According to Government figures, about 10,000 families build their own homes every year. This is more houses than are built by Wimpey, and nearly as many as are put up by Barratts – and the number is growing. The building industry has its ups and downs, but for the last ten years the number of self-build homes has been increasing steadily, and there is no sign of any slow- ing up. Self-build is here to stay!

It is the cost of an owner built house or bungalow that always gets the attention. This is usually between 60% and 75% of the market value of the finished home. This saving can easily be £20,000, and it is all money which the tax man will never get. At this rate most self-builders find that they do more for the family finances in a year spent building in their spare time than they earn in their working hours. This may lead to an assumption that self-builders are principally interested in the money, but a few visits to a self-build site will soon make it clear that this is only part of the story. Building your own home offers the individual a challenge, an opportunity to demonstrate his independence in an over-regimented world, and the chance to have exactly the home he wants rather than one that a developer has decided to build. It is the ultimate in d-I-y.

So how do you set about becoming a self-builder? First of all, you must realise what you are taking on, and that you have got to equip yourself to succeed. This requires one thing before all others, and that is management.

Effort, hard work, d-I-y skills, lots of useful contacts they will all be needed, but it is only with first class management of the project that you can ever hope to clear the paperwork and get started. It is only good management that will keep the job going at a cracking pace so that your budget will not be caught by inflation. Building for yourself is not a hobby. You cannot put the job to one side for a while, or give it up if it loses its appeal. You may be an amateur, but your approach has to be ultra professional.

Right from the start you will have to decide whether you want to join a self-build group or whether you want to go it alone. Self-build groups are composed of between a dozen and twenty people who register themselves as a Housing Association and who then buy a site on which to build as many houses as there are mem-bers. They work together as a team until the last house is built, when each member moves into his own home and the association is wound up.

Associations of this sort get a great deal of assistance from all kinds of organisations. In particular, many local authorities will help to find them sites on which to build. The members usually contribute a few hundred pounds each to get things moving, but before they can start work they need to borrow a large sum – typically half a million pounds – from either the housing corporation or a bank or a building society. This is the money to buy the site and pay for the materials, services, and a thousand and one other things before the homes are finished and the individual members can get mortgages to buy their houses at cost from the association. Surpri-singly it is not difficult to get a loan of this size, and the reason is that self-build asso-ciation have a first class record as borrowers.

The individual who decides to build on his own has to find his own site; has to arrange his own finance, and does not have the support of other members of the group. Even so, one-off self-builders outnumber the group members by nine to one and, unlike the group members, they have to make special arrangements for loan finance to cover their costs until they get their mortgage at the end of the day.

The actual work is often the easiest part of the whole job. Members of self-build groups usually do a very high proportion of the skilled work and all of the unskilled work, only using sub-contractors when absolutely necessary. A typical labour input is 1500 hours of work per member over an 18 month period, with the total cost being as low as 50% of the value of the finished properties. The individual self-builders usually do only as much of the actual work as they think practicable in their own circumstances, and use sub-contractors for much of the skilled work. Sometimes they use sub-contractors for all the work,, providing only the management themselves.

Whichever way you build, as a group member or on a go-italone basis, remember that the key to success is management, and the key to management is finding out all you can before you start. There are plenty of organisations to advise and help, and it is essential to know all about all that they may have to offer, and to know about all the options before you start turning a dream of a new home into bricks and mortar.

Suggestions for getting started in the world of self-build housing are simply suggestions for finding out more about the whole self-build scene. Do not go out and look for a site, choose a design to suit the view, and then wonder how to go on from there. The right procedure is to read all you can; to join the N.S.B.A, and to decide exactly what sort of self-build operation suits your ability, your financial situation, and your available spare time. Only then should you move on to committing yourself to anything at all.

If you see advertisements in your local press for members for a new self-build group it may be worthwhile getting in touch, but never part with any significant sum of money until you fully understand the structure of self-build group schemes. If you want to build on your own check if your local authority has any special schemes to help you.

Don’t go to see your Bank Manager or Building Society Manager about financing a d-I-y home building venture unless you have a fully worked out proposal to put before him, as an early refusal is a great disappointment. What the man who will lend you money wants to see are firm proposals; realistic costings; a proposed timetable for construction; details of how you will cover the risks with insurance, and the rest of the nitty gritty. No one will help you with this – you have to do it all yourself.


The N.S.B.A. Was formed in 1983 to represent the interest of self-builders at all levels, and to help them with information, advice and specific services. It is non-commercial, independent, and is financed by members’ subscriptions, magazine advertising, insurance commissions and grants. It has a lively magazine, organises conferences and visits, gives advice to members, and arranges insurances required by those who are building on their own.

All this is quite enough to make it important to join, but even more valuable are the trade terms available to members from designers, consultants, builders mer-chants and manufacturers. These discounts can save many hundred of pounds on the cost of a home, but some are only available to members who join before they start to build.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of membership is that it affords members an opportunity to make their voice heard in the corridors of power! Self builders need an organisation to see that local authorities take an interest in making land available to those who want to build on their own; to see that VAT rules and other regulations take their particular circumstances into account, and to handle the media. The N.S.B.A. Does all of this, and does it very well. Joining the association is a way of looking after your own interest, and the interests of all other self-buiders at the same time. Printer Bob Degavino, is typical of the hundred or so self-builders who construct new homes every year on plots made available by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation. The finished four bedroom, two bathroom house has a value of between £70,000 and £80,000, but cost only £38,000, including the price of the land. This is by no means an unusual cost/value ratio at Milton Keynes, but it also represents a year of non-stop back breaking work for the whole family. Needless to say they con-sider it was worthwhile!

Milton Keynes have a build now-pay later scheme for self-builders, so that all your available funds can go to pay for bricks and mortar, and you do not have to find the money for the land until you have got your mortgage at the end of it all.