Common self-build mistakes and how to avoid them

There’s a steep learning curve when you’re building or carrying out a large renovation project. Homebuilding & Renovating Show specialists who have lived through it describe the most common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Tom McSherry, national relationship manager at Buildstore, says:

With any homebuilding project there’s never a day without bills – and if the right funds aren’t available at the right stage of the build, delays are inevitable (and often expensive). It’s important to clearly understand your budget and borrowing options early on, and always consult an expert mortgage adviser to avoid cashflow problems during your project.

We recommend discussing your plans as soon as possible, because by choosing certain design elements before agreeing your finances you may be limiting your choice of lenders and products. So, before you get carried away with the design, build type and materials for your new home, find out if your plans are affordable and mortgageable. You’ll also need to allow around 8 to 12 weeks to arrange a self-build mortgage, and factor this into your building timescales.

With so many factors that can affect your borrowing options, it makes sense to consult an expert with in-depth knowledge of self-build mortgages and construction. By consulting a specialist mortgage adviser like BuildStore, you’ll have access to a wide range of lenders and products and they can confidently recommend the mortgage best suited to your individual circumstances and project requirements. If you approach a lender directly, it will only offer a very limited product range which may not be best suited to your project.

You’re building a bespoke home and just as no two projects are the same – there’s no one-size-fits-all funding solution. Every project is completely unique and requires made-to-measure finance. Our advice is to keep your options open and deal with an expert who can match you with the best funding option for your project, so you have the necessary funds available at each stage, and there are no nasty surprises.

Sally Tagg, managing director of Foxley Tagg Planning Limited, says:

The planning application process is not always straightforward and applicants tend to make mistakes early on because they have failed to deal with the basic issues and not sought out independent planning advice. It can be tempting to jump ahead and start thinking about proposed detailed designs, and even fixtures and fittings, before seriously assessing whether achieving planning permission on a site is actually a possibility. For an application to run smoothly it is crucial to undertake the appropriate and requisite groundwork such as assessing the access, investigating the Planning Policy constraints and the physical ones as well, and looking into any technical considerations, including ecology on site, tree preservation orders or flood risk etc.

A Pre-Application enquiry is often an effective way of teasing out many of these issues and saving self-builders or renovators time, effort, energy and heartache by approaching the projects in a more methodical manner.

David Hilton, director at Heat & Energy Ltd, says:

It’s all about the preparation. Getting the specifications right between the homeowners and the tradespeople is absolutely crucial to avoid costly mistakes later on. Make sure that the project manager fully understands your expectations and delivers on them. If the clients don’t know or don’t clarify exactly what they want, they become part of the problem, as they might change their mind halfway through the project. If your builder starts the work and then you realise that something is different than expected while being on site, more time is usually required to readjust the plan and source new materials, and the delays can cost you both time and money. To avoid making assumptions, one needs to discuss the needs and requirements that a product, an installation or a facility is likely to address.

I recommend going over the specifics and defining in great detail the expectations. For a smooth communications process, it’s best to meet in person or discuss on the phone rather than via email, but make sure that you do write down what the final agreement is to avoid any confusion later on. Changing your mind halfway through often happens when people liaise directly with a sales team to buy products or services that they’re not sure they might need. That’s why the process should start with establishing the expectations, reviewing the options which cater for those needs and then obtaining quotes from relevant companies.

Jo Dyson, experienced renovator and partner at Mae House Design, says:

You’ll learn something new on every renovation job you take on. I recommend that people go slow to go fast and really invest enough time and thought in the design before any work is done on-site. I would also encourage spending time thinking about all aspects of the work. Think about how you currently live, but also consider how you want to live in the future. It’s also important to assess how you make use of all the spaces within your home and the best way to do this is by spending time living in a property before working on it, so you can gain a true sense of how it feels. Look at the finer details of your space; like noticing where the sun rises and sets, what rooms do you enjoy currently spending time in. In my latest project, the bathroom was the sunniest room in the property, so I turned this into my bedroom.

It’s also helpful to delve into the specifics. When I meet clients, the majority of the time is spent asking questions so I can really understand their needs, likes and dislikes, and take a detailed design brief; I really try to get down to detail. For example, if you’re planning to build a loft conversion, you need to specify every room from detail to detail, where the stairs will be located, the electric and lighting plan, the positioning of the furniture, details like the colour scheme is the icing on the cake.

We’d also recommend creating a schedule of works, so you can factor in lead times for sanitary ware or kitchen units to be delivered for installation.

One of the biggest mistakes is making large-scale changes once the renovation is underway. Taking time to plan detailed design is crucial, as you will use the detailed plans to tender for contractors to obtain accurate quotes. In a nutshell, spend a long time on your design. You don’t want to be stuck with something that’s not suitable to live in after significant time and money has been invested, and you want to create a home that fulfils your needs and makes you happier to live in.

Andy Stevens, managing director of Eclipse Property Solutions, says:

If you plan to do any building work then check that every single material you might need is in stock. I was surprised to discover that there’s now a six-month wait on some bricks, which might be part of Brexit’s early impact on the industry. There’s also a shortage of blocks and roof tiles in some areas. So, for everything to run smoothly, make sure that you can find the required stock in advance and get your supplier to reserve it for you. Delays at this end will add more time to your completion date and might cost you more money. If you have tradespeople lined up, they’re committed to work for you and will charge for any time wasted if supplies are delayed. If you want to check the status of the building materials, I recommend phoning your local supplier and telling them what you need by what date and they can put everything aside for you. In many situations, the online stock isn’t updated enough and you risk someone going in store and buying everything that you require, which will result in significant time wasted.

Another costly mistake is to not be aware of the materials’ year on year price rises. Most of the suppliers won’t inform you of this, so if you’re working on something like a loft conversion it’s worth making sure that you won’t be affected negatively by a price fluctuation. There is a lot a wood and insulation involved in this type of project and you might realise that some of the materials have gone up by as much as 15-18 per cent, which might cost you thousands of pounds down the line. I’ve found myself in a very similar situation when I priced for a job in August to be carried out in February and the figures were very different. So if you are starting the job in the New Year get the price confirmed before you budget for it.

For a chance to learn more about the specialist subjects you’re interested in, run your plans past these experts or ask them for guidance at the National Homebuilding & Renovating Show taking place from 28-31 March at NEC, Birmingham. This year’s event will also welcome the new Landhub show feature, in association with Plotfinder, providing everything you need to know about finding a building plot in interactive bitesize sessions.