There’s a housing crisis in the UK and it doesn’t seem to be going away; despite cityscapes and towns transforming and changing rapidly in the last thirty years, many families remain in need of better – or even just some – housing. Each year the number of homes built in the UK falls far short of the number required and add to this fact the unfortunate double (soon to be triple) dip recession and the inability of many people to find a mortgage, the housing market is not looking good. Since 2011 the government has been trying to promote the alternative option when it comes to homes and is trying to push a self-build revolution. So should we become a nation of self-builders and what’s in it for us?
The Bottom Line
When it comes to buying a house there are a whole range of factors to consider; a house needs to be a home and there is a huge emotional factor in the decision. Although the purchase will be one of the biggest financial commitments of your life the emotional factor shouldn’t be ignored. Ultimately the bottom line does have to play a part in your choice and this is possibly the biggest draw of the self-build option. On average, a self-build home will cost between fifty and eighty per cent of the cost of a comparable home; the difference between the lower percentage and the higher is down to whether you opt to really ‘self-build’ or employ a builder. Doing the work yourself can offer the biggest saving in terms of final costs but it’s not for the fainthearted. So, should we self-build? Yes, if we want to save a small fortune.
Grand Designs and that nice Kevin McCloud have a lot to answer for. The interest in self-build has seen a rise since the programme first aired, despite the obvious pain and misery that is etched on the faces of most of the programme’s self-builders, close to the end of their build. Perhaps the final results, when all the work is done and the builders are basking in the glow of their new dream home, is more of a reason to consider it tempting. However, the programme has a massive following of millions and yet the real number of self-builders each year is limited to less than twenty thousand. The enthusiasm that the programme generates doesn’t seem to translate into real action. So is this a case of self-build being a pipe dream for most people, or are darker forces at work to keep us from building our own homes?
The Plot Thickens
The biggest problem most self-builders face is the plot. It’s an old story in the UK, where building land is scarce and often gobbled up by professional developers before it makes it to the market. Naturally, developers are ideally placed to have the right contacts to snap up a bargain plot, or even a fairly expensive one, when it becomes available. Finding a plot in area where planning permission will be forthcoming is difficult enough, without the competition from professional firms. A number of websites list property and plots for sale and it’s worth signing up to these if you intend to self-build. Planning permission is the second big problem. In urban areas it’s usually easier to gain permission, although you’ll almost certainly face objections of the neighbourly kind if your desired plot is in a residential area. In rural or semi-rural areas a whole host of constraints will be in place to trip you up at every stage of the process. This is where even the most independent of self-builders need to employ an architect, use architectural models and a planning consultant. All of these tools will help to present a professional image and a professional design. For standard planning permission (for an extension, for example) architectural models may be unnecessary but for a self-build project they can be invaluable as an aid to demonstrating the final reality of the project.
The biggest obstacles are planning and plotting, when it comes to self-build, however, once negotiated you’ll face the sheer hard work of physically building the property – if you plan to do so yourself. For some, with building experience, this makes sense but for those with little or no experience employing a builder and working for them as a labourer will be the safest (although still hard) route. However, ultimately apart from getting a bargain basement, ground floor and first floor, you’ll also find that building your own home creates a truly deep sense of satisfaction for both you and your bank manager.