How to build your own house

Updated: 
house building siteThe Government launched a self-build initiative last year to great fanfare, hoping to boost the sector and enable more people to build their own homes.

Conservative Party Chairman (then Housing Minister) Grant Shapps suggested it was possible to build a three-bed home from scratch for just £150,000.

But if it was that easy wouldn't we all be doing it?

Small and specialist
In fact, there are about only 12,000 homes self-built each year in the UK, representing 7.6% of housing supply. This is way behind some European countries, including Hungary (52%), France (38%), and the Netherlands (10%).

The Government said last year that it aimed to double the number of self-built houses from 100,000 to 200,000 over the next decade.

But just a year after this grandstanding, new housing minister Mark Prisk has now been forced to admit that, in fact, the self-build sector probably doesn't represent a realistic way to significantly boost housing stock in the UK.

Plus a report published last week by the University of York suggested that the self-build sector needs to change significantly in order to become a valid housing option over the next decade. It states the sector is small, niche and slow moving, and suggests there should be a greater understanding between central government, local authorities and lenders to standardise the self-build process across the country.

So while it's not quite as easy as we were led to believe last year, and certainly not for the faint hearted, building your own home is still possible, and often works out a lot cheaper than buying the equivalent property 'off the shelf'.

If you fancy building your ideal home from scratch, read our top tips for self-build success:

1. Do your homework first
Do a lot of research before you make the decision to build your own home – the Government-led www.selfbuildportal.org.uk is a great starting point. There can be a massive amount of work involved and it pays to really understand this before you make a commitment. Then think about the type of self-build you want to do, for example, do you want to play a key role in the design and build, or would you rather pay a contractor to do it for you. Or would you rather buy a kit home. A lot depends on your expertise, free time and budget.

2. Budget – then budget some more!
Building your own home can very easily stretch the most generous of budgets and it is often the case that the initial estimate is quickly found to be wanting. Problems occur and delays happen on the most tightly-planned builds so spend plenty of time on your budget, and then add at least 15% to cover unforeseen circumstances - they will crop up. The average self-build takes two years to complete and much of this is in the planning stage. But it is essential you do it properly as it will save you time and money later on.

3. Location, location, location
Finding the right plot is key and it can be the most difficult part of the process. Word of mouth is often a good source and it is worth making friends with the local estate agents who can give you the heads up if a good plot comes onto the market.

There are also dedicated land websites like plotbrowser.co.uk, as well as the main property portals, such as Rightmove.co.uk. Obviously you need to research planning permission before jumping feet first into a plot purchase. Get advice on whether or not you are likely to be able to build a home in any location before you commit.

4. Paying for it
If you are lucky enough to have the funds to finance your self-build project sitting in the bank, then the process will be a lot easier. In practice most people need to borrow to build a home, in the same way that most people use a mortgage to buy a property.

One option is to remortgage your existing property if you have one. You will need to have enough equity to release a sizeable sum, plus your income must be sufficient to cover the increased mortgage repayments. Finally you will need to be young enough get a mortgage that you are able to pay off before retirement (or be able to prove you have funds to meet the repayments later in life).

If not you may want to get a specific self-build mortgage. Most are available up to 75% of the total cost of the build - so you will need a 25% deposit, although a few lenders will offer mortgages to those with 15% upfront.

However, be aware that many lenders advance the money in a series of stages, so you will only get enough at first to buy the land for example. Then the lender will advance a bit more to build the foundations. Once that stage has been checked they will release a bit more. In other words these mortgages are more complicated than a straightforward homeloan – and more expensive, so it might be worth going to a self-build specialist for help. Buildstore is the biggest and best known.

5. Call in the experts
Very few people have the necessary experience and time to design and oversee their whole build project, and if they do, they usually work in the industry already.

If you don't, you should look for recommendations from successful self-builders in your area, who have first-hand experience of the local professionals needed – you may want to hire an architect, a structural engineer, and a builder for example. Speak to a few different people and don't rush this part – having the right team in place is absolutely crucial to your self-build success.

The following organisations can help you find the relevant professionals in your area:
The Royal Institute of British Architects
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
The National Federation of Builders
The Federation of Master Builders

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