Every year, over 12,000 people build their own house. These intrepid home makers come from all walks of life: young couples keen to get onto the housing ladder; families hankering for more space; retirees wanting to downsize; DIYers looking for a project to sink their teeth into – the list goes on and on!
Whatever your motivation for self-building, the great news is that it’s a wonderfully accessible route to a new home – whether you’re a total novice or someone with plenty of experience in the construction sector. So just what makes self-build such a great idea?
We’re all familiar with the characterless new-build estates up and down the UK, populated with ever-smaller houses replete with average-quality finishes – but how many of us are actually happy living in such spaces?
“Developer-built houses are not necessarily poor products – they have to meet Building Regs and clearly people are buying them, but they’re often disappointing places to live,” says Mike Hardwick, a project manager and self-build expert for the National Self Build & Renovation Centre. Working to a design you’ve commissioned for your own plot means you can steer clear of the commercial pressures that often blight big developments.
One of the great attractions of self-building is that it gives you the opportunity to create a home that suits your lifestyle – and is ready to adapt to changes in your circumstances in the future. Perhaps you’re after a property for a new family that will also stand up to teenager’s demands, for example. Or maybe you need a single-storey ‘lifetime home’ that can take you into retirement but still provide plenty of space for guests to stay.
Your home’s overall footprint will depend on your budget and what your local authority planning department is willing to permit, but once you’ve establish an overall size you’ll be free to decide which spaces are more important to you – and arrange your floorplan accordingly.
Ultimately, self-building gives you control over who designs your project, who builds it and where – if anywhere – compromises are made. Rather than relying on off-the-shelf options, you’ll be in the best possible position to tackle areas such as making best use of your plot, maximising views and natural light, achieving greater levels of comfort and energy-efficiency – and more besides. “You get to decide how your house is designed so that it dovetails perfectly with the way you live your life,” says Mike.
Only a tiny minority of self-builders get involved in projects of the scale we’re used to from TV shows such as Grand Designs. For the vast majority, it’s simply a cost-effective route to a good-quality home that’s tailored to their needs. Because you’re not operating to a profit margin, you can expect to get more for your money than you would by buying an equivalent developer-built home. “Self-building is one of the few activities where buying bespoke is more economical than purchasing the ready-made equivalent,” says Mike.
What’s more, in many cases you’ll be paying a relatively small amount of Stamp Duty Land Tax. That’s because it’s only due on the value of the land. So if you buy a plot priced under the current £125,000 threshold, you won’t owe any stamp duty – regardless of the market value of the completed house.
Building a new home from scratch will also net you savings on VAT. Labour costs on new build housing are zero-rated for VAT (ensure it’s not included on contractors invoices, as there’s no recourse to get it back once you’ve paid it) while you can reclaim the VAT charged on many of the building materials after completion. Compare that to a conventional renovation – where labour and materials would both be charged at 20% – and you’re in for some significant savings. “In fact, in some cases huge variation in VAT means it’s more cost effective to knock down an existing house and start again,” says Mike. Have a quick browse through some of Build It readers’ homes and you’ll see that successful self-builders regularly claim back £10,000s worth of VAT.
You’ll also be at liberty to make the key decisions on where to spend and where to save. You might be willing to cut back on top-of-the-range kitchen cabinets and appliances in favour of upgrading insulation levels, for example. This kind of fabric-first approach is likely to add value to your home in the long run, while non-permanent features can always be updated if more funds become available in the future.
Of course, if you’ve got the funds at your disposal, there’s nothing better than the blank canvas of a self-build when it comes to investing in the bells and whistles. From the highest-quality workmanship to smart tech such as renewables and home automation, starting from scratch is the most straightforward and cost-effective way to attain top-spec features.
There’s still a perception among the general public that self-building is the preserve of amateurs who want to try their hand at construction. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth – you can choose exactly how involved you want to get with the process.
If you have the time and skills to pour concrete foundations or lay your own bricks, then all well and good. But if you don’t, there’s nothing to fear – most self-builders choose to take on the role of project manager, hiring contractors to take care of the skilled work and perhaps chipping in with occasional labour or at the decorating stages. Others commission an architect’s design and work with a single main contractor, or even take a back seat and allow a package company to complete the house on a ‘turnkey’ basis. All of these routes (and more) fall under the ‘self-build’ bracket; you simply need to choose the option that best suits your circumstances.
Whatever route you take, there are some key tasks that you’ll certainly have to tackle. First up are finding a plot, securing finance and setting a budget – you’ll need these things in place before you can move on to commissioning a design, obtaining planning permission and sourcing trades to build a home that satisfies Building Regulations. You’ll also need to decide who will project manage the build – whether you’ll be doing it yourself, having your designer take over or employing a specialist project manager, for example.
Support for self-build is growing. Thanks to sterling work by the National Self Build Association (NaSBA), for the first time custom build homes have been enshrined in the government’s National Planning Policy Framework. The document now specifies a requirement for local authorities to ascertain and fulfil the needs of those who who want to ‘build their own home’ by providing for self-build plots in their area.
Whether that makes a wholesale change to land supply remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction and more and more councils are launching pilot schemes. More government support has followed, with tranches of public sector land being released to offer plots to self-builders, as well as a £30m injection of lending funds to help finance community self-build projects. You can find out more about these schemes throughout this website, such as in Routes to Self-Build.
If you are thinking ‘it’s alright for some, but I could never do it’, you may be surprised to learn that people from all walks of life successfully self-build their own homes. Don’t be put off by those spectacular self-builds on TV either. For every ‘Grand Design’ there are hundreds of ‘Standard Designs’ that become fantastic family homes. It’s funny how you never see an episode where a nice couple build a modest four-bedroom house on time and on budget using a competent builder. It will never make good TV because there’s no edge-of-the-seat jeopardy involved.
Apart from the usual suspects you’d expect to be self-builders, you’ll find younger people priced out of the first-time buyers’ housing market building starter homes on side plots on their parents’ houses. Also, families desperate to move out of flats and inner city homes are finding land and building their dream homes with the luxury of gardens and somewhere to park the car. Retirees who have money tied up in large family homes where the children have moved on are selling up and downsizing to custom-built retirement homes and still having some additional capital left over to fund a happy retirement.
In short, people from all walks of life can self-build their way to their dream home.
Photo: Andy Righelato took full advantage of a coastal plot when designing his individual home. Click here for the full story
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