Thoughts that keep every self builder up at night

self build

Charlie Luxton, sustainable architectural designer from More4’s ‘Building the Dream’ and guest expert at The London Homebuilding & Renovating Show (21-23 September, ExCeL, London), shares his challenges around self building and offers tips on how to overcome them from his experience of being sleepless in the Cotswolds, fretting about his own new project

Was this a good decision? Is it the right time? How much will it cost? Can we actually afford it? Have I covered everything? All these common types of fears self builders face last only while you don’t have the relevant information to hand.

How much will it cost?

A good designer will help you cost out a realistic fair estimate and together you can work out what percentage of your budget should be put towards a contingency fund.

You also need to find yourself a qualified trades person to trust that you’re guided throughout the process and make sure everything’s going ahead as planned. I don’t encourage people to opt for the cheapest skilled worker at the outset, as you’ll find that they are the most expensive in the long run, costing you time and extra money if they don’t have a solid experience to rely on when making important choices. If the people you employ are careful, knowledgeable and organised, this will help you financially and build your understanding that good results require a realistic budget.

Can I actually afford it?

If you’re limited by a tight budget, you should build smaller. Do less at a better standard than more at low quality. You have to find the right balance between the size and value of a property, and be careful about hunting too many deals. If you self build, you can save up to 20-30 per cent if you get involved in the work yourself so you can make things cheaper. But don’t fall into the trap of neglecting the quality. I prefer to take elements out of the build specification rather than doing them cheaply, as in the long run you’ll end up spending more. For example, don’t try to do joinery yourself – you can leave that for a later date, when you can take care of it properly.

Was this a good decision?

My advice would be to build your own home rather than buy a house that someone else created based on their own needs and desires. A self builder will always be very involved in the process, will understand it and get to know every part of the project, which offers a great sense of control. You can get to grips with every aspect of it and feel empowered, seeing your dream house come to life with your own hands.

Homebuilding and renovating allows you to stay in a community in which you already belong. In life there’s value to improving a friendship, a marriage or a home. It’s about digging a bit deeper and making it better rather than just flipping and changing it. If it has potential, it meets your needs and if you like where you live,  you should do it.

Is this the right time?

The rule of thumb is that self builders move every 20 years and everyone else moves out after about seven or eight years. No one can anticipate what will happen over the next 20 years within the industry because the housing market can’t be predicted that far in advance. I can’t encourage people to self build no matter the fluctuations, but when considering your options, remember that the large scale alterations will be there for the long term, time in which the market becomes less critical.

Think also about my series, ‘Building the Dream’. Out of the 70 builds we finished, just one or two owners didn’t create equity through their property.

Have I covered everything?

When planning and managing your self build, you can never be too careful. You might think that you’ll end up wasting plenty of time even before the works commence but this extra consideration will allow you to think through every aspect of the build. Even if you won’t know the answers to all your questions, at least you  will uncover blind spots that you need advice on. If you miss some essential elements in your cost plans, you may end up with unexpected bills. By preparing a detailed schedule and knowing every single part of it, you minimise the risks.

This way you will also anticipate all your responsibilities under health & safety. You have to provide a clean, safe place for your trades. This requires knowledge of all the issues around site insurance, access, site security. The more you plan, the less likely you are to be caught off guard.

A classic mistake is to underestimate the time scale of your project. Always maximise the estimation and check if you might run into trouble, as things are bound to take longer than planned. The irony of all this is that the first time you’re properly qualified for your first self build job is after you finish it, so don’t hesitate to ask for specialist support and seek help to carry this through, as it’s a very rewarding experience.

If you prepare enough, do your research and talk to people who have been in the same situation, you’re already making significant strides towards building your dream. This way, when you wake up at 3am, at least you’ll be worrying about the minor issues, not the bigger picture.


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