The house that Jack self built

Can't even put up an Ikea table? Never mind, you can construct your home
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The Independent Online

Ever fancied building your own home? An increasing number of people, fed up with paying extortionate prices for properties they don't really like, are doing just that. Although the UK has a long way to go to catch up with the US and Australia where self build is the norm, some 25,000 people are expected to make a start on building their own homes this year.

Ever fancied building your own home? An increasing number of people, fed up with paying extortionate prices for properties they don't really like, are doing just that. Although the UK has a long way to go to catch up with the US and Australia where self build is the norm, some 25,000 people are expected to make a start on building their own homes this year.

"The real beauty of self build is its value. Not only do you get the home you always dreamed of, but you only pay for the components and assembly," says Martyn Hocking, editor of Build It magazine. "You don't have to buy at inflated property prices, so you get a des res which is worth much more than it cost to build, if you ever do sell."

Most people who build their own homes do so because they want them to fulfil individual needs. They may want energy- saving features, or extra space for work and leisure. Others building a house do it because they want to be part of a community whose members not only work together on the design and construction of their homes, but also continue in that spirit after completion.

Richard Coleman, a consultant and architect who specialises in conservation and urban design, was admitted to hospital while building an extension to his home in Sussex. Yet 32 people living in his community volunteered to help him out. "One of the members [of the community] suggested they might help me put the roof on while I was still recuperating," he says. "I directed them and told them what to do. The house should stand there forever because it is well built."

You don't even need to be good at DIY. "Self build" is a bit of a misnomer as practically all the work is, usually, carried out by professionals. If you are good at DIY or have a particular trade such as plastering, carpentry or plumbing, you will be able to save money on building costs by doing some of the work yourself.

But even if you personally aren't mixing the cement, you need to be prepared for a certain amount of hassle along the way. John Roberts, a landscape gardener from Farnham, Surrey, built his own home several years ago.

Unlike most self builders, he was able to do a number of stages himself, such as completing the foundations, some of the brick work, the plumbing and wiring. Even so, he says there were plenty of pitfalls which he had not anticipated.

"If the inspectors want to make your life awkward, they will," he says. "They came to look at the foundations and decided that we needed to go deeper, even though they had approved the plans, which meant we spent double our budget for that stage."

There are also site inspections to contend with throughout the project. "You have to give them a sample of all the materials you intend to use, such as tiles and bricks," he says. "It meant a long process, some four to five years for planning permission and then the time it took to build the property itself. But we wanted a house in the country so it was all worth it."

The first step in building your own home is to acquaint yourself with everything that it involves. You need to calculate a budget and work out exactly what you want. If you keep changing your mind and need to have your plans redrawn, it can get expensive. The average cost of self building is £140,000, including land, although this varies depending on the location and what sort of property you have in mind.

You should budget for £20,000 from your own capital, funding the rest with a mortgage. Unfortunately the self- build mortgage market is limited. "It is a niche market," says Ray Boulger, technical director at mortgage broker John Charcol. "To give yourself more choice it may be possible to arrange the mortgage in a different way. If you have a decent amount of equity in your existing property, you might be able to raise money on that and get a normal mortgage on the new property at a later date."

Lenders normally expect self builders to fund 25 per cent of the land cost, and tend to lend at least 2.5 times your joint income, normally in stages as the work progresses. But this varies. Capital Bank has just launched a self-build mortgage which lends up to 95 per cent of the cost of the property at a standard variable rate of 7.65 per cent. Funds are released at five stages: prior to buying the plot, when customers can borrow up to 50 per cent of the plot's value; at wall plate level; once the roof is on; after plastering; and on completion. Mortgage Express also lends up to 95 per cent loan-to-value. Norwich & Peterborough lends a maximum of 80 per cent.

You should aim to pay no more than 30 per cent of the total cost for the land. More than 50 per cent becomes risky and you could find it difficult to obtain a mortgage.

The length of time it takes to plan and build a property varies from project to project. Most people tend to spend a year planning it, and six months building it. The best way to find land is to contact estate agents, specialist agencies, local newspapers and specialist magazines.

To avoid further problems, it is worth buying land which has already received planning permission for housing. And ensure that your offer is subject to survey and confirmation of planning permission.

The actual design of your house can be carried out by an architect or specialist package company, or you can sketch out your own plan and use an architectural technologist who can then refine it for practical purposes and planning requirements.

* The Self Build & Home Improvement Show is at Alexandra Palace, 14-17 September. Open 10am-5pm daily. £3.75 in advance, £7.50 on the door. Tel: 020 7772 8477 or www.self-build.co.uk

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