Case Study: The Williams Family

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John and Anne-Marie Williams
Detached Four Bedroom Home in Cheshire
Project Duration: Nine months

John and Anne-Marie Williams became accidental self-builders when their search for the perfect family home led them to a lovely property, which happened to have a large garden. John envisaged building a second home on the plot, and their self-build journey began.

Having originally intended to sell the new-build, as the house began to take shape the couple realised that this was, in fact, their ideal home.

“We bought a home with a very large front garden and invited five architects to come over and have a look with a view to designing our self-build”, explained John. “Two of them said it would never happen and one or two said it was a possibility. It wasn’t the most positive start, but after a couple of obscene quotes, we found a brilliant architect, Jonathan, who we hired to design the property.”

One of the most challenging aspects of self-build is sourcing and appointing the individual contractors to deliver the work, so hiring Jonathan turned out to be a real stroke of luck which would make the Williams’ self-build project considerably easier.

“Luckily, our architect also owned a building firm”, John told us. “He was able to do the construction work as well the design, and project managed the build as well which made communication more straightforward.”

The next step for John and Anne-Marie was designing the new-build. “We thought carefully about the design of the house, taking in every detail – not just how we wanted to use each space as a family, but what would add the most value in the long-term. For example, our loft was designed to provide headroom, and we now have a bedroom and ensuite in that space.”

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Along with the interior of the property, a great deal of thought went into the exterior, balancing the style John and Anne-Marie wanted with local planning considerations. It was important to make sure the planning officers – and neighbours – would view the Williams’ self-build as an attractive addition to the road.

“We worked closely with our architect to add character to the property”, explained John. “We knew it didn’t have to be devoid of character just because it’s a new-build.”

Their hard work paid off and 11 weeks after submitting their planning application, John and Anne-Marie received planning permission – with no objections.

After gaining planning permission without any hitches, the couple went ahead and in December 2015 started to dig the foundations, while pulling together finance for the project.

“I have a background in finance, so getting the mortgage wasn’t as daunting a process as it could be for another self-build novice”, John told us. “We secured a self-build mortgage, which was released in six separate installments to coincide with the build schedule.

“The key is to have a sensible plan – don’t rush the project along and always be realistic. Expect some decisions to take longer than others and make sure time is built into the programme for changes to be made.

“Communication is key – never make assumptions on anything; it could turn into an expensive oversight. For example, we had ordered bi-fold doors for the back of the house, which on the plans were white. We assumed that the colour would be grey, and that the drawings were purely illustrative. However, lo and behold, when they arrived, you’ve guessed it, they were white.

“While the doors still look great, they’re an expensive reminder of the importance of communicating effectively, and keeping an eye on detail. Question everything, no matter how trivial it seems. Similarly, make sure you always double check all measurements – even if they’re slightly off, it can cause a lot of issues and take up a lot of time that would be better spent elsewhere.”

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Spend time with anyone in the throes of a self-build project – particularly their first – and it’s likely they’ll bemoan the time spent on research. Whether researching planning consultants and architects, kitchen units or door handles, self-build is time intensive.

John agreed: “The most difficult aspect of building your own home is finding the time to research all the individual aspects of the build – it’s very time consuming, and very easy to end up with decision fatigue! The memory of choosing wooden flooring is particularly vivid – there’s so much choice and so much pressure to get it right that it can get a bit overwhelming.

“My advice is to devote the most focus to the big things like the kitchen and bathrooms – you only get one chance to get those right. Make sure you get feedback from friends too – when we designed our kitchen, we shared it with everyone to get their thoughts and ideas. Take all the advice you can get.”

In August 2016, John and Anne-Marie’s first self-build was complete. The couple sold the original property and moved into their new home.

John told us, “We’re fortunate that our first self-build project went without a hitch – so much can go wrong, particularly at the planning and build stages, but with the right advice and a focused plan, the result is well worth it. We now have a family home that is configured perfectly for our lifestyles, in the right location as well as being a sound financial investment. We would definitely be interested in pursuing a second self-build project – in fact, we’re always on the look-out for plots!”