Words of Wisdom

DIY design

Although industry professionals such as Grand Designs' Kevin McCloud strongly recommend using architects to design your home, there is nothing to stop you doing it yourself - at least to a basic level which can then be interpreted by a surveyor or draughtsman to meet planning and building regulations.


Nothing more sophisticated than a piece of graph paper is required for a basic floorplan, though there are now many cheap software packages which provide more visual aids, including walk-throughs. CAD systems are more sophisticated and may require training.

Building tip

Make a friend of your building inspector. He, or she, is not only an invaluable source of technical expertise, but may be able to steer you in the direction of reliable and competent contractors or subcontractors. Don't ask outright: officially they are neutral. Simply suggest you are thinking of using so-and-so. The reaction you get may speak volumes.

Cash flow

Ready cash always gives you an edge. Maximise your buying power by selling your existing home before you start plot searching. Put the cash in an easy access account and use any interest to offset the cost of temporary accommodation, although with interest rates being what they are, this will be minimal. When you have your plot, move into a caravan or mobile home on site (there is a brisk market in second-hand models for this). Normally you will not need planning permission for this form of residence.


Preparation is the key to a successful self build. The more information you can gather in advance the less vulnerable you will be to awkward surprises. That includes the smallest details. There is, for example, a point in your build when your carpenter will want to fit door handles and locks. If you haven't chosen and ordered these in advance, you may be left with whatever is available at the nearest builder's merchant or DIY warehouse - which may not be your ideal choice. The same goes for kitchen units and any bedroom and bathroom fittings.

VAT facts

If you are renovating a property that has been empty for at least two years, VAT is payable at only 5% for the materials and labour you use. But if the property you are renovating has been empty for over 10 years, all the VAT paid on labour and materials can be reclaimed from HM Revenue and Customs.


VAT cannot be reclaimed on fees paid for professional services, e.g an architect, structural engineer or surveyor. But if you pay for design services as part of a package from a design and build company, the VAT you pay on the total bill can be reclaimed.