Build House Design
How a ‘littleBIG’ custom-build house in Cornwall will look. Photograph: AOC Architecture
A pioneering project in Cornwall is laying the foundations for a revolution in the way British homes are bought and built
Building your own home is a bit like making a cake – you either start from scratch or use a ready-made mix. “The customer gets to design the cake, but then gives it to a chef to cook it, ” says Chris Brown, executive chairman of custom build developer igloo Regeneration. This analogy neatly sums up the difference between self-build and “custom build”.
For the 53% of Brits who want to design their dream home (so says Ipsos Mori), but find the process of building it from the ground up too daunting, specialist developers offer serviced plots with a menu of different house designs from which to choose. This means buyers work with a designer on the look, size, layout and features of the house, but without the hassle of finding land, getting planning permission and hiring reputable architects and builders. Buyers can save on build costs and don’t pay stamp duty, except on land worth more than £150, 000.
Brown, who is overseeing the UK’s first big custom-build project in Cornwall, says people get what they want but “without the Grand Designs hassle”. The big housebuilders also offer different house types with room for customisation, but custom build takes this to a whole new level.
Nathan and Ellie Billings are among the pioneers, buying a bespoke house at igloo’s 54-home Heartlands site near Redruth. Two-, three- and four-bedroom mostly terraced houses will overlook a new park or village green in the shadow of a Cornish engine house.
Three of the first six plots have been sold, the rest are close to being sold, and another 20-25 plots are expected to go on the market in the summer. Base prices range from £195, 000-£245, 000, including the £50, 000 plot price. Buyers get to choose from six styles and layouts, and are free to add extra extensions plus kitchen and bathroom upgrades, or to install solar panels and electric car points.
Ellie and Nathan Billings expect to pay about £300, 000 in total for their 135 sq m house. Photograph: AOC Architecture
The Billings hope to move in with their two young daughters before Christmas. They reserved a plot and chose Geoff Shearcroft of AOC Architecture to design a four-bedroom, three-storey “littleBIG” house with a barrel roof and roof terrace.
The defining feature of their design is a double-height space that can be used as a generous central living area, front lobby or rear garden room. The couple have placed it in the middle of the house, from where it rises like a light chimney all the way through the roof. “If you stand in the kitchen you can look up and see the sky, ” says Nathan, 32, who works for a wind turbine manufacturer. “We wanted to do something more interesting than just go and buy a new house, and this is an area where we already live. We’ll get an architect’s bespoke home but for the price of a mass produced home on an estate.”
The couple are finalising the design and plan to get a self-build mortgage through specialist broker BuildStore. They expect to pay about £300, 000 in total for their 135 sq m house.
Nathan’s only complaint is that the process is taking too long because they are among the first wave of buyers. Carillion igloo, the developer behind the £35m Heartlands site, is aiming for six weeks to finalise the design of a house, followed by six weeks to get planning permission and less than six months of build time.
The houses are about 15% bigger than other new-build homes nearby, and the manufacturer provides a 10-year warranty, similar to conventional homes.
Housing experts believe custom build could help tackle Britain’s housing crisis, partly due to the speed of building these homes, which often use prefab elements. The government is targeting 20, 000 self- and custom-build homes by 2020, a steep rise from last year’s 12, 945.
Real estate consultant Mark Farmer says made-to-order houses “fit in with a bit of societal change” – people wanting more flexibility and choice but lacking the time to build houses from scratch.
Graven Hill, near Bicester in Oxfordshire, is set to be the largest UK site for people eager to build their own houses, with plans for up to 1, 900 self- or custom-built homes. The plots can accommodate anything from small bungalows to six-bedroom houses.
The Dutch city of Almere near Amsterdam has served as inspiration for Britain’s burgeoning custom-build industry. About 2, 500 homes have been built by individuals who buy a plot designated by the local authority for a standard price of €375 (£315) per m2 and design their house. The average three-bed semi (105 m2) costs about £100, 000 to build plus £50, 000 for the plot.
In the UK, the government in 2015 offered funding for 11 local councils to provide public land to people who wanted to build their own homes. Under 2016 legislation, all councils must have a register where people can express an interest. About 18, 000 people have done so, and councils now have to ensure on a rolling three-year basis that there is enough land with planning consent to meet demand.
Nathan Billings says his wife has a degree in 3D sustainable design, but he thinks anyone can take on a custom-build house. “It’s not really that complicated. You pick a plot, choose from a selection of home manufacturers and sit down with the architect. You are not starting from scratch – this is about refining a concept to fit what you want.”
In some custom-build projects the buyer can opt to do some of the construction themselves, but for most it’s about designing and creating their home and working with a builder. It also means custom-built homes have an individuality that is a far cry from the cookie-cutter estates built by the major developers.
This is how many homes are built across Europe, Japan and Australia, where self- and custom build account for at least half of all new housing. It is especially popular in Germany and Austria, which have rates of 57% and 70%. The UK is the odd one out with a rate of just 7%, with most homes being put up by volume housebuilders.