Want your own Grand Design? So let’s get designing!

Posted 21 April 2016 by Kate Faulkner

We’ve all watched things unravel dramatically on TV’s Grand Designs, as self-builders encounter huge problems which send them way over budget. But it doesn’t have to be like that, as more people are discovering when they take on their own self-build projects.

Don’t forget that the builds shown on television are selected because they are typically unusual or extreme. You rarely see smooth-running success stories on TV because they don’t make very interesting viewing!

One of the first things to know is there are now several variants on the self-build theme, and most of them don’t involve you getting your hands dirty at all. Your level of involvement is up to you.  Whatever method you choose, you’ll get the opportunity to design or customise the build to suit your needs, and you can enjoy a more affordable route to the home of your dreams. And, whichever route you take, you’ll find lots of help available along the way.

Even the government is actively encouraging you to self-build at the moment, councils are releasing land for building, and there are special self-build mortgages available, which mean you can stay in your current home until your new one is ready, and won’t have to live in a caravan on a muddy building site, so things are definitely easier than they were.  

Here are the two main ways you can achieve the home of your dreams:  


The traditional way to self-build is to buy a plot of land, then pay someone to build you a house. You can find land by talking to your local council, your local auction house and searching online. Make sure it has at least outline planning permission as you are unlikely to get it later. Even if it has full planning permission, you may still need to resubmit the application as it’s unlikely to be a perfect match for the home you want.

Choose your plot carefully - check out the pros and cons of a few different ones, look at the size and the ease of access as well as any gradients that could prove difficult to build on or add to costs. Ideally employ a specialist land RICs surveyor and look out for potential problems such as flooding and subsidence.

Just as crucial is your choice of tradespeople. Avoid the cheapest, those who can start immediately (good builders are always busy) and anyone who offers a discount for cash, this means they are unlikely to be paying tax, so if you use them, you won’t have the receipts you need to claim any money back in case they do a bad job. Ideally look for a builder who is a member of the Federation of Master Builders, as they have strict membership criteria and offer a dispute resolution service and always use individual trades people that belong to a member organisation as they often have warranties that protect the work they do for you.

If it’s a ‘standard’ build, you can expect a third of your budget to go on the land, a third on materials and a third on labour – the total should be less than you’d pay for a similar finished property but a RICS surveyor will help you identify its likely end value.  One useful tip for helping you to stay in budget is to assume the highest build costs and lowest sales value will apply.

Custom build

The new - and easier - way to get the house you’ve always wanted is through custom build. This sees you work with a developer to create your bespoke home. Several developers are now offering this option on selected plots, as long as you get in early. Choose from selected designs and finishes, alter internal layouts… your level of involvement is entirely up to you. You can ask them simply to build the shell - to “wind and watertight” level - so that you can finish it off yourself, or get them to complete it to your specification.

It’s less scary because the developer will be responsible for sticking to your budget and timescale. You are unlikely to be chosen to appear on Grand Designs, but that’s a small price to pay for a less stressful build!

The government wants custom build and self-build to become much more mainstream, as it is abroad, so it’s encouraging councils to release brownfield sites and grant planning permission for building on them and trying to get private developers to put land aside too. By 2020, it wants councils to have allocated enough land for 20,000 new custom and self-built homes. The demand is certainly there; by early March more than 25,000 people had registered for custom build.

So don’t miss out, building your home is much easier than you think, especially outside of the south, so do consider it if you want a dream home you designed yourself and visit www.propertychecklists.co.uk to find out more about how you could create your own home. 


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