Our housing options have been severely restricted by a small number of housebuilders, producing a limited number of styles and layouts, often built to the minimum standards required to meet building regulations. It's time for would-be homeowners to take matters into their own hands, says Harvey Fremlin of The National Self Build & Renovation Centre.
Our housing market is broken. It is a familiar mantra, but it really is true.
For decades, our housing options have been severely restricted by a small number of housebuilders, producing a limited number of styles and layouts, often built to the minimum standards required to meet building regulations.
Let us look at 2018 (so we can remove anomalies caused by Brexit and Covid-19).
The UK built approximately 160,000 new homes that year.
The Big Four (I’m sure you can name them) built 60,000 of these alone, with the top ten house-builders accounting for more than half the homes built in ‘18.
Barratt Homes took the top spot, building over 17,500 homes, and recording a subsequent profit of – and wait for it - £908.9 million.
A staggering financial performance – but at what cost? Are homebuyers getting the best quality and best value home for their money?
Last month, The National Self Build & Renovation Centre asked visitors their views.
Ninety-three percent of the 681 people who responded said that if they could not build their own home they would rather stay put in their existing home or seek to improve an older property, rather than purchase a new build.
Ninety-five percent said their main motivation for wanting to self-build was to attain a higher quality home than they could get in a standard new build.
The concept of self-building is not new in the UK, and around 12-13,000 people do just that each year.
Nevertheless, this accounts for around just eight percent of all homes built – far lower than many developed economies.
The advantages to designing and building (or commissioning) your own home are many: the layout is bespoke, the design and build quality is high, and these days – with an ever-increasing awareness of the climate and rising fuel costs – the energy-efficiency of a self-build is often outstanding; far exceeding building regulations.
So why are more people not benefitting from this option? The two big barriers have always been supply of land and affordability.
The government recognised this and in 2016 The Right to Build went live, when the Housing & Planning Act came into effect.
This means that, if you live in England, your local authority is now required to maintain a register of people and groups who want to self or custom build locally.
The idea is to build a picture of the true demand for (much sought after) plots.
Yet more exciting news has been announced this year. Following the success of Help to Buy, in April 2021 the government announced a £150 million Help to Build initiative, designed specifically for people who want to build their own home.
The hope is the Help to Build scheme will make it easier and more affordable.
Similar to Help to Buy, individuals can access an equity loan – based on the completed home value - with only a relatively low deposit required.
Unlike Help to Buy, which boosts existing housebuilders' volume and price (but seemingly not quality), Help to Build provides a real prospect of boosting consumer choice over both the design of the resulting home and who gets the financial benefit from building it.
This scheme could potentially make self-building a realistic option to get onto the housing ladder and for people who may perceive that you require a ‘Grand Designs’ budget to undertake such a project.
It is hoped self-commissioned housing could deliver 30-40,000 new homes a year - benefiting small building firms working on the construction of these types of homes.
It would inevitably lead to better performing homes – vital if we are to reach our ambitious targets on net-zero carbon in the not too distant future.
Perhaps most importantly, it could provide much-needed choice and improve the overall supply of housing in the UK, making a decent home a viable option for everyone.
Harvey Fremlin is managing director of the National Self Build & Renovation Centre in Swindon. The National Self Build & Renovation Show on Friday 23 and Saturday 24 July offers seminars, live demonstrations, guided educational tours and over 250 exhibitors. Tickets can be booked free at www.nsbrc.co.uk