If you’re interested in self-build but don’t want to go it alone, there is an alternative route that’s becoming more available in the UK, says Tom Connor

the exterior of box house by studio bark as part of a custom build homes t Graven Hill as featured in Grand Designs The Street 2019

Image: Designed by Studio Bark, this is the UK’s first U-Build House; a cost-effective CNC modular plywood system, made off-site, delivered flat-packed and installed on site. The plywood theme continues in the interior with exposed pipework for an industrial look. A doubleheight void brings light into the dining area.

For some people, self-building may seem like a daunting task, albeit one with many benefits.

So, if you dream of creating your own bespoke home but don’t want to undergo the whole process yourself, there is another option: custom-build. This route allows you to work alongside a specialist developer or enabler, to create a home that suits your requirements, with the advantage that some of the hurdles that self-builders often face have been removed. An enabler facilitates the availability of serviced plots, either on their own land or on behalf of someone else, as opposed to a developer who also supports the delivery of a home.

If you want to have a role in the design of the property and save money in comparison to buying from the standard residential market, then this could be the option for you. What’s more, it doesn’t differ too widely from the typical self-build principles.

Read on for more information on custom build so you can assess whether it's right for you. 

A fresh approach

Custom-build is a successful and proven method of house building throughout Europe and further afield, but is still a relatively new concept in the UK. The term was first mentioned by the Government in 2011’s Housing Strategy for England. Building on the principles of localism, the Government is hoping to shape an environment in which  custom-build can become a mainstream option to provide good-quality new housing to those areas of the UK that need it the most.

There are crucial differences between custom-build and traditional self-build.

Essentially with self-build you are accountable for every aspect of the project. With custombuild, much of this responsibility is taken off your shoulders by a developer. The developer or custom-build enabler you choose to work with will take on various aspects of the build process from sourcing a plot and connecting utilities, through to project management, and even help with finding finance.

Custom-build developers fall into two distinct camps. There are enablers that  simply offer a serviced building plot and, if you so wish, a helping hand with construction arrangements (known in the industry as the golden-brick approach), and developers that, in addition to the plot, will provide a menu of construction options. For example, they  might offer to build your home to a watertight stage and you are then responsible for fitting out the interior. A turnkey solution may be made available where you are involved in the design stage and a developer does the rest.

This is known as a tailored finish option. There are a whole host of custom-build opportunities offering varying levels of personal involvement, and a good route to finding what’s available is by visiting Custom Build Homes, which has a list of custom-build sites across the UK. The National Custom & Self Build Association (NaCSBA) has a Self-Build Portal with advice and support.

Finding a suitable plot

The size of custom-build sites in the UK varies widely, from developments with space for as few as five properties to larger communities with allowances for hundreds of homes. In some cases, you can purchase a serviced plot that has outline planning permission (OPP) in place. You then work alongside the custom-home specialist to gain detailed planning permission (DPP) for the home you want. Here the enabler may recommend various architects or home manufacturers for you to work with, but ordinarily you can choose to appoint your own professional team who will follow the site’s design code to create the home you want using a variety of different build systems.

In other circumstances, the plots will come with DPP already in place. This is usually because the local authority will have granted permission to the site with design restrictions already in place that govern the size and style of houses that they want to be built. If your developer has already  gained DPP, you will still be able to work with it to customise the internal layout and configuration of your new home.

Sign up to The Custom Build Register at Custom Build Homes and NaCSBA’s Right to Build Register. Once you’ve registered, local authorities and landowners can be alerted to the fact you’re interested in custom build, and they will keep you informed of any new sites that become available so that you don’t miss out on a great plot.

The build process

Once planning is approved and the plot bought, the next step is the construction or build-out phase. At the very minimum, you will have been provided with a fully serviced building plot. In some cases you can take on the project yourself from this stage and build your home as any other self-builder would, albeit to a timeframe that will have been set at plot purchase stage.

If you are working with a custom-build developer, it will build the house for you as per your design, or arrange for a building contractor to do so.

This minimises risk as everyone involved in the project will have been quality checked.

Custom-build sites involve a number of building plots and bespoke homes, so by carefully vetting those involved, the developer can make sure that the overall site’s schedule of works is adhered to, meaning you won’t be living next to a building site for longer than discussed, and the same will apply for your neighbours.

Financing the scheme

If you’re using a mortgage to fund your build project, you need to work with a finance specialist who is able to arrange a suitable funding package. Traditional mortgages are only offered for completed homes, but with both self-builds and custom-builds you will need a self-build mortgage where funds are released in stages. In some cases, the lender will inspect the work before each payment is made, from plot purchase through to completion.

The majority of these specialist funding options are available from building societies that are well-versed in the complexities of self-building.

BuildStore has created a range of stage payment mortgage options to suit the multi-phased process. Prospective lenders will want to see such things as a projection of your costs and planning permission details.


Are you considering custom build? Share your thoughts by tweeting us @granddesigns or post a comment on our Facebook page.



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