Property: If you want the perfect house, build it yourself

Take one large plot, the Internet, and two willing couples, and what do you get? Satisfied homeowners, as Mary Wilson discovers
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Indy Lifestyle Online
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, which specialises in timber-frame kits, but this site had planning for two four-bedroom bungalows.

"It was also far too large and too expensive," says Peter, "but we were determined to buy it". Peter and Linda had been living the Midlands, but they wanted to move to South Devon. They had looked at lots of houses, all of which needed work doing to them, and then 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 phone call from Tony and Ishbel Stuart, who wanted to meet up and have a look at the site. They discovered they lived only a few miles away from each other 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 a brochure from one of its its subsidiaries, the Bungalow Company. Throughout the project, the couples liaised with each other via the Internet, although they lived close by. They researched the project and 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," says Peter Vincent. "The only problems we encountered were building delays, as there was more waste to remove form 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 on the inside and out and has also done most of the landscaping, too. "It has been jolly hard work, but we have enjoyed the change of direction. It was a hobby turned into a life-time project, albeit for only six months," says Peter.

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 homes. The two houses cost around 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 in the New Year.

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 and to oversee the project as it progresses. "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 says that he would happily self-build again, but he has learnt one very important lesson. "Although I had no problem borrowing the money from the Bradford & Bingley, I didn't think enough about cash flow," he says. Lenders expect you to put up 20-25 per cent of the cost of the land and 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 required and the company supplying this 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.

Some of the high street banks understand enough about self-building now to lend money for it and there are a number of building societies which are completely geared up for this sort of project, the Bradford & Bingley and the Norwich and Peterborough being among the two that are currently most helpful.

Potton and The Bungalow Company, 01767 263 300 or e-mail: sales@potton.co.uk.

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