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Getting started 

More than one in three of us want to build our own home one day*. When you picture the ease of living in a space that’s been designed to fit your lifestyle to a tee, it’s easy to see how the benefits of self-build stack up – especially as building your own home can allow you to live in a much larger house or a better location than you might otherwise be able to afford. However, not many of us make that dream a reality.

Finance can be a barrier to self-build, as can the availability of land. Or it can simply seem overwhelming to take on such a complicated and often messy task.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are now many routes to building a house – from modern construction methods that can drastically reduce your build time, to custom-build options where a developer holds your hand through the whole process.

We’re here to help you take the first steps on your self-build journey, explaining your options with some expert tips from our Master Builder members and breaking down the barriers to building a home of your own.

* Self-Build and Custom Housebuilding in the UK: An Evidence Review - Based on a study of 2,017 participants during October 2020 conducted by YouGov and commissioned by The National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA) and the Building Societies Association (BSA).

Meet the experts

We spoke to experts from two Master Builder companies who specialise in self-build, to give you some tips from the profesisonals.

Dan Rich - Mason Construction (London) Ltd

Dan Rich
Managing Director
Mason Construction (London) Ltd
2021 Master Builder Awards – House Builder Award (Eastern Counties)

Mark Bettles - Cornerhouse Building Contractors Ltd

Mark Bettles
Cornerhouse Building Contractors Ltd
2021 Master Builder Awards – Building Company of the Year (Midlands)
2021 Master Builder Awards – House Builder Award (Midlands)

Budgeting for your self-build

Whether it’s your forever home or you think you’re likely to move on in a few years, all self-builders have one question at the back of their mind… ‘What will my house be worth when it’s finished?’

Your profit margin is not going to matter so much if it’s your home for life, but it can help to inform your budget. So, the estimated market value of your completed home should be where you start when it comes to calculating your self-build budget.

Start with a valuation

You can get an idea of your completed home’s value by looking at the cost per metre of buildings in the area. A chat with a local estate agent can help. Once you have that estimated value, deduct what you have paid for the land. The remainder can be divided between build cost, profit margin and contingency fund. It’s worth noting that in a climate of increasing build, material and labour costs, it’s wise for your contingency fund to be on the larger side.

If you do your research online, you’ll find advice telling you to keep a certain percentage in mind for your profit, or so much on the plot. But in reality, these figures depend on a unique combination of factors including where you are in the UK, whether you’re building on a remote site or an urban setting, and the method of construction you go for. It’s impossible to come up with an easy formula.

One thing’s for sure, your research into cost shouldn’t just be based on Google searches. Speak to some self-build experts – as they may be able to identify unforeseen costs before they become a problem.

Traditional Victorian style self-build entrance
What will your home be worth when all those finishing touches are in place? This self-build in Country Down shows an eye for detail, by FMB member MRPX Construction Ltd


Mark Bettles of FMB member company Cornerhouse Building Contractors Ltd advises: ‘If you get yourself a good architect to design your build they will be able to advise you on the details and budgeting for the build in the early stages.’

Look out for hidden costs

We asked our Master Builder experts about the hidden costs to look out for that are easily overlooked by self-builders.

Rising material costs

‘The ever-rising material costs are certainly a big factor currently’ advises Mark. ‘The secret to getting the best value for your money is early engagement with your chosen contractor. They will be able to advise on the best construction methods for keeping costs down. They will also, once appointed, be able to start securing materials and securing the best prices before any further price rises occur.’

Connection to services

Dan Rich of FMB member company Mason Construction (London) Ltd says, ‘The main connections often get overlooked and if you have a square metre quote for your build, it probably won’t take this into account. The big surprise that you really need to look into is main sewage connections – you may need to put in your own sewage system, which can be expensive. Also, how easy is it to connect to the main electrics? You can live without gas if you have to, but you need to make an electric connection – if that’s got to go underground, how are you going to you run that in?’

Planning and regulations

Dan’s advice is to think about the prep needed to get your land ready to build on. ‘If you’ve bought a brownfield site [a site that has previously been developed] is the land contaminated? If you have oil contamination in the soil, you’ll need grab lorries to take it away and that can increase the cost of your footings by about three or four times the usual.’

