In every dream home, no heartache

Kits for self-built homes are increasingly imaginative, reports Stella Bingham
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Home seekers unhappy with production-line properties from developers are increasingly designing and building their own. Last year about 20,000 people took the DIY route. Self-builders build more homes than the top three volume builders together.

"Self-builders are getting younger and younger," says Rosalind Renshaw, editor of Built It magazine, which organises the annual National Self Build Homes Show - which, this year, takes place from 18 to 21 September at Alexandra Palace in London. "Today, people are as likely to be in their twenties as their eighties. And the two main reasons they give are choice and because they don't want to live on an estate."

Another reason is that building your own home is up to 30 per cent cheaper than buying off the peg. The only way Graham and Cora Hitchcock could afford a larger house for their growing family was to build it themselves. They wanted to stay in their home village in north Kent and were lucky enough to find a plot next to the church. The owners were asking pounds 30,000.

The Hitchcocks' offer of pounds 20,000 was accepted but, even so, "we took a bit of a flier," admits sales engineer Graham Hitchcock. "The drainage was uphill to the nearest sewer. If we hadn't managed to get permission to go through a neighbour's garden we would have had to have a septic tank."

Medina Gimson modified one of their timber-frame kit designs to suit the site and Graham and Cora employed an NHBC-registered builder to construct the house. Including the land, the four-bedroom house cost pounds 110,000 and is now worth pounds 150,000.

Plot prices vary hugely. Robert Pennicott of Landbank Services, which has a database of about 3,500 plots nationwide, quotes around pounds 7,000 for a plot for a four-bedroom house in Powys or the Highlands and pounds 200,000 on the borders of London and Surrey. Mr Pennicott warns buyers to check when planning permission was granted. "Outline permission lasts three years, detailed lasts five years and there is no guarantee it will be renewed."

Deciding exactly what to build on their plot is probably the most fun self-builders have. Package companies, which supply timber frame or brick and block kits, offer standard, adaptable designs. Other self-builders prefer to employ an architect. "An architect is independent, can advise on all options and will trouble-shoot," says Adrian Spawforth, chairman of the Association of Self Build Architects. Fees average 6 to 7 per cent of the total build costs. He adds that 50 per cent of architects' work is in dealing with planning and building regulations for people who are confident about managing their own build.

"People are building far more imaginatively today. There are more exciting, genuine one-offs," says Rosalind Renshaw. Tim and Sue Bunker live in what looks like a typical, 16th-century, thatched, Devon longhouse, extended over the centuries. Sensitive period details include random-length floorboards and plasterwork finished in parts to suggest an uneven cob wall. In fact, the house was built between 1991 and 1993.

Tim and Sue designed the house themselves then handed the project over to a local surveyor. Including land, the house cost pounds 270,000 and is now valued at pounds 320,000.

Rosalind Renshaw's advice to people planning to build their own home is: "Plan, plan and plan. You cannot think a project through too carefully or in too much detail. And never pay money up front for goods and money not received."

The National Self Build Homes Show is at Alexandra Palace, Wood Green, London N22 from 18 to 21 September. Admission pounds 7.50 or pounds 3.75 for advance bookings; call 0171-865 9042.

Association of Self Build Architects: 0800 387310; Landbank Services: 0118 9626022

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