What Are The Pros and Cons of Self-Build Homes?

Self-building has some marvellous advantages, but needs careful thought before you commit. Here are our top tips.

Self-building is the very best way to create a home that’s perfect for you, and in most cases a house that you could not otherwise afford. But of course it’s an enormous undertaking and you have to understand the commitment involved before you lay the first brick.

The first thing to understand is that self-building doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be your own architect, bricklayer, electrician, plumber, roofer, carpenter and labourer.

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You can choose to help with the work, or just act as a project manager and engage professionals in each area. (In fact you don’t even have to project manage – you can hire someone to do that too, via a package supplier).
So what exactly is self-building and what are the most popular routes into it?

Individual taste

The point about self-building is to specify a house that is exactly to your requirements, rather than buying a completed property or buying off-plan.
Homebuilding.co.uk says that around 11,000 homes in the UK are self-built each year, but only around 10 percent of the homeowners get involved in the building hands-on.

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Many more choose to get involved in the design stage, either because they want to stamp a look and personality on the buildings, or because they have particular design requirements, maybe that it should be low-maintenance and sustainable.

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First-time buyers may be better suited to a “custom build” where you have a hand in the specification of a home which is being built by a developer, cutting out some of the more complex parts of self-building such as having to deal with planning permission.

The Plot Thickens

Specialist services like plotfinder.net are useful in finding building land, and you can also do some legwork yourself, driving around the area you are interested in or using Google Maps to look for empty land. Some estate agents will hold lists of plots for sale, or you can find local land auctions. Check local authority websites for details of land where planning permission has been granted, and register with your local authority under the Right to Build.

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The cost of submitting a planning application is currently £462 in England, but you will find that surveys and the cost of preparing plans and documents will add greatly to that.

Planning permission normally takes around eight weeks to grant, and usually comes with conditions which you must adhere to if you don’t want to invalidate your consent.

Putting together your team of builders and subcontractors can be done by word of mouth, and of course it’s always helpful if you can inspect previous work. Bear in mind that good contractors are often booked months in advance so it’s good to start looking at an early stage.

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You will need a Self-Build Insurance policy before work begins, and all new homes have to adhere to Building Regulations, so a building control inspector will visit at key stages of the build to inspect the work and ensure it complies. These stages include:

* Excavation for the foundations
* Pouring concrete for the foundations
* Building the oversite
* Building the damp-proof course
* Drainage
* Pre-completion
* Completion

And finally, before work begins you need to ensure access, which can cost from £500 to £10,000 depending on whether the connections need to run across private land and you need a ‘wayleave’. Water supply will be needed early on in the build, electricity and gas at a later stage.

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The CIL Question

The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) imposes a fee on the creation of new homes, based on the size of the house and determined by the local authority. As a self-builder you should be exempt from CIL, subject to criteria such as the house being your principal residence for three years or more. But the exemption process is complex. You should also be able to reclaim VAT on your self-build materials, so make sure you keep all your VAT receipts!

For comprehensive advice contact the National Custom and Self-Build Association at nacsba.org.uk

Martin Roberts’ tips

“Finance can be the sticking point in many self-build plans. You’ll need to buy a building plot, pay for professional services such as architects and surveyors, and fund the building work itself. You might have the money in savings or equity in an existing property, but if you need to apply for a self-build mortgage, you’ll probably have to find a specialist – few High Street lenders provide facilities for self-build loans.”

So self-building has some marvellous advantages, but needs careful thought before you commit. Follow our top tips for certain success!

This feature was first published in Property & Home with Martin Roberts, Winter 2020 – read more here.

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