Self-build plots in leafy, rural locations can come with their own hidden costs too. Dan asks, ‘Is it in a tree protection zone? That can make a real big difference to the cost of your footings.’

Changing your design

Mark says ‘One area that is vital for keeping control of your costs is to ensure you have your design right before you start. Changing things on site can be very expensive, especially if you have to keep altering completed work.’


Dan advises self-builders to get this checked out early on: ‘If you’ve bought an existing building, is it riddled with asbestos, and what type of asbestos is it? For example, white asbestos is not too expensive to remove, but if you find blue or brown asbestos it can cost an absolute fortune – into tens of thousands depending on what type and the amount.’ You can book an asbestos survey and removal through local asbestos removal firms.

How to keep costs down

If you already have a builder on board during the design stage (maybe you’ve worked with them before) it can help to get their opinion on where cost savings can be made on your self-build.

Dan gave us this insight: ‘The normal way of doing things is that you go to the architect, you get your drawings and the builders tender for it. The builders aren’t really involved in the design stage. But if you’ve already got a builder you can trust, and you can get the builder involved earlier, you’ll save money as the builder can suggest the cheapest way for you to do it. For example, we work with SIPs panels [Structural Insulated Panels] which can be cheaper to work with.'

'If you sit down with the builder and the structural engineer, the builder can help with suggestions. But there’s got to be trust.’

Architect and builder discuss self-build plans


Another way to save money can be to find a builder who offers a design and build service, working with an in-house architect. This can reduce how much you spend on architect fees and can have indirect cost-saving benefits too – as your builder will already have a close working relationship with the architect. Less room for communication delays and costly misunderstandings.

Find a Builder

Use our search to find vetted and inspected Master Builders who specialise in house building in your area.

Funding your self-build home 

Two of the biggest myths about self-build homes are that you have to have a lot of money saved up to finance it, and that it can mean having to sell your house and having the upheaval and expense of moving into temporary accommodation (or even living in a caravan on site!).

Neither of these options are necessarily the case as there are now more options than ever to help make self-build more accessible. Even if you’re a first-time buyer!

Here are some of the ways you can fund your self-build – you might use just one or a combination of these:

Personal savings – Money in the bank.

Property sale – Sell your existing home to release equity.

Self-build mortgage – Unlike a traditional mortgage, a self-build mortgage releases money to you in stages during your build. The stages may differ slightly between providers but typically, the stages can include:

  • Land purchase
  • Completion of the footings and foundations
  • Walls built to eaves height
  • Shell becomes ‘watertight’ – roof, ceiling and walls are in
  • First fix
  • Second fix
  • Completion date
Project by FMB member Mason Construction (London) Limited
Getting the right finance in place for your build can open doors. Project by FMB member Mason Construction (London) Limited in Essex. 


Mortgages fall into two types:

Advance mortgages

Funds can be accessed before each stage, with the lender keeping a small sum (usually 10%) back to release on completion date. Loan to value (LTV) rates are lower than a regular mortgage at around 75-80%, but there are some deals available covering up to 95% of the land and build costs, depending on your circumstances.

Arrears mortgages

Funds are released after completion of each stage. These are designed for people with access to more cash. These deals usually require a larger deposit over 15% and you’ll need to be able to fund the self-build in its initial stages.

With repayments, some providers offer interest payments only while your home is still under construction, switching to repayment afterwards. It’s worth shopping around to find a deal that suits your finances and personal needs – for example if you want to live in your current home during the build.


A note on green self-build mortgages

Green mortgages are a relatively new product to the self-build mortgage market, offering incentives if you install energy-saving measures such as air source heat pumps and solar panels, or if you achieve energy saving certification. One product from Ecology Building Society rewards borrowers with lower interest rates if the completed home meets their criteria for energy certification.

What incentives are there for self-build?

Help to Build loans

According to the Planning Portal, self-build homes make up 7-10% of new housing in England every year – that’s about 12,000 homes. Should we be more like our European neighbours, for example in Germany where self-builds make up over 50% of all new homes built.

The good news is that UK Government is making self-build more accessible by offering funded loan schemes in England, Scotland and Wales (although there is currently no equivalent in Northern Ireland).

