Jason Orme, editor of Homebuilding & Renovating, shares some of the key challenges that self-builders face and what can be done to make sure they don't become pitfalls. He also explains how custom build might be a good option to explore for those who want a bespoke home but without the same level of risk.
Interview with Jason Orme
Jason Orme was keen to become a journalist and so he applied for a job at Homebuilding & Renovating magazine. It was only after landing the role that he really began to increase his knowledge, and this eventually led to him buying a plot in 2004 and building a house. Now he has seen and written about hundreds if not thousands of projects and in his own words he is ‘a little bit obsessed by it.'
Finance and Plot Availability Prohibit Most People From Self Building
Jason says that since the recession of 2008 getting access to finance has become much harder. He does, however, believe that as the economy improves more and more mortgages will become available again.
By far the biggest problem is the availability of plots and therefore price of plots. The two are very closely linked. It’s not difficult to find a plot if you’ve got lots of cash!
Jason's own self build
Even Great Architects Are Not Necessarily Good With Budgets
It is not uncommon that projects go over budget. If a project starts to go over budget on the first day then this is likely to be a sign of things to come. In Jason's experience architects are great at designing houses but they are not so good at marrying up the budget to the design. People often have plans for large, complicated houses with lots of kit and a budget that is completely unrealistic.
A Quantity Surveyor Can Provide an Independent Assessment of the Project's Cost
By running most things through a quantity surveyor, or QS, there is the opportunity to check the finances. A QS is an independent expert who will effectively do a full materials and labour schedule of your build from the plans the architect has produced. This means any potential problems are discovered in the planning stages rather than during the build.
Once ‘Out of the Ground' Build Costs Should be Predictable
Jason recently met someone who had gone 50% over budget on a nearly £2 million build! So it can happen at all budget levels, big or small. There are certain elements that are difficult to budget for, such as the foundations, because you may not know the full story until you start, but Jason stresses that ‘above ground' is manageable and quantifiable in most instances.
There's Definitely a Sweet Spot When it Comes to House Size
The average floor area of a self-build house that Homebuilding & Renovating might feature is around 200m2. This compares to a typical new estate house (in the UK) that might be 80m2 or 90m2. So the self-builders that Jason meets tend to build bigger houses. At the upper end of that scale he once saw a house that was 2000m2!
However Jason suggests that if a house is too cramped there can be averse affects: “David Snell, who continues to write for the magazine, always says that one of the great reasons for the breakdown in society is because houses are too small. So growing families, particularly when you’ve got teenage kids, they need their own space and it’s preferential if they’re in their own big bedroom with a bit of a guest suite rather than on the streets. My view is the same. I think homes should grow with families and be flexible enough to do that.”
Custom Build Should Take a Lot of the Risk Out of Self Building
Custom build is a subset of self-build and it aims to allow bespoke homes to be constructed but with the minimum of risk. It's revitalising an old concept whereby a large area of land is divided into serviced plots and the planning for the whole site (rather than on an individual basis) is done upfront to speed up the process. Fixed priced build costs also enable people to be very clear of what they are letting themselves in for.
Self-builders Tend to Have an Entrepreneurial Spirit
While lots of people desire to build a house (typically between 10-30% of the UK population of 63 million) when it comes down to the practicalities of finding land and so on, the figures drop off significantly. Currently there are 11,300 new self-builds per year in the UK.
Having met lots of self-builders, Jason believes that one trait they all have in common is an entrepreneurial spirit. Even if they come from different walks of life, they tend to be independent and have a strong desire to create something specifically for them rather than settling for any old house.
In Australia ‘Package' Builds Make Life Easy
Jason likens the house building process in Australia to buying a new car: “You’ve got the basic package, you’ve got the optional extras, all of which is guaranteed in terms of price and scheduled delivery as well.”
Interestingly Australia deliver far more custom build homes (Jason says somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 per year) than the UK despite having a smaller population of 23 million!
The UK's Housing Market Will Continue to be Focussed on Second-Hand Stock
Even if custom build took off in the UK and 30,000 or 40,000 new houses were created each year, it would still be a small part of the market. This is because there are currently around 23 million houses in the UK, so the chances are that most people will be buying a second-hand house rather than a new custom build house.
Avoid the Eco Bling!
Certain products and materials have a lot of hype attached to them, and Jason says that people are often willing to throw a lot of money at gadgets thus making a slightly naïve specification.
Solar panel and heat pumps all have a place but often the money is far better being spent in the fabric of the building. Minimising energy use and the heat demand in the house is by far the smartest thing that people will do, particularly for those who are not on mains.
Invest in Expertise When it Comes to the Planning Process (UK)
Relying on an architect or design professional to guide you through the planning process could be a mistake. While architects may know a little about planning, their primary skill is design and so they are unlikely to be able to keep up with those minuscule changes to planning policy which happen frequently.
Finding a good planning consultant is an absolutely critical way of unlocking the potential of some sites.
Villages Often Lack Affordable Housing for Young Families
The UK has a unique situation in that it has a lack of land but also a cultural message to protect the countryside and preserve it as a museum.
Jason believes that the countryside is dying – with pubs, schools and other amenities constantly closing down – because there are no new houses to help young families live there. Yet development continues to be fought against.
Jason says: “I think we have to accept that if we want our children to live in these villages and towns then we have to allow house building in certain areas and better for it to be high quality of individual design ideally than for it to be the kind of housing stock that we’ve seen go up over the years.”
We Must Provide the Infrastructure for the Growing Population
Jason tells the story of how he was looking at an atlas with his 3-year-old son and the first page was about the world's population. In the space of 100 years the population has jumped from around 1 billion to 6 billion.
When Ben challenges Jason as to whether new houses just encourage further population growth, Jason responds: “The fact is that people seem to want to come to want to come to the UK and people seem to want to have children, and I don’t think you can necessarily stop either of those. So to an extent you’ve got to face the fact that you need to create housing for them otherwise where are they going to live.”
Multigenerational Homes Could be an Option for the Future?
With affordable housing clearly a worldwide issue, one change could be a move towards multi-generational households where three generations of a family live under one roof.
A Smart Approach is Needed to Housing Development
The UK government have a figure of 250,000 for the number of new homes that are needed each year to cope with demand.
Jason believes that this hasn't been achieved once since the 1960s and is unlikely to be met in the coming years. Jason also thinks that certain areas of the South East and the Midlands are approaching capacity and that it would make a lot more sense to spread the load around other parts of the UK where housing densities are comparatively low.
[The Internet is also making it easier to be very much in the heart of the business economy without being physically there!]
Homebuilding & Renovating Aims to Provide Independent Advice
The team at Homebuilding & Renovating have all been through the process of building their own houses and as such all their advice comes from experience. Newcomers to the world of self building will also find that there are lots of people who are trying to sell their products or services! Homebuilding & Renovating aims to provide independent advice, help you increase your knowledge and guide you through that jungle!
Winner of the Self Build Awards 2011. Copyright homebuilding.co.uk
It May Look Like Drama on TV, But it Doesn't Have to be in Reality
While television programmes like Grand Designs inspire people to take on their own projects, they also create drama where there need not be drama. A few projects go over budget and over schedule but there are thousands that happen each year that don't.
Jason concludes: “If you can get experts involved and listen to people, then generally it’s a lot easier than you might think . . . It’s a massively rewarding experience, life-changing really. It certainly was for us.”
A unique urban home. Copyright homebuilding.co.uk
Our Question for the Comments Section
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