20 October 1995



If you want a new home and are prepared to self-build, the result could be a tailor-made property with some very positive equity. Tessa Gates went to the National Self Build Homes Show to find out more

SELF-BUILD is the norm in other countries, yet here in Britain most new housing is built by developers and alterations and customisation are costly extras.

But there is a wealth of information and help available to would-be self-builders that will get them just the design of house they want, with or without wielding so much as a screwdriver.

Self-build is not the same as do-it-yourself – it is a planning and organising activity and, according to the experts at the National Self Build Homes Show, anyone can do it. Indeed 27,000 people a year in Britain do just that.

For farmers, particularly, it could be the answer to getting exactly the farmhouse or retirement home they need on their own land. An added incentive is that the property will be worth about 20-30% more than it cost to complete.

Just how much money you save by going self-build depends on your own input. The following building costs a sq ft are a rough guide to the options, which are:

&#8226 Own project manager – £34-36sq ft. You organise people and materials making sure both are on site as required.

&#8226 Professional project manager – £36-42sq ft. You employ someone to oversee the project.

&#8226 Builder – £40-50sq ft. This is the simplest option. Use one registered with the NHBC to gain the NHBC Buildmark 10-year warranty, or with Custom Build, from Zurich Municipal which has a 10-year (optional 15 years) warranty scheme.

Whichever choice you make, building inspectors and, if you borrowed money for the project, the lenders surveyor, will be making regular checks on the work ensuring everything is up to scratch.

Most major building societies and all the banks will lend money to self-builders subject to status and earnings. As a rule they will lend 75% of the purchase price (TSB up to 95%) of the building plot and 90-100% of the total build cost. The building money is paid in stages retrospectively as work is progressing. Delays between finishing one stage and getting paid for it are inevitable so it pays to get a 28-day credit facility arranged on all invoices to allow for this.

VAT is reclaimable on all materials used in a self-build home, including fixtures and fittings, but only one claim can be made. This must be done when the house is finished and within 12 weeks of the building inspector issuing a completion certificate.

"The average repayment is £5000 so look on it as a built-in savings scheme," advises Sean Powers of Potton which supplies timber frame homes and runs the Potton Self Build Centre at St Neots, Cambs. "There is no stamp duty to pay on the house. Stamp duty of 1% will be payable on the land only if it cost more than £60,000 to purchase," he says.

Outline planning permission turns a field into a building plot but it doesnt alter the ground. When choosing where to build dont be seduced by a perfect view or convenient situation. Turn your back on any wet land, sticky clay, where their are lots of trees or where there is a covenant or access problems. Difficult land can add half as much again to foundation costs and an old well underneath it could treble your £6000 foundation costs. Get a structural engineer to determine the foundation requirements of your particular plot and make its purchase subject to a satisfactory report.

Get written quotations for connection to all four services, particularly water, before you buy and remember that if the plot is more than 30m from the highway you will have to allow enough room for a turning circle for emergency vehicles.

Before putting in for planning consent for the house of your dreams have an informal chat with the local planning officer and find out if your ideas will be allowable. "Style and design are the important words," says Sean Powers. "It might be that the design is fine but the finish has to be changed. In some areas you might have to use render, tiles and paint, in another they might specify stone, slate and stain as the finishing materials. Take on board the planners words – he wants your application to succeed."

Allow a minimum of eight weeks for planning and up to 12 months for an appeal. Allow around 20 weeks total build time for a timber-frame house and about 26 weeks for a block and brick construction.

It might seem like a big project to tackle but there is an army of experts offering advice and back-up for self-builders. Research the options thoroughly before making any decisions. As London policeman Kevin Schules, self-builder of a beautiful home in Surrey, told the audience at a seminar at the exhibition – "Once you have got the land it is easy. All it takes is determination, common sense and all your savings."

Below: Traditional windows from Lattice Windows, Fiddington, Glos.

Left: A modified Caxton house from Pottons award winning Heritage range, one of the many "kit" homes available to the


Right: Mark Palliser of English Oak Furniture, Kington, Hereford, carves an oak barge board for a Tudor-style house during the National Self

Build Homes


Timber-frame bay of a Border Oak home made from finest English oak and constructed in a 16thC style.

Left: Nick Gayden, of Fiddington, Glos, exhibited the exquisite locks and latches he makes. He also repairs period pieces. Below: Ray Hill makes the model for a mould of a half-round ridge finial for clay

tile makers Keymer of

Burgess Hill, Sussex.