There’s a lot to consider when you take on a bespoke project. We reveal the secrets to building your own home on time, to budget and with minimal stress along the way.


1. Take your time to choose your location

One of the hardest parts of finding the right opportunity for building your own home comes at the start – finding the right location. You should purchase a plot with either outline or detailed planning permission in place as you don’t want to be left with something that you can’t develop. Opportunities for urban projects are now easier to find; regulation changes mean it’s easier to turn ex-shop premises into houses, and permitted development rights allow you to expand smaller properties and infill plots, while knock down and rebuild developments are also seeing higher approval rates. The owners of this home in a Harrogate conservation area were given permission to demolish its rear elevation and extend. The building works were carried out as a self-build, with Express Bi-folding Doors (0800 121 4809; acting as an adviser.

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2. Work with the right people

The professionals you work with will be helping you create your most valuable asset. They’ll be there to ensure your development runs smoothly from start to finish, so it makes good sense to employ people you get on with. Ideally, ask for recommendations from friends and family. If not, ask the specialist you’ve chosen to provide you with references from the last few projects they have worked on. Contact the homeowners and ask for their honest opinion – and if the option is available to you, visit their home to see their completed work. The owners of this property in Cornwall met Sean Adams of house-building company Potton (01767 676 400; at a self-build exhibition. Together they came up with a design for a heritage-style home, and planning permission was gained soon after. They worked with local people where they could – a local builder did the foundations and most of the building work, and a local carpenter completed the joinery to an extremely high standard.

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3. Create a detailed and clear project brief

Self-building or renovating is an opportunity to create a home that perfectly suits your tastes and needs. To achieve this, you need to come up with a detailed design plan. Start with a list of things you like, such as interior layouts, exterior finishes, glazing configurations and overall style. Use them to form part of your project brief, essential for creating a design plan. Find a like-minded architect to add creativity to your plan and come up with something that suits your dreams as well as your budget. Mulroy Architects (020 7267 5123; worked closely with the owner of this Victorian north-London home to ensure the client’s personality was reflected in the design. A ground floor extension has vastly improved its functionality, accommodating a contemporary family lifestyle within the heritage property.

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4. Avoid investing in a money pit

Keep your wits about you before making any purchase agreements on your project opportunity. Approach it with caution, especially if it needs a full structural survey or a geographical report. Bring an analytical eye when shopping around, and put your emotions on the back seat while you assess the possibilities. You don’t want to spend a significant sum of money on a property that may top out the worth of similar homes in the area – research average sale prices for homes of a similar size to the one you’re proposing. Living Oak (01932 590 111; was employed to build an oak frame extension on to this property, which added 120sqm to the floorspace, incorporating an open-plan living, kitchen and dining area. The rest of the house was renovated too, adding significant value. It’s now worth £1,300,000 – double its purchase price – with the renovation and extension.

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5. Set a realistic budget for building your own home

From the start consider how much you can afford to spend on building your own home. This will be made up from your savings, any equity you have in your current home and the amount you feel you can borrow. Your available funds will have a bearing on your entire scheme, determining the scale of your new house as well as the quality of the finishes. Be realistic from the outset – it’s no good having ambitious plans if you can’t complete them. One of the main pitfalls self-builders face is running out of cash part way through a scheme. Set your budget and be strict. Monitor cash flow throughout. Larch House in Surrey, designed by ArchitecturAll (020 8244 1673; was built in 12 weeks, to a strict budget. The home is finished with larch cladding and has many sustainable features, including a sedum roof and an air source heat pump.

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6. Allocate contingency

In a perfect world, you would build your own home on time and budget with no problems along the way. In reality, issues crop up when you least expect them, so it pays to be as prepared as possible. As a rule of thumb, you should set aside an additional 10% of your overall construction budget as a buffer. Having this in place could be the difference between a completed home and one that has to be abandoned. If you don’t use the contingency fund, set it aside to help pay off your mortgage or to pay for home upgrades. Architect Damon Ball of A‘Bear & Ball (01793 228 811; built his own home in the Vale of White Horse. It was financed by a specialist stage-payment mortgage from BuildStore (0345 223 4888;, which meant funds were available at key stages to pay for services and materials. On top of this, Damon set aside £5,000 to protect the scheme against any unforeseen circumstances. The project cost £145,000. 

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7. Be organised

The key to any successful build is being organised, especially when arranging trades and ordering materials to come at the right time. Your services should be connected to the site prior to works starting, so get in touch with utilities companies as soon as possible. Schedule expensive products for delivery exactly when you need them – theft or damage can occur if they are left lying around. Bespoke items can have lengthy lead times, so liaise with your builder to find out when they are needed. Glazing was key on this refurbishment project in Buckinghamshire so it had to be specified correctly and ordered with a specific delivery date in mind. Wide Sky Architects (01494 725 567; worked in close collaboration with the window supplier Mumford & Wood (01621 818 155; to ensure that the property was remodelled throughout to suit the characterful Arts & Crafts design.

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8. Stick to your plan

Try to limit making alterations to your design and materials to the planning stage, well before work has started on-site. Making changes mid-construction will invariably cause delays to your schedule, as well as add to costs. Make sure you are totally satisfied with the design before signing it off and research the materials carefully so you feel confident you are purchasing the best items for your build. The success of this sustainable home by RPA Architects (01235 850 873; came down to forward planning, following plans to precise detail and fitting well-researched materials. A slim-line glazed wall solution, coupled with roof lights by IQ Glass (01494 722 880;, creates a light and airy interior. 

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9. Communication skills are essential

It can’t be stressed enough that having a happy and open relationship with those that are working on your project is essential. What’s more, you need to work with experts who can communicate well with each other to ensure your project is carried out in an organised and efficient manner. For example, you need your designer to collaborate with your site team and materials manufacturers to ensure products are specified correctly, delivered on time and installed properly. The owner of this Victorian house wanted an eco-friendly upgrade without damaging any of the period details. The architect, Prewett Bizley (020 7256 2195;, coordinated with experts to create a bright, spacious extension and renovation that saw the restoration of original features, not to mention reducing the property’s energy requirements from 164kWhr/m2 to just 40kWhr/m2 per year.

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10. Dont forget about kerb appeal

Even though you are building your own home, there are guidelines to ensure your home keeps the planners happy. If you want to create something different to other houses in the area, try integrating traditional design elements so your home nods to the vernacular. The entrance is one of the most important items in terms of kerb appeal – it will set the tone for the rest of your property. The owners of this Wiltshire home matched their front door, from Urban Front (01494 778 787;, to the cladding, adding to the property’s overall chic and Scandinavian feel.

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Words: Anna-Marie Desouza, Photography: Ralph Saull,

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