I built the house myself ...

The option of self-build is increasingly attractive, reports Michael Holmes
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The Independent Online
When Nigel and Lesley Kemp wanted a larger home, they decided to build it themselves. Having previously lived in a small property on the edge of an estate, they now have a spacious, four-bedroom, detached house in a pretty Somerset village. Nigel, a teacher, and Lesley, a psychiatric nurse, found a plot through a local estate agent and designed their new home together, with help from a local building consultant.

"Most of our spare time over the last two years has been dedicated to it," says Nigel. "There are still a few things to do, but we are now at the end of what has been a very enjoyable experience. It has been hard work at times, but our decisions have been made together and there have been no major disagreements"

The couple employed local subcontractors, and also carried out some building themselves. "The most tense time was waiting for the planners to make their decisions on the design," says Lesley.

The Kemps' house, which is clad in reclaimed local stone, cost them pounds 71,000 to build, and their plot cost pounds 41,000. The lender's market valuation of the property is pounds 160,000. "We won't be going anywhere for a while, though," says Leslie. "We have expansion space in the roof for two further bedrooms and a bathroom - this place is designed for the future."

Self-build is proving an increasingly popular way to move up the housing ladder. Last year alone, around 18,000 families chose to design and build their own home, saving, on average, 15 to 20 per cent of their completed property's market value. The cost of a new home is reduced because the self-builder takes on the risk of enterprise normally borne by a developer, cutting out the developer's profit and the cost of sales and marketing.

"Self-build is by no means as straightforward as buying an existing property," says Julian Owen, of Associated Self Build Architects (ASBA), a nationwide network of professionals established to help people build their own home. "But the pay-off includes the freedom to design an individual home, often on a more generous plot than found on new developments, together with the chance to cut costs even further for those who are DIY-oriented."

The potentially rich rewards of self-build lie at the end of an exciting, if stressful road; searching for and buying a building plot, designing the home, arranging planning and building consent, choosing the fixtures and fittings, appointing a builder and then seeing the project through. "It is a lot to take on for a busy working family," agrees Julian Owen. "However, over recent years an industry has evolved around these needs, establishing a route that makes it hard to go wrong."

Getting a mortgage on a house that does not yet exist has traditionally been difficult, so only those with sufficient funds to buy a plot outright could consider building an individual home. Today, a host of major lenders, including the Bradford & Bingley and Nationwide building societies, and Barclays Bank, will lend on land, while the TSB is able to advance up to 95 per cent of a plot's value and up to 95 per cent of the total building cost. Finance for construction, however, is still paid in arrears, so most self-builders find they need a deposit of around 10 to 15 per cent to get their project started.

The starting-point for most such projects is the search for a suitable building plot. This has recently been made far easier by a nationwide database of land and renovation opportunities. "Details from estate agents, surveyors, developers and landowners are compiled into this single source, putting private individuals on the same footing as many developers," says Gill Dawson, who runs the land-search service Plotfinder. "Anyone can register, and for the price of a three-minute premium-rate phone call we will send them a complete list of land and renovation opportunities in any three counties."

Help and advice on design and building are available from architects, surveyors, freelance home-designers, project managers and specialist package companies. They will create a design that meets a household's needs and aspirations, as well as satisfying the requirements of the planners.

When it comes to construction, self-builders can opt for as much or as little involvement as they want, with cost savings usually proportional to their own input. Many choose to appoint a local builder, or manage the project themselves employing local subcontractors. There are also architects and other project managers who will oversee the build for a negotiable fee.

The Individual Homes Homebuilding & Renovating Show is at the NEC, Birmingham, 20-23 March. Entry: pounds 7 - or ring the show's hotline on 0181- 710 2186 for half-price tickets. More information about self-build homes is available from ASBA (0800 387310) or Plotfinder (0891 516526 - calls last about three minutes and cost 45p per minute cheap rate, 50p at other times).

Michael Holmes is editor of 'Individual Homes' magazine.