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The things we wish we’d known before starting our self-build projects

According to a recent issue of Homebuilding & Renovating magazine, 1 million people in the UK plan to begin their self-build journey before 2020.

A self-build journey is a unique experience, which is why we tailor our services to meet our clients’ needs. If you’re thinking of joining the 1 million future self-builders we hope the advice shared below is helpful.

I wish I knew how difficult it would be to make cutbacks.

The whole way through the design process we pursued our dream and were reluctant to reduce quality and so – surprise, surprise! – we ended up increasing our budget. There’s no doubt about it, our financial situation at the end of the project is quite different to what it was on day one… but we do have a house that fits us like a glove and was exactly what we wanted.

Need house planning help?

Check out Ben Adam-Smith – Self-builder & founder of House Planning Help

“I wish I knew more about how the building industry worked before I started.”

It would have been so beneficial to know what was good practice and bad practice, but when you are doing a one-off project that’s not really feasible. Do your best to choose a good builder but if problems occur try and work through them – our builders, who were supposed to run the whole contract, ran out of cash flow early on and we took the decision to step in and take over day-to-day management of the cash and the project. We kept focused on the goal which was to get the project completed to the design spec and didn’t get diverted into a contractual dispute involving changing builders midway.

Fiona MacDonald – Former client, Stamford Road

“We wish we had properly understood how many early, detailed preparations we had to make.”

Even though all the hard lifting was done by the architect and builders, wiring diagrams, the position of sockets, colours and type of tiles and paint, etc, etc – was all down to us, and all needed sooner rather than later answers. If – very unlikely given our age – we ever do it again, we will be better prepared!

We did not project manage or spend a lot of time on site, but we were still expecting it to be hard work. We also had some baggage from bad experiences of previous builders/building work. Our project was hard work, and inevitably so, but what we were not expecting is how satisfying – even pleasurable – the experience would be, with everybody working closely together as a team and achieving all our basic goals. Ourselves, PTA architects, builder and contractors. Very worthwhile and highly recommended!

John & Jean Bloxham – Former clients, Sycamore Hall

Don’t plan your project without reading this…

Read our top tips for self-build success

“How much head-space it occupies.”

Having worked with many clients delivering their once-in-a-lifetime projects, it’s easy to trivialise how many things the self-builder has to assimilate, choose, decide on. It’s a thrilling experience if somewhat unnerving at times, but it does require a lot of time and thought. A self-build isn’t something that should be approached lightly; especially if you’re taking on any form of site or project management role. Is it rewarding? Yes. Is the result worth it? Yes. But don’t expect not to question this a few times along the way.

Paul Testa – Currently underway with his EnerPHit retrofit

“Having a good working relationship with your architect and learning to trust them is important – they’ve spent 7 years being trained for this and do it regularly.”

Make sure you employ a properly qualified architect – too many design services use the word “architect” in their description but essentially just draw up plans  – this is definitely NOT the same as using a fully qualified architect. A good architect will easily pay for themselves and give you a project to be proud of. Our project still delights us several years after it was finished!

Stewart MacDonald – Former client, Stamford Road

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“We wished we had known or realised was how important details are, or can be.”

An example would be restrictive covenants in the Deeds. We did investigate but not in sufficient detail and we assumed that they would not be a problem. WRONG! There were other examples but that was near the outset and fundamentally altered the design, cost us money and gave us significant stress!

Mark & Clare Gittins – Former clients, Cinder Bridge Road

“Be prepared to be shocked when your price comes back!”

That’s been my biggest learning so far.

Alan MacDonald – Has just begun his home renovation project 

Everything you need to know on self build finance…

How to finance your project