The price of property is falling - but so too is the cost of land. So, for those who like a challenge now is the time to consider a self-build home.
Confident and resourceful self-builders can achieve cost savings of up to 30 per cent, even if they employ an architect and project manager to see the job through.
With most developers, big and small, out of the race to find suitable building land, plots are easier to find, while building costs are lower than they were. Also, self-build homes are VAT-free.
“Plot availability is increasing steadily across the South-East, even in sought-after areas such as Buckinghamshire and Surrey,” says Vicky Wathen of www.plotfinder.net, a database of land and renovation opportunities.
“Previously, it was difficult to find land in such places but now many developers are actually selling land or splitting up larger sites and getting rid of individual plots, often to self-builders.”
'The best self-build opportunities are those difficult sites that most people wouldn’t touch with a barge pole'
In London, plot finding is never simple but finding an affordable site with development potential is likely to get easier next year, according to Jake Edgley, a self-build specialist who in recent years has successfully created homes on what at first seemed unpromising sites in Islington and King’s Cross.
“Good, uncomplicated sites will always be like gold-dust,” he says. “Small urban plots are the last part of the property market to fall in value because so many people love the idea of building their own house. A year ago people were paying ridiculous amounts for sites where it was almost impossible to build something and show a profit.
“In fact, the best self-build opportunities are the difficult sites that most people wouldn’t touch with a barge pole; where you can use your imagination to create a highly individual home out of virtually nothing, and make the project financially worthwhile.”
This was the case at Chapel Market, Islington, where Edgley snapped up two backyard workshops tucked away down an alley and hemmed in by a four-metre-high wall.
The experience inspired him to do a similar project in Cruikshank Street, King’s Cross, where he has created a splendid modern three-bedroom house on what might have appeared an impossibly narrow site, formerly a garage, 82ft long by only 13ft wide.
Carl Schmid of estate agent Fyfe McDade, a Shoreditch-based firm that specialises in lofts and industrial premises ripe for redevelopment, says: “It sold for £1.5 million, close to the asking price, but this was during the week Lehman Brothers went bust.
“The buyer was a Belgian who wanted to be close to the Eurostar terminal. The deal is a testament to the importance of good design. Had corners been cut, it would not have sold in current market conditions.”
Conrad Mazen of Highbury estate agent Chesterton offers a warning, though, about maintaining quality. “One-off homes can be awkward, both to create and to sell,” he says. “Well-conceived and well-executed homes in the right location can command a premium price that is way above the local market. But do the job poorly and you can be left with a home that nobody wants.”
How Jake got a quart into a pint-sized plot
Self-build specialist Jake Edgley spent 18 months negotiating rights of light and access with neighbours and local planners before getting permission for a pair of two-storey, two-bedroom houses around a light-filled courtyard, down a cramped alley off Chapel Market, Islington.
Each house is about 1,000sq ft, with 300sq ft of terracing, and has lots of glass and bespoke joinery. “The site presented huge challenges but in the end that’s what makes for an interesting building,” he says. “And planners tend to give you more leash to do something when they think you are being creative and original.”
By squeezing two houses on to the plot, Edgley, an architect, was able to make a decent profit. He sold one of the houses for £580,000 - more than the initial valuation put on it by estate agents - and continues to live in the other house with his wife Katherine and baby daughter Sadie.
Knock it down and build a bigger one
As well as transforming run-down commercial premises, ingenious self-builders can create exciting new homes on rooftops, in back gardens, even below ground. For others, buying a modest residential property in order to demolish it and build a spectacular replacement can be a productive way forward.
Alan Waxman spotted just such an opportunity on the corner of Ladbroke Grove and Elgin Crescent, W11, where a small house had been built on a Second World War bombsite at the end of an otherwise elegant and grand white-stucco terrace.
“I liked the site as it was a corner plot, wider than the houses next door, and with good light and the benefit of off-street parking,” he says.
The house was not up for sale but Waxman knew the owner socially and succeeded in buying the property. Despite being in a conservation area and attracting some local opposition, he won permission for a modern 3,400sq ft house, with four bedrooms, a gym, steam room and garage.
His intention was to live there, but that plan has changed and he is now selling the existing house with the planning consent for £1.7 million. Call 020 7731 6147.
Fully-serviced self-build plots are for sale at Newhall in Essex, where a 2,800-home community is being built on former farmland. This new settlement in the making has scooped several design awards and its self-build homes are seen as a welcome addition to the architectural mix.
Plots with outline planning permission cost £150,000. Construction costs will vary according to the final design of the house. Call 01279 416660. Potton, a leading supplier of timber-frame factory-manufactured homes, has introduced a range of “bespoke, eco-friendly designs” - for barns, bungalows, cottages and mansions.
Self-builders can work with a Potton expert to tailor a design. The company also runs free workshops and seminars for novice self-builders. Visit www.potton.co.uk.
* Useful information is also available at regional exhibitions organised by Homebuilding and Renovating magazine. Visit www.homebuildingshow.co.uk.
* Essential Information Group provides venue details and dates. Visit www.eigroup.co.uk.
* PlotSearch, run by Build It magazine, has a database of more 6,000 plots and costs £49 a year to subscribe. Call 0870 8709994.
* Property auctions are also worth following if you are searching for a plot.