Last Updated on January 3, 2024

If you have clicked on this article, the chances are that you are thinking about embarking on a self build project. This guide provides information about the key steps of a self build in the UK, helping you get to grips with what you need to know before you begin planning your project. 

As experienced architects and surveyors, we at Whitworth have worked on and overseen many successful self build projects. Alongside our advice, you will be able to see examples of our work on self build homes within this blog post, which may beg the question, ‘Do I need an architect for a self build project?’. The design of a home is one of the most important aspects of a self build, and while some may undertake the design task themselves if they have the knowledge and experience, it is advised to get an architect on board in order to bring your dream home to life for a number of reasons, including ensuring compliance, saving time in the long run, and making the most of your budget.

How do you work with an architect? Find out how in our blog post.

This self build began life as a bungalow, which was converted into an impressive five-bedroom home

What does it mean to self build your home?

Self building your own home allows you to get exactly what you want in a living space, bypassing an incredibly competitive housing market and the compromises that may come with it. By choosing your own design and materials, you can create a home that caters to eco-conscious objectives, incorporates smart home features, maximises on social spaces, and more. Your budget is your limit!

Different types of self build

There are lots of different ways to execute a self build project, from going it completely alone to hiring someone to project manage the entire process from start to finish. Here, we explain what the different types of self build refer to:

  • DIY – You take on all the planning, executing and managing of the project
  • Self-managed – You manage the project, but hire other to execute the work
  • Professionally-managed – You hire a project manager to manage your project for you
  • Main contractor – You hire a contractor to manage the construction, while you manage the rest of the project
  • Package/Kit – You choose a style of house (plus any alterations or extras) from a package build company, who can often supply a team to build it for you
  • Custom Build – A developer builds a house (often within a ‘community’ of similar homes) which can be customised by the buyer from a limited range of options

What does it cost to self build in the UK?

Self build costs in the UK will vary greatly depending on a number of factors, including the type of self build (as outlined above), location, size of the house, materials, and the rates of the professionals involved.

According to a 2020 survey, the median cost of a self build in the UK is £270,000, with the median plot cost being £190,000. With such a wide variety of homes being built, the range in cost per metre spanned from £300 to £5,000. The median market value of a finished self build home is £500,000. When calculating your budget, you should always allow a contingency for unforeseen costs or any changes you wish to make along the way.

Is it cheaper to buy a house?

The average house price in the UK in June 2021 was £265,668, which means that self building may only be slightly more expensive, depending on varying factors. For those who are weighing up their options, it would be wise to keep an eye on the housing market in their desired area before committing to any part of the self build, to see if there are already houses which match up to the specifications of their proposed self build. It may be that the ‘dream house’ already exists, or may only require some renovations in order to become the buyer’s ideal home.

This home was built in place of a dilapidated bungalow, and makes a focal point of the breathtaking countryside views and natural light with floor-to-ceiling windows

Reclaiming VAT on building materials and services

If you are building a new home or converting an existing property into a home, you can claim back VAT on your building materials and services. There are some rules about the building work and materials that qualify, and you must apply to HMRC within three months of completing the work, but if you follow the right steps you may be able to claim back thousands of pounds.

It is important to note when building a new home that construction workers should zero-rate their invoices. This means that they should not charge you VAT for work on a new home.

When it comes to building materials, you can only reclaim VAT on items that are fixed (cannot be removed without tools or damaging the building). Elements of your build that cannot qualify for VAT reclaim are:

  • Fitted furniture
  • Certain electrical and gas appliances
  • Carpets
  • Garden ornaments
  • Other building materials that are not fixed
  • Materials or services that were zero-rated or VAT exempt
  • The purchase or hire of machinery or equipment
  • Building project located in the Channel Islands
  • Professional or supervisory fees including architects and surveyors
  • Commercial buildings
  • Buildings that cannot be sold or used separately from another property because of a planning permission condition

Remember to keep original copies of all receipts and invoices throughout your build, as HMRC will need these to validate your claim.

