It starts with a spark – you picture your ideal home. You watch a programme featuring an awe-inspiring architect or a family self–building the home of their dreams. Before you know it you’re googling self build homes and getting drawn into the item of locating a plot of land and creating your own house. After all, why settle for anyone else’s vision and specifications if you can design exactly what you want from scratch? Of course, the decision to build your own home isn’t that straightforward – there is a very steep learning curve, especially if you’re self-building for the first time. You will have as many set-backs as you will breakthroughs, and the whole process can be a little bit of a roller coaster ride. The prize at the end of the tracks, of course, is the home you’ve always dreamed of.
Preparation Is Key
Although you may not think it from the numerous television programmes on the subject, not all self-build projects are imposing mansions. In fact, the majority of self-builds are quite modest designs, so don’t think you have to be building a huge estate in order to think about creating a house. It’s important to remember that you will need planning permission in place – either outline or the full process, in order to secure financing for the build. So a lot of the huge, ambitious projects on your tv screen would struggle to get financing from traditional routes such as mortgage lenders. You’ll need one thing in huge supply in order to work through the initial stages of the planning process and securing the funding: patience. A hugely quirky, avant-garde home design would not only be difficult to secure permission and therefore money for, but they are also extremely difficult to value, which is another requirement for most lenders.
Financing Your Build
Although they may not quite be the mansions built out of recycled shipping containers that claim the most airtime, most self-build projects are detached homes, slightly costlier than the average residence and done to a high specification. Most new designs are also ‘intelligent’ – using eco-friendly materials and smart appliances. Self-build projects require more upfront capital than a conventional mortgage application – it’s quite usual to have to buy the plot of land and pay for planning applications before you can access any kind of loan financing, and the mortgages they can access are typically interest-only. In essence, they have more in common with a specially-arranged overdraft facility than a traditional mortgage – as the build is paid for in stages, the money is drawn down in that fashion to, after each phase of the project is completed. So the cheaper, fixed-rate loans are not usually a product available to self-build applicants, and if the loan amount needs to change during the build there can be exit fees. It can take as long as six months to get financing in place for a project, and you may need up to 25 per cent of the cost of building materials upfront. However, you may find that a lender will offer a conventional mortgage at a lower rate once the build is complete.
Identifying Your Plot
One of the most difficult parts of the whole self-build housing journey can actually be one of the initial ones: finding the perfect plot to build on. Online plot finding services can be a really good place to start, and traditional real estate agents sometimes also list land for sale. Occasionally you may find auction listings or your local newspaper useful tools for finding your land. Think outside the box – depending on what you want to build, and how concerned you are about the exact location, there may be possibilities you haven’t considered – these could include the sale of grounds which were formerly part of an existing house, infill sites reconditioned by land agents or brownfield sites. Sometimes you may also find serviced plots which generally already have planning permission and sometimes connection to utilities – this can be a straightforward option for first-time self-builders. You need to first determine how much space is needed in order to accomodate the design you have in mind. In general terms, the smallest plot you should consider for a four-bedroom home would be a tenth of an acre, but if you’re wanting a more spread out home design or a large garden area then a third or a half of an acre will work better. And how do you know what to pay as a guide price? Have a look at previous sale prices in the area – these can be highly location-dependent, but are generally around a quarter to two-thirds of your finished home value.”
Finding Your Support
Of course, building a home is very much a team effort – and the architect and the building firm that you appoint will have a huge impact on the success and stress levels of your project, so choose wisely. It’s not a great idea to go solely on cost – experience far outweighs this, and what you may save on an initial quote price you could very well soon lose in costly mistakes if your builder is not sufficiently experienced with a project of that scale. Most architects will have recommended builders with whom they have worked successfully before, so it may be a good idea to choose from a list of their recommendations. You will also have to decide if you want an architect or a builder who will also fulfill the role of project manager, or if you have the time and energy to devote to this function yourself.
Tasks range from keeping a close and continuing eye on the budget to ensure costs don’t escalate, to arranging for functions such as crane hire, sorting out skips and arranging contractors from plumbers to carpet fitters. Watching the shell of your home finally materialise into reality is a deeply exciting time when you have managed the project from approving the earliest draft designs. There are several different construction methods that you can use to create your home – brick and block is a traditional route, while timber-frame is relatively quick to put up. Some houses are built using concrete formwork and others made of insulated panels. Then there are entirely prefabricated structures such as the Huf Haus system, where buildings are manufactured entirely in advance and constructed very quickly once on site. All of these choices have a huge effect on what construction firm and architect you should appoint.
Ensure Your Build Is Covered
Self-build projects are notorious for not running perfectly smoothly, and often there can be a few more twists, turns and design revisions that you have have been expecting. Hopefully, these are relatively smooth and can be ironed out during the process. But in case of bigger problems, it’s very wise to source a self-build insurance policy, the cost of which will depend on the size of the overall project. You will also need a structural warranty which covers at least a ten year period and also one to cover against defects – whether from workmanship, materials or even the design itself. It’s wise to consider coverage for if the construction firm appointed goes bust halfway through the project. Do not release any staged payments earlier than planned, as many firms will ask when they start to experience cashflow issues, often a sign of imminent collapse. Without adequate insurance coverage, you may find yourself at the mercy of company liquidators and unpaid contractors appearing at your door demanding payment. It’s worth hiring a tradesman who is a member of a professional association that has an insurance backed guarantee of the quality of their work.
Making Your Home Smart – Now And In Future
When you create your own home, you have an unique opportunity to add in technology from the very bottom up, creating a truly smart home that serves the needs of your family perfectly. To get this right, it’s worth spending some time thinking about the goals you have and how integrated smart home technology could help you achieve them – from making energy savings with eco-friendly heating and water systems which are automated, to simply creating an amazing entertainment centre, an intelligent kitchen, a more secure home or one which can support the switch to an electric vehicle more seamlessly.
When you’re clear on what you want to achieve, there is less temptation to get distracted by the latest new, shiny innovation that won’t actually enhance your life and needs. Think beyond Alexa – try to consider how the needs of you and your family might change over time, and how you can create a smart infrastructure that is capable of taking future technological developments in it’s stride. Creating an holistic smart home is more than just a bunch of intelligent controls, it’s about how they work together to make your life easier. A new smart home can also be designed specifically with energy efficiency in mind – with integrated solar panels, eco-friendly heating and water systems, and an in-garage charging point for an electric car.