Custom build

— enabling self-build development

So what exactly is custom build and how does it differ from self-build? Custom build is all about enabling ‘self-build’ development. If you take a look at our European neighbours (and our Government did just that) it’s obvious that the European model of securing land and building a home is completely different, with enablement and community development taking centre stage — the result of which is that the percentage of people building their own homes abroad is considerably greater in comparison than it is here in the United Kingdom.

According to a Mori poll instigated by NaSBA (www.nasba.org.uk) recently, one in eight of us would build our own homes given half a chance. In an effort to create more of these opportunities, the Government consulted with the self-build sector and subsequently put in place several measures aimed at breaking down the barriers that exist for people wishing to build their own homes. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) now, for the first time, makes reference to self-build and this means that local authorities have to assess the numbers of people wishing to build their own homes and then accommodate those needs in their local plans.

Ways in which this can be delivered locally include:

• Encouraging larger scale community self-builds

• Using public land to facilitate self-builds

• Creating proportional self-build targets on new home developments

• Treating modest low cost self-builds as affordable housing

• Specifically encouraging small scale self-build development on infill sites or as small extensions on the edge of villages or towns.

Statistically self-builders don’t actually build their own homes; instead it’s an element of procurement, self-management and finishing off. When I chat to would-be self-builders around the country, the common hurdles are always ‘finding the land’ and ‘planning’. With that in mind the shift from self-build to custom build isn’t that big a jump. The emphasis on localism the NPPF, Community Right to Build, combined with a £30M rolling custom build fund has started to change the way people can go about the process of realising a self-build project; now it’s not so much finding the plot but engaging with a local authority or enabling developer.

Some local authorities have really got to grips with the concept and have realised that actually enabling self-build development, not just through provision of land but also by engaging with contractors to provide a mix of enabled solutions, actually makes efficient housing provision sense. Schemes provide individual detached homes as well as affordable ones, either as fully serviced plots, or wind and water tight homes that allow an element of self-completion. The purchases can be made outright utilising a mortgage or via an affordable shared ownership arrangement.

Community Right To Build can enable communities to respond to their own requirements for housing. The cost and lack of affordable housing in rural communities means that young families are often not able to remain in their local villages. Now they can take control of the process and work together as a Community Land Trust to build affordable housing solutions that the community seeks and these too can be fulfilled, utilising a custom build model where training and education in terms of the skills required to complete the unit are all part of the process.

It’s not just local authorities and communities that have got to grips with the concept either. Developers have seen the opportunities too. Using the Government’s £30M rolling custom build fund, a Developer can purchase a small development opportunity of say eight units, obtain planning for self-finish custom build units and then sell the individual plots to would be self-builders who, while not actually managing the process themselves, are able to influence design and layout choices. The developer builds the houses to a shell stage for the custom build customers without the requirement to fund an entire development speculatively. The advantages for the self-builder are quite clear too. There is no risk in terms of planning, no hidden service installation costs, no requirement for physically managing the build process and the costs are reduced. When you consider that most self-builders really only act as project managers, the saving in time and money through more effective management of the build by the enabling the developer probably shouldn’t be overlooked, and lenders should be far happier as custom build does ‘de-risk’ the self-build lending model.

These cost and efficiency savings run to the more mundane aspects of the project too. Building Control and Structural Warranty inspections are instigated by the enabling developing entity and as more units can be approved at submission stage and inspected in a single visit, this reduces the individual unit cost. Clearly flexibility has to be built into the delivery mechanism to enable the Building Control to be ‘handed over’ from the enabler to the custom builder at the wind and water tight shell stage. For this reason Site Insurance has to be carefully considered as well. Most Custom build developments also require an element of deposit to be made by the custom builder to the enabler and in an affordable scheme the monthly payments are often instigated as the site starts -so covering that loss of deposit risk is important and should be included in the structural warranty provision. Lenders need to know what’s going on at the handover stage too and this is where a bespoke custom build warranty solution can assist, with staged inspection for lenders forming a part of the warranty inspection process -further reducing the level of surveyors being required on site.

Custom build does bring a few challenges, but any element of enablement for self-build is a good thing. If you are looking to self-build, you really should make sure your local authority or community is fully aware of your desire to build your own home, because under the guidance set in the NPPF it will start to play an important part of their assessment and provision process

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