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    Top 5 false economies when building your own house

    Build Your Own House - lets-do-diy.comTop 5 False Economies

    Based on the new Haynes Build Your Own House Manual - OUT NOW!

    Many of us secretly dream of building our own home, creating a stunning, high quality new property, perfectly designed to fit our lifestyle. But if there's one thing that can really make self-build irresistible it's the fact that it's likely to cost substantially less than the equivalent developer-built house or second hand property. The fact is, self-builders have a major financial advantage compared to housing developers - because you don't need to make a profit. This can potentially save a whopping 25% of the value of the completed property - money that would otherwise disappear into the developer's pocket. But the icing on the cake for many of us is the prospect of saving even more money by personally contributing to the build or employing trades direct rather than paying a main contractor. The trouble is, some of these tempting shortcuts can end up costing substantially more in the long run. So it's important to spot such false economies before they blow up in your face.


    It's no secret that the hardest part of the whole self-build process is finding the right plot. After months, or even years of fruitless searching, self-builders can become a little desperate. There are firms who seek to take advantage of this by marketing ‘land with prospects' - ‘prime sites' at bargain prices. The only snag is, land without planning consent isn't a plot, it's a field. In truth, if there was any chance of getting planning, the owner would have already done so and reaped the massive price increase. No one's going to sell their land at a fraction of its true value if there's the slightest chance of getting consent for development. So the golden rule is: never buy land before it has planning consent. You can agree to buy the site, but only pay for it once permission's been granted. When buying any plot always ask ‘why hasn't it been built on before? If you're offered a bargain plot there will be a good reason why it's so cheap. Maybe planning permission has expired, or perhaps there's a history of pollution. There may be access problems or a complete lack of services. However, once identified, such issues needn't be deal-breakers as long as the sale price reflects the cost of putting things right, plus an allowance for all the risk and hassle.


    Most housing developers are interested in churning out standard designs on easy sites. They don't want the extra work developing small one-off plots with irregular shapes, significant slopes or hidden problems. As a result, these are the sort of plots that are likely to fall into the clutches of self-builders. Plots with problems can be hard to value and are often sold at auction. The main drawback of buying at auction is that you have to pay in advance for site surveys and legal work. And unless you win, this money is wasted. But only paying for the minimum up-front checks increases the chance of buying a site with problems. To know exactly what you're buying, you need a measured land survey. Get the size or shape wrong and expensive legal battles with neighbours could rage for years afterwards. Additionally, trial holes may need to be dug to reveal what you're building on - clay, chalk, sand, gravel etc as this will affect the cost of foundations. When it comes to legal matters you can't simply rely on your solicitors - since they rarely venture beyond their offices. So you have to be their eyes and ears on site. Watch out for hidden nasties such

    - Ransom strips: sometimes there's a thin strip of land that legally separates your plot from the road. The person who owns this strip may not be willing to let you cross it unless you pay a king's ransom for the privilege. And land without legal access can be virtually worthless.
    - Defective title:. Legal ownership of land can sometimes be acquired over a period of years by ‘adverse possession' or ‘squatters' rights'. So check for signs of encroachment where a neighbour has ‘borrowed' some of ‘your' land by moving their boundary fence.


    As the old saying goes, ‘if you want a job done well, do it yourself‘. DIY enthusiasts can make substantial savings on labour costs. But remember it can take 2 or 3 times longer to complete the build if you're doing a lot of the work yourself. Also, when it comes to ordering materials, builder's merchants are unlikely to offer you the same deep discounts available to their long-term customers. There are 4 key questions to ask yourself before starting work on site:-

    i. Can you hack it? Staring at a computer screen all day in your office doesn't build stamina, so you can't expect to compete with people who've worked on building sites all their lives.

    ii. What about my day job? Be realistic about how much time you can commit to running a building project whilst simultaneously pursuing your career. It may be better to earn more money in your job and employ professionals on site.

    iii. Can you keep up with the programme? No matter how brilliant a DIYer you are, the chances are you'll be relatively slow compared to professional tradesmen. If this results in delays to the following trades you may lose a ‘slot', and it might be weeks before they can return from other jobs.

    iv. What work can I do myself? Many self-builders take on the decorating or landscaping role towards the end when there's less time pressure. Or you can make a valuable contribution by ensuring the site is safe, tidy and runs smoothly - by sweeping up, clearing paths and making sure stacks of bricks and tiles etc are stable.

