Sam Dunn: 'Is self-building a pipe dream?'

House Doctor
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Question: "Despite falling house prices, we've not seen anything we like – or can afford – in Gloucestershire, and now plan to 'self-build', as we've found what appears to be an available plot of land near a lovely town. We've never tried anything like this before, and neither of us work in the property industry. Are we biting off more than we can chew?" Daniel Grange, Norwich

Answer: Your fears are shared by every one of the estimated 22,000 every year who pluck up the courage to build their own house. But with dedicated planning, hours of research and good old-fashioned legwork, you can dispel them, with help from an unexpected quarter: the credit crunch.

As the housing industry takes a battering, a surfeit of land and labour could save you thousands of pounds. "More land plots are available now than at any time in the last 10 years, as builders and developers sell off parts of their land banks to reduce their borrowing," says John Hay of Buildstore self-build service. "Because of this, plots have dropped in cost by about 20 per cent."

The usual wait for tradesmen to construct your house is also shrinking drastically, because major house builders have stopped new builds. "Because they're keen for work, they're putting in competitive estimates for self-builds," Hay says.

These won't be your only savings. If executed within budget and on time (and it may easily take well over a year), a self-build can cost just two-thirds of the equivalent property bought in the usual way.

But make no mistake: you're about to undertake a Herculean task that will drain you mentally (and potentially physically), as well as making countless demands on your wallet. You'll need to gen up on builders' insurance, planning applications and drainage, and become familiar with architectural designs and soil surveys.

However, the absolute first priority is your land, says a spokeswoman for the Homebuilding & Renovating Shows. "There is no shortage of land in this country – only around 7 per cent of the UK is developed – but building plots are in short supply, and it's down to planning," she says.

The plot you've found should at least have outline planning permission for residential property. If not, hunt elsewhere. Try and ask at local estate agencies. Then you have to find an architect – visit at least three – and builders, often recommended by the former. (The National Self-Build & Renovation Centre in Swindon will put you in touch with a glut of suppliers and services.). A rough idea of build costs can be gleaned from, which lets you specify details such as floor area, bathroom budget and the like.

Most self-build mortgages release cash in tranches, to allow you to pay as your house takes shape. If you hire somebody to oversee its construction, expect to shell out an extra 10 per cent. The mantra here is "stick to your budget": plenty of self-builders recommend adding on an extra 5 to 10 per cent, just to be on the safe side.

The next National Homebuilding & Renovating Show is 19 to 22 March at the NEC. It includes free seminars and master classes, including a Beginner's Guide to Building Your Own Home. £10 in advance from 0871 945 4547 or