Ben Adam-Smith runs through the biggest problems you could face on your self build journey. He also looks at what can be done in those situations.
There's no end of challenges on a self build
It's worth pointing out that there will be many ups and downs during a project. We could easily compile a list of a hundred things that could go wrong!
However, most of the time, there is a way forward and any hiccup will be forgotten about in a few days (or at worst leave a lesson for ‘next time').
What we're talking about today are the key things that can go wrong that may be hard or even impossible to fix.
1. Running out of money
No matter how much you do yourself, money is the life blood of the project. Without money, progress will be hard and the project is likely to stop.
In some ways most self-builders run out of money! The difference is when it happens. If it happens towards the end when the home is at least habitable then it's annoying, yes, but you can move in and finish off little jobs as money becomes available.
A word of warning
It's a lot easier to get everything done before you move in. Once you're living in the house there's a horrible tendency to make do. The pressure of needing to move in can even be a useful driver to get those final jobs completed.
Running out of money before the home is habitable
Nobody wants to end up here. There are times to stop a self build and in the middle of construction is not one of them.
It's extremely difficult to dig yourself out of this hole because there will be ongoing costs of stopping the project, such as site insurance.
Why does it happen?
The main reasons for running out of money are because of:
- A change of circumstances – for example, the loss of a job and therefore inability to secure a mortgage
- Overspending somewhere else – perhaps sinking more money into the ground than you would have liked
- Losing money during the project – if a contractor goes bust, for example, and you don't have adequate cover
- Burying your head in the sand about how much money you've got and how far it will go
Getting out of a financial mess
There's no two ways about it, this will be an uphill struggle. In a worst case scenario selling the site is a possibility. You may come out of it having lost money but at least you will not have the ongoing torment of a half finished project.
If your project is still ahead of you and you're worried you could get into trouble then get your budget as detailed as possible upfront. And keep refining… it's never finished.
Always make sure you've got a contingency. In addition to a contingency fund, if the worst comes to the worst, is there an asset you could sell or a wealthy relative who might consider loaning you some money?
Think about whether there are any parts of the project that could be phased. For example, don't build the house and the garage together if you think you won't have the money to finish the house. Make the house the priority.
2. A relationship break down
Building a house is a team sport and that means dealing with people. In addition to professionals you may be building with a partner and have a balancing act there, too! And not forgetting where you're building: it is possible your new neighbours may not be too keen on what you're up to.
The important thing to mention here is communication. Most relationships turn sour due to some communication breakdown and this rarely happens overnight. So keep the conversation going and make sure everyone is up to speed. If someone feels alienated or undervalued then problems are brewing.
Some of the biggest challenges with architects/builders etc. come with issues around quality or reliability. Or, on the flip side, perhaps you as the client are being unrealistic or too demanding.
There's no doubt that friction in relationships can leave a bitter taste. And it can go beyond the point of no return. Even if it is for the best going your separate ways, there will inevitably be knock-on effects such as delays and additional cost.
3. Stress overload
Even on a project that goes well, you can get fatigue towards the end. So when everything goes against you, stress can mount.
In the worst case scenario this can result in a total breakdown, which will leave you out of action on your project and hating your house for months or even years to come.
Heed the warning signs
Again, this isn't something that happens overnight. It's normally to do with seeing a lack of progress and feeling out of control. You may be anxious and the situation could even be triggered by one of the situations we've already talked about (money, people).
If you feel you have taken on too much and you can't see a way out then this is a warning sign to make a change.
Bring in reinforcement
Normally you can change something. Sometimes you see self-builders embark on a project, wanting to do it all themselves. It's perhaps a romantic view of what it should be like.
If you're able to get back-up, even in a small way, it can make a lot of difference.
And it may seem like you can't get away, but taking a break – even for a day – can clear your mind. You've really got to pinpoint what is causing the stress.
4. Rushing the process
Most self-builders get to the end of the process with a sense of achievement and pride. Yes, there will always be things they could have done differently but overall they have stayed the course and created a far better home than anything available on the open market.
For some, though, the completed house is a disappointment and doesn't meet their expectations.
And this regret is almost always caused by rushing the design process and then making up a lot of it as you go.
Invest in good design
It's amazing the money you can save by doing things yourself, but you are unlikely to get the same outcome as if you'd hired a professional. So unless you bring skills to the table, leave it to the professionals. And as with so many things in life, you get what you pay for.
Develop a comprehensive brief!
Any professionals you bring on board are not psychic (well, you can't expect this as part of the service!). Therefore your brief needs to be crystal clear. Rather than being desperate to get building, enjoy spending time developing your plans.
Make sure you understand what you're building. To those who aren't familiar with 2D drawings it can be tricky to get a sense of space, so use all visualisation tools at your disposal.
And again, get your project specified properly in the design process. If you're doing it during construction phase then you're adding to your workload.
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