Mix hi-tech Internet and lo-tech elbow grease and you can save thousands, writes Mary Wilson reveals how a couple found the plot
Put together the Internet and a plot of land and you have two happy self-build couples. Peter and Linda Vincent had been hunting for their perfect plot for almost three years, when they discovered a beautiful site for sale near Strete, in Dartmouth. They had decided to build a house designed by Potton Limited, which specialises in timber-frame kits. But this site had planning for two four-bedroom bungalows, not one.

"It was also far too large and too expensive," says Peter, "but we were determined to buy it." Peter and Linda had been living in the Midlands but wanted to move to south Devon. They had looked at lots of houses, all of which needed work. Then they went to a self-building show in Birmingham.

"We were caught by the bug," says Peter. "I was working as an IT manager, so was used to the Internet and started writing bits and pieces on the Individual Homes Plotfinder forum. We saw the site near Strete and put a note on the forum saying the plot has sea views, good access, is close to services, is there anyone out there who might be interested in joining forces buying the plot?" Not long after, they received a phonecall from Tony and Ishbel Stuart, who wanted to meet up and have a look at the site. They discovered they only lived a few miles apart and both had decided to build a Potton home.

Although they both originally wanted to build houses, they had to think about putting up bungalows instead. So Ishbel e-mailed Potton for brochure details from one of its subsidiaries, the Bungalow Company.

Throughout the project, the couples liaised with each other via the Internet. They researched the project and also dealt with Potton on-line.

"I found the Internet particularly useful when looking for materials as I had decided to do all the wiring and plumbing myself," said Peter Vincent. "The only problems we encountered were building delays as there was more waste to remove from the site than originally anticipated."

The couple were working full-time while the house was going up, so they ended up doing 16 hours a day. Linda did all the decoration and has also done most of the landscaping.

But the two couples have not only found themselves the perfect site, via the Internet, they have also saved quite a few thousand pounds by building their own homes. The two houses cost about pounds 100,000 each to build including pounds 31,000 each for the plot and are expected to be worth pounds 150,000 each when completely finished. The Stuarts moved into their home last November and the Vincents just three weeks ago.

Self-building is one way to live in the home of your dreams if you are prepared to give time to adequate research before you start. "It is a chance to use your initiative and you can always find a way round problems. We now have a house we would never have been able to afford in a million years," says Ishbel Stuart.

Peter has learnt one very important lesson. "Although I had no problem borrowing the money, I didn't think enough about cash flow," he says. Lenders expect you to put up 20 to 25 per cent of the cost of the land. They then lend money in tranches as the building work progresses.

However, these sums of money are lent in arrears. "So, you mustn't spend your capital up front, which is what I did," says Peter. The timber-frame kit will be the most expensive lump sum and the supplier will want to be paid on the nail. Either you need to have the money for this, arrange credit with the company or organise an overdraft with your bank.

The Individual Homes Home Building and Renovating Show, 19 to 22 March, at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre. For half-price tickets bought before the show, ring 0181 710 2186.

Potton and the Bungalow Co, 01767 263300 or e-mail sales@potton.co.uk.