It is important to research VAT yourself against current guidelines and seek advice from a VAT specialist to ensure that you have the correct information when embarking on your self build journey. As a starting point, you can find out more about building a new home and VAT on the Gov.UK website.

Can I get a mortgage for a self build?

Just like a regular house purchase, you can usually get financial help from a bank in order to fund your self build. However, you will need a specialist self build mortgage, which works differently to a regular mortgage and has different requirements.

As there is more financial risk when self building a home, you will need to show the bank that you are a safe investment. This means that you will need plenty of evidence illustrating that your build is viable, on top of your ability to afford repayments. Evidence may include drawings, planning permission, building regulations approval and proof of insurance.

When it comes to the deposit required for the mortgage, the amount will likely be in the region of 25% to 50% of the total project value. If approved, your funds will be received in stages correlating with the progress of the build; this is to reduce the lender’s risk and ensure the funds are spent as planned, while providing you with upfront finance for each stage.

Remember, you will also need to find somewhere to live while you’re building a house, which can incur additional costs. There’s more on this in the section ‘Where do you live while you’re building a house?’ below.

You won’t have to compromise on materials in a self-build home – your only limit is your budget

Why you need self build insurance

Although you only require self build insurance by law if you are employing people to carry out work on your project, it is highly recommended that you obtain insurance regardless. This is because the right insurance policy will not only protect you from compensation claims for illness or injury from the workers, it will also protect you in case of loss or damage to the building, materials, other temporary buildings on site, tools and other equipment. A good insurance policy will also cover public liability (in case a member of the public is injured due to activities associated with your build), and you may want to include personal accident protection in case you are injured on site.

If damage or injury does take place and you do not have insurance to cover it, you may be at risk of paying out thousands of pounds of your own money. This will very likely surpass the cost of the insurance.

It is recommended that you approach specialist self build insurance providers for quotes, as these providers will be able to insure you more appropriately than a high street provider. You will need to obtain insurance as soon as contracts are exchanged on the plot, and before any work begins.

What is a self build warranty and do you need one?

A self build warranty is different from self build insurance. While self build insurance provides protection during the build, a self build warranty covers issues relating to workmanship, materials and design, usually for 10 years post-completion (though each policy is different). This may be important if ever a future mortgage is required, as it demonstrates that the building has been built to a good standard.

How to find a plot for a self build

Just like finding the right house to buy, it can be a case of ‘right place, right time’ when it comes to finding the perfect plot. However, there are routes that you can take in order to increase your chances of finding a plot that suits your needs for the right price point, including:

  • Registering for notifications relating to plots for sale in your desired area on land finding services such as Plotfinder and BuildStore.
  • Registering your interest with estate agents.
  • Attending land auctions in the local area.
  • Getting to know the area by regularly driving around it – you may spot a parcel of land with potential that isn’t yet available through auctions or agents.
  • Visiting the local council’s website to find their planning register. This will show all of the active planning applications that have recently been submitted. Look for plots with a recent application and approach the applicant to discuss your interest; the ideal situation is that they are the owner of the plot and are planning to sell.

Planning permission for self builds

Ideally, you will want to purchase a plot with planning permission for a dwelling included. If you purchase a plot without planning permission, you are doing so with the risk that it may never be granted planning permission. Our team of experienced architects will be able to advise on the likelihood of the granting of planning permission in these circumstances.