    A good compromise is to have outer shell of the house built by contractor, leaving the rest as a DIY project. If you do decide to take full DIY route, make sure the house is designed for ease of construction, for example keeping roofs shapes as simple as possible and using materials that don't demand high skill levels.


    Beware of picking the cheapest price from a builder who can start tomorrow. They might have forgotten to include some materials or labour. It may be cheaper in the long run to select a dearer quote, rather than risk an aggrieved builder skimping on the job to recoup losses - so you end up with a badly done job or paying for lots of expensive extras. It's sometimes tempting to cut costs by arranging for ‘friends of friends' to do the electrics or plastering etc. But if something else comes up at the weekend when they promised to finish a key piece of work, you may find yourself left in the lurch - and the following trades will all be held up. Similarly, cheap migrant labour can lead to communication problems - e.g. a Romanian roofer may not be familiar with UK Building Regulations. Plus there's a tendency for illegal migrant workers to grab their tools and leg it out the back door as soon as the Building Control Officer appears on the scene. No one is going to do their best work if they're not paid on time, so be sure to pay them promptly. This is an easy way to create trust and co-operation. It also helps avoid the nightmare scenario where work stops through a lack of funds, and injections of mortgage cash grind to a halt because there's no work's
    being done on site.


    For some folk, the temptation to build without planning consent has proved irresistible. In law, unauthorised development can become immune from enforcement should the Council planners fail to challenge it within 4 years of completion. The owner can then apply for a ‘Certificate of Lawful Use or Development' which effectively grants retrospective consent. But as some high profile cases testify, this can prove to be the mother of all false economies, leaving the failed applicants hundreds of thousands of pounds in debt.

    In a recent case, Surrey farmer Robert Fidler secretly constructed a castle-style property hidden behind 40ft straw bales and a tarpaulin. Once their home was complete, Mr & Mrs Fidler lived there secretly in semi-darkness for over 4 years. However, when the day came to remove the surrounding mountain of straw, and apply for retrospective consent, the Council rejected the application and ordered the building to be demolished, claiming that the building works only finished when the straw bales were removed so the 4 year rule did not apply. This decision was upheld on appeal to the High Court.

    In a similar case, fellow farmer Graham Head spent 6 years constructing a 3 bedroom bungalow under an open barn camouflaged by straw bales. During this period Mr Head's wife grew tired of the continuous sneaking around in and out of straw bales and this led to their break-up. After a long-running dispute the Council ordered the property to be demolished, and his appeal was dismissed after a public inquiry in 2005.
    Build Your Own House Manual (Haynes Publishing)

    Covers how to Plan, Manage and Build the Home of Your Dreams written by Ian Rock, RRP: £19.99, Hardback. OUT NOW. www.haynes.co.uk

    Without doubt, self build and renovation are affordable methods by which to attain that dream home. Accustomed as we are to seeing ‘grand designs' in magazines and on television, there are thousands of people in the UK building their own modest but beautiful family homes all the time. Some of the bonuses of building your own home - apart from the satisfaction and pride that comes with it, of course - are that most self builders get ‘more house for their money' (when compared to buying a home by the traditional method), and also often realise instant equity.

    But how exactly do you go about it? How much of the building work should you do yourself? The Build Your Own House manual explains the entire process in plain English, backed up with hundreds of colour photos showing real self-build projects taking shape. Each chapter is devoted to a key stage of the build from the foundations right through to snagging and completion. Whether you tackle some of the works yourself, or employ architects and contractors, this step-by-step guide will show you how to stay firmly in control, cutting out the stress, completing your project on time and within budget, and saving a small fortune!

    N.B. The information contained in this story is provided by the supplier and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of lets-do-diy.com.

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