Does it make more sense to self-build or to buy a new house off the peg? We put them head to head across a range of categories to find out.
Battle 1: Getting the right house for you
Buy new: While the UK’s housing market provides some choice for buyers, much of the stock is made up of uninspiring homes built by large developers for the lowest possible cost. While it may be easy to find one that meets your general needs for number of bedrooms or ideal location, it’s very likely you’ll need to make big compromises over everything from size to layout, and energy efficiency to decoration.
Self-build: Self-builders have the freedom to build exactly the type of home they want to live in. While you may be slightly constrained by issues of budget, the type of plot you can afford and what planning will allow, you’ll have free reign to create a home that’s as large or small as you like, has the perfect layout to meet the needs of their family, includes all the features and benefits you need, and is low cost to run and maintain. You’ll also be able to stamp your own design and tastes on it from the start.
Score: Buy new 0 Self-build 1
Battle 2: Building standards
Buy new: Many industry experts are of the opinion that the quality of housing built by the UK’s large developers is low-standard, and ultimately built to maximise returns for the companies and their shareholders. “In the rush to build new homes there is concern that standards are slipping,” said Paula Higgins, chief executive of the Homeowner’s Alliance, in a recent interview with the Guardian.
Self-build: While developers cut corners, self-builders can achieve a higher standard in all kinds of areas. For example, they can pay added attention to the quality and amount of insulation used, design their home for lower maintenance and longer life, source sustainable materials, and build in a way that’s more sensitive to local wildlife. While all this comes at a little extra cost, self-builders can add considerable additional value to their homes by doing so. A recent report, for example, showed that self-builders could expect their homes to be worth up to 25% more than their costs if put on the open market.
Score: Buy new 0 Self-build 2
Battle 3: Green credentials
Buy new: Large developers are fond of using terms such as ‘best eco homes’ in their advertising and marketing. However, it remains the case that very few have any real commitment to designing and building in a genuinely eco-friendly way.
Self-build: Self-builders can make proven green choices for their new homes. They can reduce their energy consumption by designing the houses more carefully (such as to Passivhaus standard), choose materials that do least harm to the planet, install renewable energy systems, and so on.
Score: Buy new 0 Self-build 3
Battle 4: Mortgages and cashflow
Buy new: Conventional home loans are easy to understand, obtain and manage. As long as you meet a loan’s requirements for income level and deposit, you’re likely to be approved. Once you’ve found a house to buy, you receive all the money in one lump sum and that, along with your deposit, is used to pay for your new home. Simple.
Self-build: Financing your self-build is more complicated. For a start, you often have a plot of land to pay for as well as the build itself. Lenders release self-build loans in stages. The first helps you buy the plot and the rest, released at agreed intervals, helps you fund the build. Traditional self-build products provide the money in arrears once a stage is completed, so you have to be extremely careful with your cashflow or risk running into difficulties. A second type, which is usually more expensive, releases the cash in advance of each stage allowing you to mitigate these difficulties. Controlling your finances at every stage will always be key to a successful build.
Score: Buy new 1 Self-build 3
Battle 5: Stress and hard work
Buy new: If you’re looking for a hassle-free solution, it doesn’t get much easier than buying a house from a developer or other owner. It can be no more complicated than organising a mortgage, searching online, visiting the best of the options, signing for your house and picking up the keys. Also, if you have a preferred location, you’re likely to have much more choice of housing than you are of suitable building plots in a given area . . . unless it goes wrong.
Self-build: Self-building isn’t for the faint-hearted. There’s a plot to find, architect to employ, project managers or tradesmen to bring on board, cashflow to manage and lots to learn. For some first-timers it takes over their lives for several years and can – and does – go wrong. On the other hand, you’ll grow as a person and build a genuine legacy; a home with your unique stamp on it that perfectly fits your needs. Most likely, you’ll have built a far better house than you could have otherwise afforded and have the dream home that many people never achieve in a lifetime.
Final score: Buy new 1 Self-build 4
Do you agree with how we scored it?! Leave a comment below.
And find out why Ben Adam-Smith chose to self build in the video below. He also quizzes some fellow self-builders about what motivated them.