This is the dream house that we built

But will anybody else want to buy it? By Jonathan Sale
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The Independent Online
The National Trust was puzzled by Chamant Manor. A representative, visiting the village of Appleby Magna, Leicestershire, popped in to say that it wasn't on their list of known medieval properties. Chamant Manor's owner, Pippa Crockett, explained that the house was built in the Nineties - the 1990s, not the 1390s.

"It really does look authentic, like a medieval manor house as it would have evolved over the centuries," she says. But potential purchasers - it is privately on the market for pounds 495,000 - should not be fooled by the stone mullions and waxed oak floors.

Something else you should know: Pippa Crockett and her partner Robert Gilbert built it themselves. To be precise, it is a "self-build". Instead of buying a house off-the-peg, some brave souls act as their own developers. They find a plot of land, commission an architect and organise the construction. They may also do the bricklaying themselves or they may, as at Chamant Manor, use a builder. The result is a saving of between 20 and 30 per cent - and the chance to have a design that is exactly to their taste. Pippa Crockett, unable to find a moated manor house similar to the home where she had grown up, was able to commission her own - and to tinker with the size of the bedrooms as the structure rose from the ground.

However, does anyone want to buy a house that has been fundamentally personalised to someone else's taste? A self-build house tends to be a third cheaper than a similar property bought from a developer; but there would be little point in this saving if no one would take it off your hands.

There are certainly more self-build houses coming on the market. This sector is thriving, according to Murray Armor, author of Building Your Own Home. He estimates that during the financial year 1994/5, about 18,000 self-built homes were completed, which was more than 11 per cent of all private sector homes, and more than Wimpey and Barratt combined over the same period. Some families, having achieved their dream house, decide never to tear themselves away from it; others, like Pippa and Robert, sell up in the hopes of erecting an even dreamier house next time round.

"Almost all building societies and banks will lend money for a self-built house," says Keith Julier of Essex Self-Build Advisory Service. "But very occasionally there may be problems, especially with 100 per cent and 95 per cent mortgages."

Ironically, a building society which is happy to fund one borrower to build a house may dig in its heels when another customer wishes to buy an existing self-built property. Most, though, are not really concerned with the history of the building, provided that quality control is ensured by endorsements such as architects' certificates. Abbey National, who provided the mortgage for Chamant Manor, says that although a highly individual design could adversely affect saleability, it could also be an advantage.

Richard Turland can reassure dubious money-lenders that self-build is saleable. He and his wife sold their first self-built house and are now selling their second (through Vaughan & Co of East Grinstead) for pounds 195,000. "Ten years ago it was a different market," he recalls. "You had to explain exactly what was involved." He now finds that most potential buyers are familiar with the system.

Roland Ashley, who is a Manchester housing consultant working with self- build groups, also found a sympathetic market when selling his customised house. Purchasers, he says, understand that they are looking at something more than a standard dwelling.

"It depends on the trade of the self-builder; a bricklayer tends to have more exotic brickwork. There is a scheme in Brighton with grass and flowers on the roof." Having lived in a modern house with scarcely room to walk round the end of the beds, he made sure his self-built home was large - a good 3,000 square feet. He bought and installed an old dance floor. His previous home had only a few electric sockets - all of the single variety: "The house I built had 56 double sockets; it took me ages."

Self-build means a high standard of finish, agrees Murray Armor. "The regulations state that four inches at the end of floor joists should be preservation-treated; but the self-builder gives it three coats - over the whole damn joist."

Self-build is more than particularly ambitious DIY, says Rosalind Renshaw, editor of Build It magazine. "A self-built house will be a well-built house. My guess is that it is more scrutinised," she says. "Would you rather move into a developer's estate - or a house built by its owner?"

Building Your Own Home, pounds 14.99, by Murray Armor, published by Dent, is available from bookshops or by mail order (01909 591652).

Anne Spackman is on holiday

Architect Richard Mowbray bought his house in Lewisham, south- east London, a year ago. It had been self-built by its previous owner, Jon Broome, co-author of The Self-Build Book (Green Books, pounds 15). It is one of seven houses in a outline development by the late Walter Segal, the self-build housing guru.

"I didn't buy the house because it's self-built, I bought it because I like the building. It's a one-storey, timber-framed property with non- load bearing walls and a flat roof of built-up felt: a very, very simple design with very simple materials.

"I used to live in north London in an Edwardian house converted into flats and over about four years I had been keeping an eye out for a modern house with something special. This is an interesting design, a very clever way of building a house on a steeply sloping site; you come in at pavement level and at the back you are on tree-top level. It's built up on stilts above the ground, a foot at the lowest point and and six feet at the highest.

"It's 14 years old. It's centrally heated, with everything a 'normal' house would have. There are three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a study, dining- room, kitchen and tiny garden. The layout is excellent, just what I wanted.

"A self-build is designed to your particular requirements; with a developer's house, you can't alter the internal layout. Also, with this particular design, you can actually alter the internal layout once it's up: Jon took down a couple of walls for a party; he unscrewed them and it only took a couple of hours.

"I've not seen anybody do anything to these houses since I've been here. But you can repair this type of house very easily; you don't need specialists for most of the jobs. If the timber starts rotting, you could simply unscrew that part and replace it.

"There are a couple of things that aren't ideal. The walls are a bit thin and noise from the bedrooms travels. And in a gale, the house flexes, which is very off-putting. It is designed to do this, but it still shocked me the first time it happened."

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