In England for example, the Government has set aside £150 million for the Help to Build scheme – offering an equity loan based on the cost to buy land and build your home. You will need to take out a self-build mortgage from a lender that’s registered with Help to Buy and have at least 5% deposit. The mortgage will be interest-only until your build is complete, at which point the Help to Build loan is paid to your mortgage provider. This helps to reduce the cost of your repayments, and no interest is charged on the loan for the first five years.

Find out more:

Reclaim VAT on your self-build

VAT can be reclaimed on most materials and fittings for new-build homes. It’s likely that your main contractor already takes this into consideration, and they won’t include VAT for any aspects of your build that are eligible for zero-rate VAT (you’ll see that VAT still applies to some services like landscaping or professional fees). However, if you hire subcontractors who have added VAT to their bill or are in any doubt about what zero-rate VAT applies to, it’s worth finding out more about how to reclaim your VAT and what’s included, but bear in mind that you only have a three month window to apply.

Finding a plot for your self-build

Once you have a plan in place for your finances, it’s time to look for a plot of land to build on. But where to start, and what are the pros and cons of each type of plot? We spoke to our experts:

Speak to local estate agents

Mark says, ‘The obvious place to start your search for a plot is with your local Estate Agent and registering your interest with them is usually the best option. It also depends on how fixed your search area is. If you feel up for it, you could letter drop a few houses that could potentially split off a parcel of land. You never know you asking may just arrive at the right time.’

Find out what planning restrictions apply

‘It’s all about planning permission,’ advises Dan, ‘it’s not so much the land, it’s whether you can build on it or not.’ Beware that restrictions may apply to the type of land you’re building on, he goes on to explain: ‘One option is to buy a brownfield site where you should get planning permission but it could be expensive to clear up if the land’s been contaminated.’

You can go through estate agents or land agents to find brownfield sites, but it’s also worth signing up to your Local Authority’s Brownfield Register. Another Government initiative, the register connects landowners with developers and self-builders to encourage local regeneration with the re-purposing of brownfield sites for housing.

Building in Greenbelt areas

‘Then there’s greenbelt land,’ says Dan, ‘which is cheap, but there’s a lot of risk involved.’ Greenbelt land is designated areas of the countryside where development is restricted. It typically encircles urban areas and is designed to prevent urban sprawl. However, planning can still be achieved, if you are sensitive to the tighter greenbelt regulations which are in place. He continues, ‘It’s well worth speaking to a local architect to see what their advice would be about greenbelt regulations. It’s generally more expensive to build on as your build may need to be more energy efficient and lower carbon.’ Thermal efficiency is always worth bearing in mind regardless of where you build, to reduce energy consumption and your energy bills in the years ahead.

Class Q planning

If you’re looking for a barn conversion in a rural area, make sure you look into Class Q planning regulations. Class Q cuts the red tape needed to change the use of agricultural structures into dwellings, allowing self-builders to convert any agricultural building into a home. However, to qualify, you must use the existing structural frame of the building.

Dan recommends that where space is at a premium in urban or suburban settings, the best option can be to buy and knock down an existing property and start again. ‘This is the safest way to get planning permission, but you’re paying a premium for the house that’s already there.’

Barn conversion utilising existing agricultural structure
This rural house build in Glocestershire by FMB member Highgate Construction Limited shows how an existing agricultural building has been cleared for change of use by the local planning department.


Unlock the potential in urban infill sites

If you’re looking to self-build in an urban area, looking for small pockets of infill land could unlock potential spaces that require an innovative architectural solution. ‘The other option is to buy a house with a plot of land that you might be able to build on the side’ says Dan. ‘Then you can sell the original house.’ Although there’s risk that the original home might not sell right away, this can be a useful way to recoup the cost of your build.

For more information, check out our tips for finding the perfect plot of land to build on.

Find a Builder

Use our search to find vetted and inspected Master Builders who specialise in house building in your area.

Designing your self-build

On to the fun part – working with an architect to design your future home. You have free rein to create a living space that works for your lifestyle, and opportunity to future-proof your investment. For instance, if you’re moving in with young children you might want to think about how they’ll use the space as teenagers. Or, if you see yourself living there well into retirement, you may need to think about accessibility measures.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is a good place to start the search for an architect who’s on your wavelength. They have a ‘find an architect’ search tool you can use to narrow down the search and be matched with RIBA accredited Chartered Practices.

Contruction types explained


You’re in charge. You take sole responsibility for finding a plot, planning permission, appointing architects and builders.

