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News

Call for thousands of new self build homes across London

Recommendation for urban pilot project of 100 sites for self builders to construct new homes on

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Bidding opens for £200million to deliver custom build homes on brownfield sites

Councils encouraged to partner with developers and apply for funding to build thousands of new homes

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Another stream of self and custom build schemes set to be realised

More self and custom build homes possible as new projects move forward and council surveys gauge interest

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Applications open to new national fund for urban Community Land Trusts

Twenty 'demonstration' grants of up £10,000 available to emerging Trusts in urban areas

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New custom build fund opens to applications

£150 million investment fund for 10,000 serviced plots will support 'shovel ready' custom build sites

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Case Studies

Bickleigh Eco Village, Devon

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Stoke-on-Trent Serviced Building Plots

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Forevergreen House

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Liverpool Habitat for Humanity

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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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Low-cost Irish House

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Community Eco-homes, Devon

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Lancaster Co-Housing

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Cropthorne

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Findhorn

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St Just In Roseland

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Hempsted Green

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Vauban, Germany

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Warborough

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Almere, Holland

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Ashley Vale

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West Quantoxhead

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Castle Ring Wood

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The Camberwell Curve

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Trefeglwys

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Wellstride

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Hockerton

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Wokingham

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Top tips

George Clarke's
Top Tip

George Clarke's Top Tip Read more

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Contractor built one-off home

Benefits

  • You get exactly what you want (provided the planners are happy to approve it)
  • If the design is straight forward and the project is well managed it can be reasonably cost effective
 

Challenges

  • Sometimes costs spiral – especially if you make changes to the design as the construction work progresses
  • Professional fees can be a significant portion of the total cost, so you may want to negotiate fixed fees

What you usually have to do

  • Find and purchase a suitable site
  • Select and commission a suitable architect/designer. You can, of course, design the home yourself or select a design you like from one of the many books of designs
  • Select and appoint a suitable main contractor

Next Steps...

You may be lucky enough to already have a site. If not, your first job will probably be to find a suitable plot.

While you are searching for your site you should try to get to see as many other self build projects – while they are under construction or near completion – as you possibly can. There’s no substitute for walking around sites with other self builders and picking up tips and advice from them. You should also be avidly reading the various magazines and attending the key trade exhibitions to build up your general knowledge of self build.

Once you have secured a plot you will almost certainly need an architect or a qualified designer to draw up the plans for your project. Sometimes you may also need other professional help – for example a structural engineer and/or a quantity surveyor.

Sometimes self builders appoint a project manager to run the entire project for them. They would appoint the rest of the professional advisers and organise a contractor for you, then manage their work. There is currently no directory of independent self build project managers, but the Chartered Institute of Building may be able to point you towards local contacts. But there's really no substitute for personal recommendation.

So, if you are undertaking the work yourself, the best way to find good professionals is to ask other self builders in your area if they’d recommend the people they used. Sometimes self builders part company with one or more of their design team during the self build process and this can be costly and disruptive. So spend time searching, interviewing, visiting projects built by designers you are considering using, and taking up references. This investment in selecting the right people will reap benefits later on. The Royal Institute of British Architects has a free referral service which will help identify suitable architects near to you. Similar services are also available from the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists. If you are seeking a surveyor, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors can assist and for structural engineering advice, The Institution of Structural Engineers will be happy to point you in the right direction.

Once you have appointed your design team you may need to negotiate with them over their fees. Some professionals are keen to link their fee to a percentage of the eventual construction cost. Be wary of this, as it can then be in their interest to design something that will be very expensive to build. So you may be better negotiating a fixed fee for an agreed level of service.

When you have appointed the professional team you’ll need to brief them clearly about what you want. Don’t be too prescriptive; you’re hiring professionals who have a lot of creative talent, so don’t handcuff them by telling them exactly what to do. ASBA - the Association of Self Build Architects (currently has 30 members, spread evenly across the UK) has some good advice on how to prepare a brief for a design team.

It’s at around this stage that you need to decide the preferred method of construction you want to use, and how "green" you want to make your home.

Once you are happy with the design it’s time to submit it for planning permission. Usually design teams will have held some preliminary discussions with the local planning department to gauge what will, or won’t be acceptable. Once you’re confident that your design works for you the plans can be submitted. Usually it takes 8-12 weeks to get planning approval. There is lots of good advice on how to make this process as straight forward as possible on the Planning Portal – this is the Government's independent website and it provides guidance on a wide range of planning and Building Regulation issues.

When you have been granted planning permission you normally then ask suitable building contractors to prepare a price for building your home. But before then you need to be checking out good local builders (again, personal recommendation from other self builders is usually the best way). Find out if they did a good job, and if so, whether or not they might be available to build your home. Really good contractors are in strong demand and they may not be able to build your home straight away. This can be frustrating sometimes - but it is arguably worth waiting in the queue if the contractor you really, really want to use is busy. Your professional advisors should also be able to recommend suitable contractors.

Most people suggest that you line up three or four contractors to prepare a formal price, and then you select the one that offers the best all round solution for you. Remember it may not be the lowest price that matters; quality, reliability, experience and speed of construction may all be factors to consider alongside the bottom line cost.

If you cannot find local builders yourself you could try the National Federation of Builders who offer an advisory service on how to choose a contractor. The Federation of Master Builders has a very useful 'Find A Self Build Contractor' matching service.

You may want to look out for builders that display the TrustMark – this is a scheme run by the Government that vets builders.

When you finally work out which contractor you want to use you will need to draw up a contract. Your professional team should be able to guide you on this. The Joint Contracts Tribunal is a well recognised authority on construction contracts and has a number of standard documents available.

You can also get simple contract documentation specifically aimed at self builders from RIBA Bookshops and the RICS Shop. Try the ContractStore too with a 20% discount for users of The Self Build Portal - they also have a useful guide available.

There are hundreds of different companies and suppliers to the self build industry. Our Suppliers Directory offers a listing which you may find useful.

One of the best things you can do is read up on the whole process. The best book is 'The House Builders Bible' – which is readily available on Amazon and in good book shops. 'Building Your Own Home' is also a very good guide.

You could also go on one of many courses aimed at self builders.

There are many other sources of useful information – such as exhibitions and the various self build magazines.

Case studies

Warborough

Warborough

This large architect-designed high specification home includes many quality features. It cost £625,000.

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The Camberwell Curve

The Camberwell Curve

Good sites are hard to find in urban areas. This home is shoe-horned onto a small pocket of land and cost just £232,000 to build.

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