Survey reveals UK self-builders’ challenges and aspirations

Younger people in the UK are vastly under-represented in the self-build community, according to a recent survey which also looked at key motives for self-builders including creating better quality and more sustainable homes. 

The survey of 759 individuals undertaking homebuilding projects in the UK was undertaken by the National Self Build & Renovation Centre and the National Custom & Self Build Association (NaCSBA) in 2023. It provided key insights into the motivations and challenges being experienced by people building their own homes, commented the NaCSBA.

The survey found three main motivations for self-building, firstly ‘achieving higher quality than a standard new build,’ then ‘creating a more sustainable and environmentally friendly home,’ and ‘building a home to exact specifications.’ Well, over half of respondents said they were budgeting to include more insulation and renewables such as heat pumps.

The survey’s top three obstacles reported by respondents were regularly expressed issues for self-builds which have yet to be solved; ‘gaining planning permission,’ followed by ‘finding a suitable plot,’ and thirdly, ‘time constraints.’

The responses were compiled from visitors to the National Self Build and Renovation Centre in Swindon, and the NaCSBA’s web portal. Most respondents were in the older age bracket – 73.4% were 55 years or older, and 37.5% were aged between 55-64. Only 9.9% of the surveyed respondents were under 45 years of age.

The survey found that 38.8% were retired, whereas 39.3% worked full time, and 17.3% part-time, and the average joint household income was £67,391, with 22% of respondents earning over £100K per year.

According to the survey, self-build budgets have been slightly increased compared with the 2022 survey, with the “sweet spot” for build budgets between £350,000 and £500,000. Two-thirds of people were using savings to fund their project, although the most common source of funding was from a combination of personal savings and equity in existing properties.

Only 23.7% of respondents were borrowing their funds, with 18.6% of these borrowed a modest amount to finish their project, 17.2% used bridging finance to stay in their current home during construction, and 16.6% went for larger borrowings via a self-build mortgage.

The survey showed that 69% of people were building a ‘brand new home, with nearly half (47.9%) planning to build on an empty plot, and 21% looking to demolish an existing home, 31% doing a renovation. The findings “reflect the ongoing challenge of finding single self-build plots,” said NaCSBA.

The most popular way of running a project was ‘self-managed’, chosen by 40.1%, including hands-on building, and 26.1% preferred hiring a main contractor. Additionally, 19.9% were looking to ‘custom build;’ i.e. buying a prepared plot of land with existing services.

In terms of preferred construction methods, timber frame was the top choice with 24.3%, closely followed by prefabricated timber panels (Structural Insulated Panels) at 23%. Traditional masonry had risen slightly to 14%, and Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF) was chosen by 11.2% of respondents. Additionally, there was a strong interest in sustainable materials and achieving Passivhaus standards. Other options including oak, straw bale, and cob walls, collectively accounted for 10.2%. 

The survey showed that self-builders were broadly aware of the Right to Build legislation, (81% of respondents said they were aware, and 52.7% had joined a Right to Build register). However, challenges were experienced in joining them by 39.3%, with reasons given including insufficient information and not meeting local connection tests.

The research also delved into the impact of the cost of living crisis; a significant 55% said that energy price hikes, inflation, and increases in materials and labour costs, had affected their projects. However, only 1.5% decided to abandon their projects entirely, while 19.7% opted for a delay but remained committed to building. As a result, 18.5% had strategically incorporated additional energy-saving measures into their plans, and 23.9% were planning to take on more of the construction work themselves.

If you want to read more about the results of the survey, click here.