You can do as little or as much of the work yourself as you want to. You might get your hands dirty with anything from preparing your building plot or fitting the finishing touches – it can be a good way to save money if you’re confident you have the skills.

Or you might take a hands-off approach and employ a project manager to co-ordinate everything for you. 

2021 MBAs - Yorkshire & Trent - J P McDonagh Construction Limited aerial drone self build.jpg
Self-build project in West Yorkshire by FMB member J P McDonagh Construction Limited.


Custom-build is a term coined by the Government to define projects where the owners work with a developer. This can cover a wide range of options – everything from purchasing a serviced plot from a developer that’s ready to build on, to choosing the layout and finishes that the developer delivers as a ‘turnkey’ property that’s ready to move into. However, it’s important to note that this does not include new-build houses where homeowners buy off-plan. Custom-build owners have significant input into the build.

That’s important because self-build and custom-build housing is eligible for exemptions from the Community Infrastructure Levy and the various ‘Help to Build’ schemes, depending on where you are in the UK. Off-plan house sales are not eligible.

The Government has also identified that self and custom-build housing can help to deliver regeneration across brownfield sites – so provides access to a list of available serviced brownfield plots for budding self and custom builders who add themselves to a Brownfields Register with a Local Authority (England-only).

Kit homes

Package homes, often called ‘kit homes’, typically rely on you finding your plot of land and doing the prep work to get it ready to build on. You essentially choose a house from a catalogue and the supplier delivers it in modular, prefabricated sections and constructs it on site. It’s not a ‘cookie-cutter home’ however, as the design can usually be tweaked to suit your preferences or planning permission requirements.

The level of finish depends on what’s available through the supplier, your budget and how much of the work you want to take on yourself. Some suppliers can offer a shell finish, giving you free rein with designing the interior layout. Others can provide a ‘turnkey’ solution, where everything down to the underfloor heating and plug sockets can be included.

They offer a fast build-time, but this saving is countered by factors including the prefabrication process and transportation (often from Germany or other European countries, where this method was pioneered).

iStock-1150256395 modular SIPs panel home prefabricated MMC.jpg
Your new home can be prefabricated offsite and constructed in a fraction of the time of a traditional self-build.

Managing your self-build

It can be tempting to save money on project management by doing it yourself. However, the scope of the role can be a full-time job, and if you have no experience of project management or construction work, it can leave you feeling out of your depth and cause confusion or delay on site, and that can leave you out of pocket.

Our expert Dan offers his thoughts: ‘Doing it yourself can be a nightmare. Building has changed massively in the past 10-15 years. Even builders can get caught out because there are so many new regulations.’

Mark agrees:  ’If your project is straightforward enough and you have engaged a good builder who can guide you through the process with the aid of regular meetings and discussions you can easily work together to complete your build. If your project is complicated in its design, I would always recommend retaining the architect in some form so that they are able to resolve important issues with their design quickly, as standing labour costs can be expensive if there is any downtime while problems are sorted.’

‘A good architect is probably the one you want to co-ordinate everything’ says Dan. ‘They’ll have an overview. On the other hand, a good builder can do it, but it’s not really their job unless everything is going through them such as the kitchen and windows. A lot of builders will push for the easier, practical way of doing things too. Whereas a good architect will have an overview of how it’s all going to look at the end.”

2021 MBAs - Midlands - Cornerhouse Building Contractors Ltd - traditional exterior self new build.JPG
The builders worked closely with the design team to deliver on the fine deatils of this traditional build in Northamptonshire, by FMB member Cornerhouse Building Contractors Ltd.


The takeout here is: ‘don’t expect good project management to come for free’. Make sure all parties are on board with who the project manager is and factor project management into your budget. ‘It’s not really up to the builder to site manage unless there’s a percentage on top’ advises Dan.

Find a builder

Find a Builder

Use our search to find vetted and inspected Master Builders who specialise in house building in your area.

Mark offers some advice: ‘Sourcing the right architect and builder for your project are probably the most important decisions you will make. Ask around for people’s recommendations, and when you do engage with them, ask for current references and ask to visit their previous projects.'

'My experience is there is no better advert for your business than a previous client with a new house they want to show off to the world. There is a saying in the industry that you are only as good as your last project, and this is very true.’

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