Building your own house can often seem like a daunting process, however 2020 Architects have simple and practical advice to help get you started on your own self-build journey.


Find the right site

Be wary of sites with planning permission close to expiry as Planning departments in Northern Ireland can require at least 12 weeks to consider applications.  Agricultural land typically sells for a fraction of the price of land with planning permission, so be careful when considering particularly cheap land, as it may not have planning permission in place.  If you are searching for a suitable site, your architect will be best placed to advise you on the likelihood of achieving planning permission by looking at the land in relation to current local planning policies.

2020 Architects carry out free planning studies and have an unrivaled record of success in challenging areas due to their professional knowledge of Planning Policies and design initiatives, which are sensitive to the environment and locality.  

2020’s Site Picks of the Week

Building site at Loughan Rd, Coleraine
BT52 1UB
Offers around £90,000
Full planning permission

Building site at Moyarget Rd, Mosside
BT53 8UJ
Offers around £45,000
Full planning permission

Talk to an Architect early

Seek the expertise of an architect before you purchase your plot as they are trained to assess the land for suitability and uncover potential pitfalls.

When considering a site there are a number of issues which both your solicitor and architect can advise on.  This may take time, but can ensure that you do not buy a site with problems that may increase the cost of building on the site, or stop you from building altogether.  For example, the access to a seemingly attractive site may require the removal of hedges or fences that do not belong to the site, which can lead to so called ‘ransom strips’ where you have to pay extortionate prices, just to remove a hedge.

Another common issue is when an estate agent has been misinformed that a site has a live planning application on it, but the planning approval has possibly lapsed. This can lead to a piece of land being sold as a site, when in fact, there is no actual planning permission on it.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that planning permission can’t be achieved again, but the site should be priced accordingly.

All of these problems can be spotted early on by your architect, before you purchase the site, ensuring you do not incur unforeseen costs or worse still, end up with a site that you can’t build on!

Build the house you want

When you’re are on the lookout for a potential site for your self build, don’t feel that you are tied to the design that is already approved on the site.  A lot of people mistakenly think that once you buy the land, you must build the house that is currently approved on it, however, this is not necessarily the case.  A new design can be applied for and in most cases, is a relatively straight forward application, but there may be planning restrictions in place, so it is worth seeking an expert opinion.

Also, in some cases, foundations for the house may be poured to maintain the planning approval, which can seem like a saving when building the previously approved house.  However, it is worth bearing in mind that replacing the foundations with those of your dream house can work out just as cost effective as building off the existing foundations…and you end up with a home that you love!

If you are looking at a site and the house approved isn’t quite what you’re looking for, talk to your architect about the possibility of changing the design, before you make an offer.

Finding a site on a budget

Although finding a site with an existing planning approval is the most straight forward way of getting a site, it is not always the cheapest.  Here are a few tips for finding a site which is that little bit cheaper:

  • Family or friends – If you have family or friends with land, it can be worth approaching them to see if there’s a possibility of purchasing a site from them.  Farmers are able to get a site approved once every 10 years, so are a particularly good contact.  There are also other planning policies supporting planning in the country, so if you have the possibility of purchasing land, get your architect to carry out a planning feasibility on it, to see if there are any potential sites.
  • Replacement Dwellings – If there are any derelict houses in the area you want to build in, it is worth approaching the owner of the house to see if they would be willing to sell.  As long as there is proof it was once a dwelling and the walls are around 90% intact, there is a possibility that you could get a replacement dwelling on it.
  • Sites close to expiring – In some cases when a site has a planning approval that is close to expiring, the seller will accept a lower bid, so they don’t have to go to the expense of making a start on site, or re-applying for planning.

In all these cases we would advise that you seek the advice of your architect and also your solicitor before bidding on the site. It is also advisable to agree an ‘Option to Buy’ as opposed to purchasing the site, this way you agree a figure, but don’t actually buy the site until planning is achieved.

Cost of building

The price of the build can vary quite a bit depending on the style of house, construction method, specification and whether you decide to project manage the build yourself or get a contractor to do the whole thing.

Project managing your own build can be exciting and save you money, but it is also time consuming and can be very stressful.  The money saved by project managing the build yourself can sometimes be lost in longer build times, meaning longer periods of rent, site insurances, scaffolding etc.  Having said that, looking after the build yourself can give you a lot more control over the project, save you money and give you an enormous sense of achievement and pride!

Bringing a contractor on to look after the project for you will undoubtedly cost more, but will give you a greater chance of a stress-free build, that will be finished on schedule.  If the build time is a major priority for your project, then appointing a main contractor is highly recommended.

Talk to your architect about your ideas, budget and personal circumstances to help you decide on what option suits you best.
As a very rough guide, depending on the above factors, we would usually estimate a build cost of between £70-£120 per sq/ft.

If you have any questions about our Guide to starting a self build or would like us to look at a site for you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch here.