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News

Protection from flooding

The BRE has launced an innovative prototype home to help homeowners mitigate the risk of flood damage 

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East Kingskerswell development plans

Plans for new development in East Kingskerswell, Teignbridge, include allowances for self and custom build

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Could self build costs increase?

A new report from the FMB highlights a surge in the cost of materials since the referendum

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Custom build in East Staffordshire

New custom build development to launch in Burton upon Trent

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Planning overhaul in Scotland

Plans for major changes to Scotland's planning system have been unveiled

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Case Studies

Contemporary Timber Frame Home

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Passivhaus Family Farmhouse

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Steel Farm

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Merlin Haven

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Timber Frame Home, Ventnor

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Aldcliffe Yard, Lancaster

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Walthamstow Social Rent Scheme

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Prefabricated Passivhaus bungalow

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Cookham Dean, Berkshire

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Harvest House

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Bickleigh Eco Village, Devon

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Stoke-on-Trent Serviced Building Plots

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Forevergreen House

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Housing People Building Communities

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Sülzer Freunde, Cologne

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Berlin - 'Building Groups'

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Manor Farm, Kirton

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Straw-baling, Perthshire

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Findhorn

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Almere, Holland

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Hockerton

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Top tips

Custom Build Serviced Plots Loan Fund

Custom Build Serviced Plots Loan Fund Read more

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Berlin - 'Building Groups'

Background:

  • One in ten of all the new homes constructed in Berlin are now delivered by groups of self builders, who form themselves into a co-operative or cohousing group, hire an architect and a builder, and then construct a block of custom-designed apartments or a terrace of homes for themselves.
  • The ‘Building Groups’, (or in German, Baugruppe), have emerged in the last few years as a real force in the city’s housing market. The concept of building together can be traced back to the 1960s and 1970s – when communes and squatting were big in Berlin. But the new wave of cohousing projects seems to owe more to the desire among a wide range of Berliners to genuinely live right in the middle of the capital (rather than suburbia).
  • Most groups are ‘themed’ in some way – so there are many aimed at elders (who are increasingly attracted to living in the city centre close to the services they need); there are lots that focus on young families; and a large number are linked by a desire to live a very sustainable life (three quarters of group homes are built to Passivhaus standards). One of the largest groups (involving around 400 families) is linked by the fact that many of the members have children with mental handicaps.
  • Typically the groups end up with exactly the homes they want; very low energy bills; and the properties are usually about 25% cheaper to build/buy than any others available in the city. The price is lower mainly because there is no developer overhead/profit to pay, and no marketing costs. The groups also get to know all their neighbours (indeed they effectively choose them) so the end result is usually a very harmonious and cohesive community.
  • More than 100 major projects have already been completed – the majority in the last five years. Collectively this amounts to thousands of new homes. Most are for owner occupation, though about a third are delivered for rent. Many of the groups are self-organised; but increasingly ‘enabling developers’ and architects are getting involved, forming groups (or facilitating them) to help get projects off the ground.

Delivery:

There are usually five main 'steps':

  • Step 1 – Formation The group meets, the early members recruit additional members, they search for experts to help them, and they try to identify a suitable site. Early conceptual designs are often produced (with outline costs) so that the members can visualise roughly what they propose to do and what it might cost. The group usually then formally constitutes itself as a co-operative, a civil legal partnership (GbR), or a home ownership association (WEG).
  • Step 2 - Planning This is when the group firms up the appointment of its professional team (architects, engineers etc), and identifies a project manager to oversee the construction work. At this stage the members might also obtain an ‘option’ to buy the site they’ve identified, and they will get their scheme approved by the planners. The design is then ‘locked down’ at this point, the costs are worked out in detail, and they get their finance lined up. In Germany the state owned bank KfW is a strong supporter of these types of projects, so funding is often relatively straight forward. The GLS Bank also has a remit to lend to community-led housing projects.
  • Step 3 – Purchase and Prepare At this point the group formally purchases the land, it goes out to building contractors to get firm prices and it selects the builder it wants to do the work. Berlin has a big advantage over many UK cities in that there is a good supply of reasonably priced urban plots.
  • Step 4 – Build This is the construction phase, so the project manager the group has hired takes care of checking the quality of the work, controlling the cash and ensuring the project is completed when it should be. Quite often the members of the group get involved in some of the work to help keep costs down – so its quite common for them to tackle the final fitting out, decorating, and the installation of kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Step 5 – Occupation Everyone moves in and a building management committee is set up to ensure the homes are properly maintained.
  • To help groups get their projects off the ground the Senate Department for Urban Development and Environment has commissioned an enabling agency (called GenerationenWohnen) to help facilitate and advise people keen to create homes for themselves this way.
  • The range of groups that have already done it is incredible – from a trendy looking 45 home ‘Grand Designs’ scheme, arranged around a hidden shared garden (costing about £300,000 each), to a group of elderly single women who wanted to live close to each other in a supportive community (this was built for them by a Dutch developer, with the homes averaging around £240,000 each).
  • Most of the groups have 20-30 people in them, but one very large scheme for more than 400 families is in the pipeline. This includes a nursery school, a health centre, special facilities for disabled people, a youth centre and other communal facilities. Here the average cost per home is expected to be less than £200,000 each.
  • One group is driven by 11 families that wanted to have the most beautiful neighbourhood/shared garden in Berlin; another has built Germany’s first block of 19 Passivhaus apartments.
  • It sounds fantastic, but sometimes things do go wrong. For example members may disagree about what they want from the project, some people leave groups at critical stages, and with any construction project there can be cost and time overruns.
  • Its also exhausting – people need to be able to devote a lot of time to it, and there can be a lot of (sometimes tiresome) meetings. But a recent survey of people who had done it suggests that most rate the experience as a positive one, and they forgot their disagreements as these memories were outweighed by their delight with their achievements.
  • As they now have quite a track record in Berlin, and have seen the sort of things that sometimes go wrong, the authorities have established some helpful tips and guidance on everything from the best legal structures to adopt, to advice on the best way of agreeing decisions when operating as a group.