Essential Build Planning

Ted Stevens discusses if you fail to prepare... then you should prepare to fail

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Almost every day I get someone enthusiastic about building their own home on the phone asking for some tips, and nine out of ten of them terrify me.

This will be the biggest investment they make in their lives – not just in financial terms, but emotionally (and in many cases physically) too. And yet a huge proportion of them are planning to take the plunge without doing anywhere near enough homework or research.

Most people wouldn't pitch up at Heathrow and jump on the first flight they see for their annual two week holiday – they'd normally spend ages beforehand researching the various places they could go to, checking out the best prices, talking to pals who have been there before and comparing reviews on Trip Advisor to ensure they have a great time.

When it comes to building a home for themselves many people seem to loose their senses, jump in quickly and make rash decisions that end up costing them dearly.

For example there are still gullible would-be self builders who buy plots of agricultural land in the middle of the countryside in the hope they'll be able to simply get planning permission to build a house on them. They don't seem to have heard of the Green Belt; or planning designations like 'Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty'...and it then comes as a big shock to them when they discover they have a snowball's chance in hell of ever getting permission.

Similarly there are far too many would-be self builders out there who haven't a clue what it actually costs to build a home (Its really straight forward to get a fair idea of construction costs – there's plenty of information available online and in most self build magazines).

But they don't bother with this - instead they rush ahead with getting a design drawn up – only to discover later on that it will cost double what they can afford.

If you want to be an architect it takes seven years to train as one. A good planning consultant, or a quantity surveyor will have to study for many years too. Lawyers typically take five years to graduate. If you are planning to build a house for yourself you need a smattering of all these skills, and if you don't build up your knowledge base you are cruising for a bruising.

In my view it takes at least two to three years to get yourself up to speed to be able to do a self build. You need to go to all the exhibitions, read all the magazines, and regularly surf all the bonafide websites. You also need to visit lots of self builders – those that are mid-way through their projects and those that have recently completed them. They will be able to tell you what they got right and what they messed up (so you can avoid the same mistakes). They'll be able to recommend good builders and architects. So – if you want to get your project right prepare properly. And if you fail to prepare...then you should prepare to fail.

Ted Stevens, OBE is the former chair of the National Self Build Association.

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