A guide to building a dream home

Read this article for 12 tips to help you custom build your dream home.

The reasons behind someone’s desire to design and build a bespoke home are many and various. They may include a wish to create a special environment to raise a family in, a longing to live in a house like no other, or a speculative reason, such as selling the house on and achieving maximum profit.

Before embarking on what can be a costly, stressful and time-consuming self build venture, it is important to clarify your aims and be aware of the myriad steps involved in achieving them.

Building a dream home is a realisable ambition – with a well-researched plan. Here are the key points to consider from the outset:

1 Write a brief.

This should detail important requirements of any self and custom build scheme before the project team is engaged and it can be used to obtain fee proposals from contractors. The brief will evolve with the project but should include room sizes, layout, the style of architecture whether contemporary or traditional, heating options and energy efficiency. Factors such as the best ways of enjoying views from the house and garden can be included.

2 Locate a building plot.

Preferably your chosen building plot should benefit from full or outline planning permission. Local planning authorities must keep a list of people interested in self-building or custom build housing; according to Right to Build legislation, English councils must support custom and self builders and need to have serviced custom build plots ready to meet demand. It is possible to register for a custom build serviced plot with a local council via the Self-Build Portal.

It may also be beneficial to explore planning regulations such as Permitted Development Rights which allow for the extension of smaller properties and building on infill plots. Consider whether your build project will `fit’ in the locality, and whether the area fulfils your requirements in terms of day to day living and convenience. A site review could be carried out including a soil investigation study by an engineer. Instructing environmental reports such as tree surveys and topographical reports will give peace of mind and enable a speedier conveyancing process.

3 Arrange finance.

Specific mortgages for self builders are available through brokers; unlike a traditional mortgage, they work on a stage release payment basis during the build journey and may offer funds in advance of each stage of the work. The borrowing is not limited by the plot or the current value of the property; typically you can borrow up to 75% of the self build project cost and if you own the land you may be able to borrow more.

A substantial deposit may be required if you are borrowing both land cost and build cost; while schemes historically allowed borrowing of around 75% of the land cost and 60% of the build cost, new products are available with more enticing figures. Lenders are also more open to offering mortgages to individual self builders on houses built using Modern Methods of Construction rather than traditional build techniques.

A striking example of an individually-designed house.

4 Make a design plan.

Make sure that your self build plan satisfies all your requirements before it is signed off: alterations can prove costly later on when work is under way. Get approved planning drawings which will enable you to clarify the project specification and your individual requirements; you will also then be able to assess build costs.

5 Set a budget.

Be realistic, add at least a 10% contingency amount to cover unforeseen problems. Be wary of overspending by building a property which may exceed the value of nearby houses as this will make it difficult to recover the investment when it is sold. It is important to assess the local housing market alongside the future desirability of the area in terms of location and any other planned development on the horizon.

6 Select the building route.

Options include companies which provide custom build housing on a multi-plot site managed by a third party which finds the land, secures planning permission and installs services, or working with an architect and main contractor on a bespoke design for a single plot.

Employing a professional project manager may be an attractive option if a hands off approach to self build is desired, while a self builder with relevant experience and time may consider taking on the role themselves, hiring builders and tradespeople to construct the house. The build method must be decided on and options include:

Brick and block: around 70% of UK houses are built using this method of inner blockwork and outer brick skin. This on-site method is time-consuming and makes the site vulnerable to theft, but it is familiar to builders.

Timber-frame: this is the second most popular choice and involves a wood structure built off-site in a factory to the agreed design. The frame can then be quickly assembled on site. While green oak is a popular choice for self build projects and it is ideal for open plan spaces, it is expensive; modern glued wood such as Glulam is versatile and offers design flexibility. Timber frames require perfect foundations as changes are difficult to make during the build process.

SIPS (Structural Insulated Panels): these are factory-made and can be quickly built on-site. They can be used for walls, floors, ceilings and roofs. While more expensive than timber frames, they save on labour costs, but expert tradesmen are needed along with perfect foundations.

ICF (Insulated Concrete Formwork): these are large, hollow blocks which can be made from expanded polystyrene; they stack to create cavities which are pumped full of concrete. They are a quick-build option but require good foundations.

`Natural’ build materials: the choice includes Hempcrete, green oak, cob, steel frame and straw bales. Specialist lenders for such schemes include the Ecology Building Society and insurance risks are covered by firms such as Insurance Green.

Passive building: Another building route to consider is the Passive or Passivhaus; such buildings have lower running costs and construction involves high levels of insulation alongside mechanical heating and ventilation systems.

7 Establish your team.

It is advisable to check references from contractors and view their work on custom build homes where possible. Identify an architect who understands the aims of your self build project and is within budget. A structural engineer may be required, and a quantity surveyor could enable savings during the construction process. An energy consultant may be needed to help maximise the energy performance of the house and cut long term costs; extra insulation and solar panels could be considered as part of the build. Regular communication with the team is important to avoid misunderstandings.

8 Contact planners at an early stage.

Obtaining pre-application advice can be a useful way of clarifying planning officers’ requirements regarding style and materials to help secure planning permission: there may be a fee for this service. It is also important to be aware of the relevant planning policies in the local planning authority area regarding self build. Draw up a Design and Access Statement which must accompany the planning application and focuses on the site requirements. It may also be worthwhile informing neighbours about your self build plans at an early opportunity.

A luxury bespoke home in the country.

9 Apply for planning permission.

You will also need to get building regulations approval and provide any other documentation required such as protected species, tree surveys or habitat reports. If the application is contentious, the services of a planning consultant may prove useful. When the application is checked and registered by the local authority it will go onto their planning website and neighbours have the opportunity to object. Most applications are decided within eight weeks although large or complicated applications may take up to 13 weeks. An individual planning authority will be able to advise on likely timeframes.

10 Building Certification.

When you have secured planning permission, the Building Certification process must be completed: this involves details of the build, materials and compliance matters. It is important to ensure that the correct contracts, warranties and insurances are in place including self-build insurance.

11 Utility companies.

While work to establish groundworks and the drainage scheme can now begin, bear in mind that negotiations with utility companies can take several months which may delay trench digging for pipes and cables. Making contact with the relevant companies early in the build may be worthwhile to clarify timeframes.

12 Completion Certificate.

When the finishing touches have been made to your self build journey, you must obtain a Completion Certificate from building control.

Ready to get started?

Arbtech are your best asset when it comes to getting planning permission for your custom build home project, whether it requires topographical surveys or environmental reports. We cover the whole of the UK and the team will be pleased to help you with the surveys required. Visit https://arbtech.co.uk/ to find out more.

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