Build your own home - a foundation course

Following our recent article on self-build homes, we have been inundated with requests from readers for more information. Gareth Lloyd obliges
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The Independent Online
Most people think that to build your own home you have to be a millionaire or a real Do-It-Yourself buff. While being one of these obviously helps, even if you're not, building your own home could be more of a reality than you think.

Rachel Fallan of Build It, the magazine for self-builders, says: "The majority of people who decide to build their own homes are clueless about how to do it. The beauty is that there are experts to help self-builders at every stage in the process, and that the self-builders themselves develop new skills along the way."

Not only do self-builders save between 15 per cent and 30 per cent on the price of an equivalent home bought "off the peg", they also have control over design, construction and choice of materials.

But don't be fooled into thinking that all self-builders are tight-fisted control freaks who have an overwhelming urge to express themselves architecturally. Some also list environmental concern among their motives - which is not a priority for most developers.

According to Mike Daligan, of the Walter Segal Self-Build Trust: "One of the big attractions of our designs is that they make extensive use of timber, which is a renewable resource. They also sit above the ground, thus eradicating the need to level sites and destroy existing shrubs and trees. Heating bills for a three-bedroom house costing pounds 35,000 can be as little as pounds 50 per year."

The environmentally minded could try the self-build courses offered by the Centre of Alternative Technology (Tel 01654 703743), in Machynlleth, Powys.

Jack and Elaine Johnson are about four weeks away from moving into their new home near Sheffield. Jack says: "The first step for anyone considering building their own home should be to speak to a few people who have been through the self-build process. The pointers that they give you may save a lot of money and stress, and you might even decide that self-build is not for you."

It's important to work out exactly what you can afford. Land will probably amount to between one-third and one-half of your construction costs, while the costs of architects, solicitors and surveyors and connecting water, gas and electricity can eat up a further 10 per cent of your budget. Apart from the cost of furnishing your home there are always extras which crop up.

There are various bodies which can help you find a suitable plot of land, including the National Landfinding Agency (Tel 01371 876875), Landbank Services (Tel 01734 618 002) and most local estate agents. A worthwhile investment is the book How to Find and Buy a Building Plot by Roy Speer and Michael Dade (Phoenix, pounds 12.99).

When it comes to architects, self-build veteran Syd Lloyd says: "Find a person who understands exactly what you're after, not what they think you should have. They have to be able to supply references, like any other tradesperson. If you have time, go and look at some of their previous work."

The design you choose may also affect the type of mortgage you can get. The best people to offer advice are the Association of Self Build Architects (Tel 0800 387310), a nationwide body of professionals established to help people design their own homes. Lenders who offer self-build mortgages include the Ecology Building Society, Nationwide, Bradford & Bingley, and the TSB. Most will lend up to 75 per cent of the costs, with money being released in stages. Interest rates vary between lenders.

Having acquired the land, received planning permission and got a mortgage, you can begin building your dream home. However, it is important not to dive straight in. Plan well ahead, set up credit accounts with local suppliers and get written quotations rather than estimates from contract workers. A bit of judicious haggling is expected, but don't go overboard.

I asked 10 people who had built their own homes what advice they would pass on. The most common answer was not to underestimate the massive amount of work involved. I also asked them if they would undertake such projects again, and not one of them said "Yes"!

If this hasn't put you off, visit the National Self-Build Homes Show at Alexandra Palace, London, between 18 and 23 September. Exhibits cover all aspects of the self-build process. For half-price tickets call 0171 865 9042 and mention the Independent on Sunday.

FACT FILE

l Buy Building Your Own Home by Murray Armor (Elbury Press, pounds 19.99). It's the self-builders bible.

l Spend plenty of time in the planning stage, as this tends to mean fewer problems later on.

l To reduce the hassle factor, try to find land on which planning permission has already been granted.

l Savings from environmentally friendly products may outweigh cheaper products in the long-term.

l Be reluctant to part with any money up front, though a small-time tradesperson may require a deposit.

l Beware of hidden costs, such as connection to the nearest public sewer, and problems such as road access.

l Start by building your garage. It can be a useful place to stow materials and tools.

l Do not order any materials from building and plumbing merchants without double checking the price.

l Save all your receipts as it is possible to reclaim the VAT. Get a form from your nearest VAT office.

l Warn your friends that you are about to become a hideous bore. As you eat, breathe, and sleep your house, it will be all you're capable of discussing.

Further information: Walter Segal Self-Build Trust (Tel 0171 713 5658)

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