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Living the self-build dream

Highlighting the importance of planning ahead to help ensure success, Julian Roberts continues to chart his progress as he builds his own eco home.

I’m not shy of admitting that when it comes to doing practical things, I’m bottom of the class. If the truth be told, I’m not building my own house at all. I’m project managing an off-the-peg, turnkey, timber-framed kit-house which is code for: stand to the side lines whilst it’s safely craned into position. The perfect solution for a man of my limited talents. Despite the fact that I’m not getting my hands dirty, I still have a role in the success or otherwise of this project. And from my own straw poll research with kit-house providers it’s clear that many wannabe self-builders fail and fail early. Out of ten couples that start the process, as few as one or two will actually achieve their dreams, six or so will drop out very quickly due to an ‘overwhelming effect’, whilst one or two will give it an initial shot, but then fail early on because of budget issues.

My biggest learning curve has been that 95 per cent of my work [the pre-planning] takes place before a spade even enters the ground. Once my bit is done I simply sit back, observe and stage manage a few pictures along the way so that family and friends – and proud grandchildren of the future – believe that I have dug every hole, hammered in every nail and wired every socket. Most wannabe self-builders who end up in the ‘overwhelmed’ group do so because their heads get flooded by all the risks.

Looking at it objectively you might think that the risky bit is when all the diggers come in and cranes start flying large objects above your head. You’d be wrong however. When it comes to doing a kit-home, the pre-planning stage is also where 95 per cent of the risk is contained, and which is where 95 per cent of potential budgetary problems lie. My stage-managed spade goes in the ground next week, so 95 per cent of my risk is safely behind me. I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t have moments of feeling overwhelmed, but I navigated my way through. Oh and it helps if you’re married to a super-efficient, evidence-led, highly organised German woman who has an incredible eye for detail. For anyone who’s interested in more detail, below is my my wife’s 5-point plan for a successful kit-house build that can help you steer clear of budgetary issues and the common ‘overwhelming effect’:

Budget Try and get your costs into four categories and as fixed as you possibly can: land, groundwork, kit-home and stealth costs. And remember, most of your costs will be VAT free – make sure you check what is and isn’t before finalising your budget. Remember, you only pay stamp duty on the value of your land and not the value of your completed project.

Purchase of land - a fixed cost Land is hard to come by but think outside the box and look in nooks and crannies even in urban areas – you might not get a view across a valley or out to sea but you can still make a very nice home. Keep engaging with your local council and checking the auction sites. Land without planning permission is considerably cheaper but do your homework in terms of planning permission. And if you go for land that can only serve a single dwelling then you won’t be competing with developers and therefore the land will be cheaper! Ideally, you will have got indicative costs from your ground-worker and house provider so you know how much budget there is for the land.

Groundwork – secure a fixed-price contract A decent builder will only do this if you’ve done geotechnical and contamination surveys. Do your surveys and then relax knowing that all your costs for works below ground are fixed. Ideally you will have checked for contamination risks before buying the land.

Turnkey kit-home – secure a fixed-price contract Some kit-homes don’t come with a kitchen and often need electrical and lighting upgrades to suit your needs – make sure you agree all of this upfront; many providers have renewables built into the package. Kit-homes come in all shapes and sizes: big and small depending on your budget. Don’t order your house until you know the cost of your groundwork. Some kit-home providers will manage your ground-work and planning paperwork for you but it’s much more expensive this way.

Stealth costs They don’t try and hide from you but inexperienced people like me rarely think about them and therefore you can get caught out. Add the costings below to the three categories above to give you a grand total for your project. The figures below are indicative and will vary a bit depending on your project: Planning permission fees and building regs fees: £1800 Solicitor fees: £2000 Mortgage fees: (don’t borrow too early and pay unnecessary interest) £3000 Rent of property you live in during build: £5000 Gas connection: £1500 Electricity connection: £1500 Water connection:£1500 Sewage connection: £1500 Cable connection: £300 Skips:£1500 Hire of loo: £150 General land surveys: £150 Topographical study: £500 Structural survey: £1000 Geotechnical survey: £3000 Land contamination and remediation strategies: £4000 Asbestos survey: £300 Self-build Insurance: £800 Warranty insurance: £1,800 Landscaping (depending on preference): £10,000 Kitchen (some kit-home providers don’t supply kitchens): £20,000 Lighting upgrade (you’ll likely want to upgrade): £3,000 Traffic management fees for house delivery: £500   Total: £64, 800    

Julian is Head of Communications at the Energy Saving Trust and has led a number of consumer engagement campaigns. After buying some derelict land at an auction, Julian project managed an eco-build house for his family and he is convinced that if he can do it, anyone can.

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