While I’m yet to hear of a self-build reaching completion without any bumps along the way, to give your self-build the best chance of success, there are several key pitfalls to avoid.
1. Failing to look beneath the surface
When you find the perfect self-build plot, it’s natural to fall in love with it – but don’t let your heart rule your head. While it may tick all the boxes on the surface – whether that’s a beautiful location with uninterrupted countryside views, great transport links or a cool suburban spot – it’s important to do the boring stuff too. Thorough due diligence could uncover a multitude of sins.
A site isn’t a plot until it has planning permission, so be sure to do your research before purchasing. Not all plots will have planning permission but, even if they do, it’s important to take expert advice to ensure that you aren’t buying a dud and will actually be allowed to build the home of your dreams.
Another pitfall is neglecting to do a full ground survey, checking the condition of the soil and anything lurking beneath the surface. If standard strip foundations aren’t adequate, piling foundations will be needed, which are substantially more expensive.
It’s not unusual for self-build sites to be problematic, but it’s important to make the distinction between problematic and unsuitable.
2. Breaching planning policy
When the all-important planning permission is received, it’s important to follow it to the letter. On finding the perfect plot, often following a lengthy search and perhaps a few non-starts, it’s tempting to steam ahead in your eagerness to get started. However, don’t fail to consider the permissions for the site – are there any conditions, for example? Are there any ancient wayleave agreements that haven’t been identified, or any rights of way? These are the issues that can kill a self-build project before it has begun.
3. Running out of money
When a self-build isn’t managed properly, you’ll lose control of the budget very quickly. Self-builds rarely complete squarely on budget, so it’s vital to have a contingency fund in place. We usually recommend 20% of the overall cost.
With the best will in the world, there will be changes along the way, plus unexpected professional costs which can quickly add up. Appointing a project manager is the best way to avoid losing control of funds, but, where that isn’t possible, guard the budget fiercely. While obvious things will likely be on the radar, budget creep will come from the areas you least expect – for example, make sure you order the correct materials, and that they arrive on time; contractors will bill for time spent standing around unable to get started, which will see the project timeline extended.
4. Becoming embroiled in contractor disputes
When emotions are running high, it’s perhaps understandable that your patience may be a little more stretched than usual. When your composure slips and your temper flares, it’s important to keep your cool. Bad feelings will not aid the project, so it’s important to make every effort to tackle annoyances early and honestly – a dispute with a contractor is a sure-fire way to delay a project and see costs spiral. Choosing a contractor at the outset that you get along well with can help to minimise these disagreements.
When disagreements extend beyond mere annoyances or difference of opinion – serious issues such as health and safety and professional standards – it’s important to tackle it head-on and quickly. The potential repercussions are much more dangerous than a delayed project.
5. Don’t make assumptions
With any self-build, it’s vital to avoid making assumptions – having the right team in place will help you to do that, allowing you to benefit from years of experience to dodge black spots and potential pitfalls. Take utilities as an example – while utilities may be nearby, don’t assume you’ll be able to connect. It’s a common oversight with the potential to add hundreds of thousands to the budget.
Our advice to self-builders, particularly those embarking on their first project, is to build bulk into the budget for expert advice that will save you money in the long run by helping avoid major issues with the potential to sink your self-build.
Embarking on a self-build can be exciting and stressful in equal measure, but by slowing down and making sure you have all the facts, identifying any potential issues, self-builders stand the best chance of seeing their dream home completed on time and with minimal extension to the budget.