall coast. It came with planning permission for a futuristic home by a local architect. “Although the land cost £500,000, we’d already learnt that self-build plots are like gold dust in Cornwall, so we promptly sealed the deal,” says Mark.
They set the build budget as £500,000; however, there were various unexpected hurdles that increased the cost, including the need for extra-deep foundations and having to divert underground springs before work could commence.
Elsewhere, they looked to cut costs; for instance by using local materials. Despite going over budget, they’re thrilled with the result. “Building this property has been an amazing journey and it’s exceeded all our expectations on every level,” says Mark.
Land cost: £850,000
Construction method: Concrete block and steel frame
House size: 410m²
Project cost per m²: £1,828
John Bearman & Stephanie Rogers had been looking for a period property to renovate, but after years of searching, a 1930s house offered them a different kind of opportunity. “Our architect suggested it would be more cost-effective to demolish and start again,” says Stephanie.
They spent lots of time sourcing trades and products as they were project managing; John put contracts out to tender with three or four options to get the best result. “I just took a common sense approach; I asked around for recommendations, looked online, did my research and didn’t let on that I was a novice,” he says.
They opted for a high-end finish using aspirational brands. “Although it’s time-consuming, buying in bulk gives you some negotiating power and those small savings add up,” says Stephanie.