When purchasing a plot with planning permission, bear in mind that:

  • It usually lasts for three years – enough time to make a meaningful start on works – but is not always guaranteed to renew
  • The permission may grant a house to be built that is wildly different from the house you had in mind (for example, the permission may grant a small bungalow while you were planning to build a two-storey home)
  • If the above point is the case, what has already been approved in the existing permission can sometimes be changed, allowing you to go ahead with your own design
  • Covenants (restrictions tied to the use of the land) may be in place, and these will be independent from the conditions relating to the planning permission
  • If your plot is located in or near a conservation area, there may be conditions relating to this that restrict the style or size of the building. You may also find that permitted development rights (that would usually allow you to extend your home or erect or convert certain buildings) are removed in conservation areas
  • Ground conditions are not usually taken into account with planning permission, so you will need to investigate the condition of the ground independently, as this can play a role in determining the cost of your foundations

Self builds don’t just refer to completely new homes – you can also extend or convert an existing building to make it suitable for your needs, like this exquisite barn conversion and extension

Access to services

Sometimes, access to services (water, electricity, sewage) already exists on your plot of land. This is especially true for custom builds, as it is (in most cases) the developer’s responsibility to provide access to services.

However, if you need to arrange access yourself, this will incur an extra cost of anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of pounds, depending on the location of your build. You may need to connect to services across private land, public highways or other types of land where there may be restrictions in place. A wayleave will allow for connections to be made on or under land; you should be able to find out from the Land Registry whether a piece of land has a wayleave attached to it. However, it’s important to note that not all wayleaves exist in perpetuity.

In any case where you might need to install a connection to services, it would be wise to consult a solicitor for advice.

What are building regulations?

Building regulations are unavoidable when building a new home. These regulations are put in place to ensure that your build is not only safe, but comfortable to live in. 

Before you begin work on your project, you or your builder will need to apply to Building Control, which will require you to prove that your design meets the Approved Documents. These concern the structure of the property, fire safety, ventilation, access and more. Your property will need to meet all regulations, and a building inspector will visit your property at different stages of the build to ensure that they are met or being met.

There is a fee to submit a building regulations application, and you can usually check how much this costs through your local authority’s website.  As architects, we can put together all of the information required to apply to Building Control, streamlining the process and saving you a great deal of time and effort.

How do you build a construction team?

If you are using a construction company to carry out all or some of the work on your self build, you can start contacting contractors or subcontractors right away. However, you will not be able to obtain an accurate quote until your drawings for building regulations are finalised. 

There are many websites where contractors and tradespeople advertise their services, but one of the best ways to find the right team for your build is to ask your architect. At Whitworth, we have a network of high quality industry connections. We can put together the team most suited to bring your self build to life, saving you the hassle of sifting through dozens of firms and obtaining quotes.

An alternative method is to ask friends and family who have used these services in the past. Ask about whether the workers delivered the work on schedule and with the desired quality. You may also want to know whether they were polite and respectful of others, showed up on time each day, and whether they were communicative.

Remember: the best team for your build may not always be the cheapest!

Where do you live while you’re building a house?

Where you live during your self build is usually entirely dependent on your budget. Some options include:

  • Staying in your current mortgaged home – this is very suitable for those building another property on their own land, but can be very expensive if purchasing another plot of land on which to build. 
  • Renting – you may wish to rent a property close to your build, which will provide you with better access and the ability to manage the build closely. However, renting can be expensive, and if the home is already furnished then you may need to find storage for your furniture.
  • Living on site – living on the plot of land on which you are building is ideal for those who want to manage their build very closely. The accommodation could be a caravan, mobile home or log cabin that has connections to services such as water. Be aware that living on the site of your build has its safety risks, especially if living with small children. You may also need to check if planning permission allows you to erect a temporary building or place a caravan on site.

With a self build, each detail can be a reflection of your personality – even down to the type of finish on your kitchen counters

How long does it take to build a house?

When deciding where you will be living during the build, it is important to have an idea of how long your build is likely to take as this will influence the cost of your accommodation as the comfort of yourself and your family. Depending on your budget, the type of home you are building, the methods used to build it, the timekeeping of the team involved, and other factors such as weather, a typical home takes around six to nine months to construct. However, you should always factor in the possibility of your build not going to plan, causing delays to your project.

Are you thinking about self building?

If you are planning on bringing your dream home to life and are interested in the services of an architect to help you do so, please contact Whitworth on 01284 760421 to talk to our friendly team about your requirements.

You can also browse our portfolio for more examples of our past work.