Property: You don't need the half-mast trousers to build a house

Every year 20,000 people say goodbye to poky kitchens, narrow halls and inefficient heating and decide to build their own homes. Even if they don't lay a single brick themselves, at least they have control over decisions on style, size and view. Rosalind
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The advantages of building your own home are often described in financial terms. They include choosing your own plot and saving large amounts of money.

Both are fairly compelling reasons, according to Michael Holmes, editor of Individual Homes magazine. There is no VAT to pay on the materials used and no stamp duty to pay on plots costing under pounds 60,000. In most cases, the completed house is worth considerably more than the sum total of the costs, especially if the owner has acted as project manager.

Michael is looking forward to being in this happy position himself by next May. He and his wife Emma, with baby Freddie, are living with his in-laws until their own Cotswold stone home is completed in an Oxfordshire village. "People who self-build are those who are moving out of the cities and want a village or semi-rural environment," says Michael. "By taking on the project management role, buying all the materials, you can save a great deal of money.

But for a large proportion of enthusiasts, the experience becomes so enjoyable it transcends cash considerations. They become serial self-builders, discovering a confidence they never dreamed they possessed.

Even so, very few self-builders do absolutely everything themselves. The options range from being completely hands-off and employ a local builder to build to your designs, or going to specialist kit companies which provide a package deal.

The average spent on a plot is pounds 60,000, with a further pounds 70,000-pounds 80,000 spent on materials. Plot price varies wildly all over the country. In Hertfordshire or parts of Surrey you'd be lucky to find one at all, and then you'd have to compete with big building firms who are scrabbling for suitable land themselves.

The chances are you'd have to buy a plot with an existing old run-down bungalow and knock that down first.

"The Home Counties are the hardest," confirms Michael, "but move 50 minutes' travelling time from London and the price drops. Around Oxford and Reading is better, or north of Milton Keynes. Essex is quite good, but the best bargains are in Lincolnshire. For plots with more spectacular views, you have to go to Scotland or Wales."

Most people rent while they are building because they need to sell their old home to raise the capital. Although there are the few hardy souls prepared to live in a caravan on-site during building.

Lenders like the Halifax will lend 95 per cent of the estimated value, but won't release the first stage payment until the building is at first- floor level, or in the case of a bungalow, at roof-plate level.

"We send out a valuer at the first level and will lend at that point if everything is in order," says a spokesman. "The borrower has to have start-up funds available to get that far. We release money against the estimated final value of the house, not the cost of building it."

For the Holmes, there was no contest between building their own home or renovating an old cottage. Having done some renovation work in the past, they knew how unpredictable older properties can be, with expensive ailments like dry rot and cranky plumbing. And if you don't like the design of your self-built house when it's finished, you can only blame yourself, not some shiftless, corner-cutting developer.

"Our plot cost pounds 110,000, the materials another pounds 90,000 and already a local estate agent say it may be worth pounds 400,000," says Michael Holmes. "It is a half-acre plot, next to a listed building, so our house will look like a Georgian farmhouse with proper box sash windows."

With admirable put-your-money-where-your-magazine-is confidence, another editor, Rosalind Renshaw of Build It, a monthly magazine with a circulation of 25,000, also built her own home in Hampshire.

"There is stacks of pent-up demand from people wanting to build their own homes," she says. "We talked to 250 people who were currently building or had recently built and asked them why.

"The No 1 reason was choice over where they lived, but a close No 2 was that they didn't want to live on an estate. There was a firm rejection of the lifestyle offered by developers. There is also a strong resistance to paying the developers' profit margin, currently around 30 per cent, when you can be your own developer."

Ten years ago, says Rosalind, self builders were perceived as older people with pots of money. Today, the age range has dropped and there are more younger couples with small children. Building their own home is often the only way they can afford a detached four-bedroom house, which is what most people choose.

"We know of a young couple in Royston, Hertfordshire who bought a plot for pounds 36,000 and spent pounds 32,000 on materials. They did quite a bit of work themselves, but the total build cost was pounds 68,000. The house has now been valued at pounds 160,000," Rosalind says.

Keeping a firm grip on the budget is crucial, but money rarely gets spent on fancy interiors.

"We find people spend out on the things which can't be changed later," says Rosalind. "They buy good-quality bricks and beautiful clay tiles, nice quality windows, a good security system, underfloor heating and high- grade insulation. They take a great deal of pride in what they have achieved."

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