Self-builds: Five expert tips for designing your own forever home

Building your own home can be a very satisfying project. But just how easy is it to do? Sarah Hastings, Digital and Marketing Manager at RW4Y, shares five expert tips for self-builders.

Self-builds are becoming more popular – in fact, one in three of us want to build our own home one day (Home Building). Any self-build project requires a lot of time, effort, and money to execute, but in most cases, it actually works out cheaper than buying a ready-made home.

So, if you’re tempted to give it a go and want to know how to pull it off without a hitch, below I’ll share five tips to bear in mind.

1) Plan, plan, plan

At the planning stage of your self-build, it’s important to consider every aspect of your project including a projected timeline, the resources required, legal considerations such as planning permission and site insurance, and an estimated cost.

You should also be realistic about any potential delays due to weather or public holidays, any supply issues you can foresee, and any other potential snags so you can have a plan ready to tackle these problems once they arise. 

By talking to individuals and communities that have successfully built their own homes in the past, you may learn about what issues they came across during the course of their project which will help you prepare for your own. This is particularly useful if their self-build is in an area that you want to build in, as they’ll have an insight into the local government, any soil issues in the area that can affect your foundations, and so on. 

Take advantage of surveys at every stage of the build to ensure you catch structural issues early on, from buying your land plot to designing and building your new home. You’ll also want to consider what happens after your home is built, including hooking the property up to utilities and decorating the interior. Incorporating these into your master plan will ensure you’re not left with a property you can’t afford to turn into a home after the build is complete.

2) Get your finances in order

You likely have a good idea already of how you’ll be financing your self-build, the most common method being a self-build mortgage. But, be warned that your average high-street bank isn’t necessarily the best place to get a self-build mortgage from.

A specialised self-build mortgage broker will not only better understand the legal and financial intricacies of building your own home, but they often have more agreeable rates to offer you too. So, be sure to explore this option if you haven’t already.

It also pays to be realistic when working out the total cost of your self-build project. As a general rule, you should always aim to keep the sum of 10% of your proposed budget aside, so you can use this to pay for emergencies and unforeseen complications.

3) Decide your level of involvement

Decide how involved you want to be in the building of your own home. You might be tempted to save money by doing the work yourself, or you might hire a company to do it for you.

You can technically tackle everything from designing to project managing and even the building work if you have the skills and experience, as long as everything is up to code. But remember that the more you take on yourself, the longer your project will take which can increase the cost of your build. 

Hiring contractors to do the work for you may in many cases work out quicker and cheaper overall, and an experienced project manager could help ensure your project goes as smoothly as possible — and they might have a few penny-saving tips up their sleeve, too. So, be sure to do the maths before you commit to building your home on your own, in case hiring a company is a better option for you. 

4) Understand your land

Even the most put-together self-build proposal can be rendered useless if you don’t fully understand the rights you have to the land you own. Anyone can buy a plot of land in the UK, but owning land doesn’t necessarily mean you’re allowed to build a house on it — it might be banned for ecological reasons, or you might only have permission to build a certain type of structure, or a house of a certain size, height, or style.

It’s also possible that you think your plot has planning permission attached to it, but what you have is Outline Planning Permission (OPP). OPP essentially means that you have planning permission in theory, but you still need to apply for full planning permission before you start building on it.

Detailed Planning Permission (DPP) is the most desirable planning permission for a plot of land to have, as it almost guarantees your building proposal will be accepted. However, these plots are understandably more expensive, and they are a lot harder to come by.

5) Choose where to spend your budget

Having worked out your budget (and set some money aside for emergencies), you need to decide where to spend it. Almost every decision you make when designing your home has monetary significance and can affect the overall cost of your build, including the quality of your building materials. \Having said that, the more money you spend in certain areas, the more value you’ll be adding to a home in the long run which makes the investment worth it. 

For example, it’s almost always advisable to build a two-storey home than a bungalow as the bulk of the cost of the project goes towards the roof and foundations – adding another storey isn’t that much more expensive, even when installing a staircase, and you get twice the amount of space on the same amount of land. That means you can sell a two-storey home for much more than you would a bungalow if that’s what you choose to do.

There are many other initial spends you can choose to invest in that may increase property value, such as including a large kitchen as part of your design, prioritising energy efficiency (which also keeps your bills low) or increasing the amount of natural light the property receives by adding plenty of windows and roof windows.

Choosing better quality materials and workmanship can also save you money in repairs in the years following the completion of your project, so that’s something to take into account too. 

Whatever stage of the self-build process you’re at, the tips in this guide can help you ensure your project goes off as smoothly as possible. For even more helpful home advice, browse lifestyle articles at Talented Ladies Club.