25,000 Britons a year now build their own home

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The Independent Online

Find an idyllic plot of land, roll up your sleeves and build the house of your dreams from scratch. It is the ultimate do-it-yourself challenge:

Find an idyllic plot of land, roll up your sleeves and build the house of your dreams from scratch. It is the ultimate do-it-yourself challenge:

Self-build has become the fastest-growing trend in the property market. Building societies unveiled figures this week that show 25,000 people will set about building their own home this year in an industry worth about £1bn a year. The numbers reflect a willingness among the public to take on the responsibility of dealing with builders, planners and sub-contractors for the 12 months such a project takes on average.

The Norwich and Peterborough Building Society, which grants more than 10 per cent of all its mortgages to self-builders, has seen a 20 per cent growth in applications over the past two years.

The rush to builders' yards has been triggered by a combination of spiralling property prices and the allure of a bespoke dwelling. Those who oversee their own projects can expect to make an average saving of 20 to 40 per cent on the cost of a house built by a property developer. But for an increasing number the incentive a home tailored to their needs.

Stephen Penlington, general manager of the Norwich and Peterborough, said: "There can be no doubt that self-build is seeing very significant growth. Traditionally, most have gone into it because of the cost savings... but the majority are now far more interested in creating their dream home. It's about nesting as much as investing." The new self-builders range from couples on the verge of retirement to families unable to afford to trade up to larger homes. Most are second-time or third-time buyers. A growing number take on a "project management" role, co-ordinating contractors and overseeing work - and often helping with jobs from labouring to tiling. There is a growing support structure of magazines, websites and companies to take on the entire building process.

Terry Mahoney, sales manager of the company Potton, based in Sandy, Bedfordshire, which provides timber-frame building kits, said: "The industry has expanded massively over the last five years ... there is an increased willingness among people to go that bit further in return for something that is unique."

However, the financial and physical undertakingsare considerable. Plots of land for a family home rarely come cheaper than £40,000 and are increasingly rare in the South-east. A typical project will require about £20,000 in capital, with most mortgage lenders willing to give up to 80 per cent of the value of the land with further advances to cover the cost of building.

One mortgage broker specialising in self-build deals said: "It is not for someone at the bottom of the property ladder. You shouldn't expect much change out of £100,000 to £150,000."

Pitfalls include marriages cracking under the strain of planning wrangles or buying the perfect plot of land only to find it is crossed by a mains sewer. One 44-year-old, who declined to be named, said: "It damn near killed me - absent builders and a wife who took exception to living in a leaky caravan for two years. Never again." But there are success stories, too. Dawn and Ian Culf were this week putting the finishing touches to their five-bedroom home inKnodishall, Suffolk. Mr Culf, 36, a builder, had to learn the skills of a plumber, carpenter and electrician while working around the clock on the house for two years.

The couple, who have four children, spent £23,000 on a quarter-acre plot of land and a further £90,000 on building work. The house was valued last month at £220,000.

Mrs Culf, 37, a teaching assistant, said: "We can pat ourselves on the back and think we've made a massive profit but the truth is that we were more interested in a home that would suit our needs and our children."

The scarcity of available plots of lands in the South-east means self-build is most popular in less densely populated areas such as Scotland. A series of agencies and websites, some linked to building societies, has been set up to offer a one-stop-shop service recommending certified build-ers and offering land. BuildStore, an agency based in Edinburgh, will be launched on the internet this month and expects to make £15m in annual profits within five years.

But self-builders warn that the boom in freelance bricks and mortar could be stifled without a shift in attitude from the authorities. Graham Wood, chairman of the Association of Self-builders, said: "There has to be a realisation that self-built homes are normally far better built and conceived than the mass construction by developers. All too often, government and local councils do not realise this and are not helpful ... There needs to be a change in attitude."