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Custom build houses

Why do more people build their own homes in the USA than in the UK?

Fewer than one in ten homes in the UK are self-builds, compared with around 40 to 50 per cent in the US, according to a House of Commons briefing paper in 2017. The US isn’t even winning – in Austria the figure is around 80 per cent. So why the difference?

Tom Connor, head of operations at Buildstore Custom Build, which supports and helps self-builders and custom house builders in the UK, says in his experience it’s a function of the American ethos, in which the consumer is a powerful force.

“The USA has a culture which promotes the right to choose,” Connor explained. “They are used to having their requirements met – for their homes, their cars, even their meals. US developers pride themselves on being flexible and able to meet homeowners’ requirements.”

He also says there is an understanding that a house isn’t just a roof over one’s head, but somewhere very personal. “The overwhelming feeling you get, is that the homeowners, developers and contractors who build the house all see homes as an emotional project,” Connor added.

And he says that the UK can learn from this approach. “Developers can help by becoming more customer-centred and regenerating faith in new builds through custom-builds – making choice the overriding factor in developing new communities,” Connor said.

“The majority of customers do not want to self-build, but to buy a new home built by a developer working with good contractors that meets their requirements.”

American Michelle Nelson, host of the Build Your House Yourself University podcast, points out that the US has the advantage of size.

“We have plenty of land in the United States,” Nelson said in an interview with Ben Adam-Smith, who runs the www.houseplanninghelp.com website for UK self-builders. “Our supplies and materials are plentiful, and we also have a diversity of suppliers because a lot of companies advertise here.

“People in the United States are also quite open and when someone has had a custom house built they’re proud of it, so they’re very open about sharing their ideas, either in person or over the internet.”

She said that the US self-build market did, however, share many of the issues found in the UK, including lack of information for first-timers, focus on developer profits, and exclusion of people who are less well-off.

“Sub-contractors like plumbers and electricians are less likely to prioritise owner-builders as opposed to general contractors, so they can sometimes put your project on the backburner while they service the builders, and it can be difficult to schedule them,” Nelson added.

“Owner-builders can also have difficulty getting financing through the bank. But if you want to act as your general contractor, a lot of times banks will allow that if you have someone with building experience on the project, not necessarily acting as the general contractor or builder, but maybe as a site or project manager.”

South east London architects Bluelime Home Design has 13 years’ experience of designing new homes and home extensions across DartfordBromleyErithBexley and Croydon – and further afield too. Call 01322 517632 for an informal chat or to arrange a free architect consultation.

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