A popular question from prospective self builders concerns the length of time that it really takes to build your house or, as most will do, have it built for them. Having just read an article, or perhaps even visited one of the many exhibitions on house building, it would seem reasonable to think that a decision to go ahead this year could easily mean a completion by the end of the next. However, in my experience you should be thinking in terms of two and half years from start to finish. So, let me explain why as, in its simplest form, it is a five stage programme.

A Gantt chart showing the generic timeline of a house build

The above ‘Gantt’ chart represents a 30 month project programme using very broad assumptions to divide the time into five distinct stages. Of course, many folks may be able to consolidate their programmes by the efficient use of their time and overlapping certain key stages, and others may be lucky in being able to skip certain stages altogether where budget, for example, is not an issue or land and planning has already been secured. But for most of us, this linear approach helps to define the high level component parts of each phase.

This brings us then to the issue of elasticity where, due to circumstances beyond your own control, various elements may take considerably longer to complete; the land conveyance being one, with possible issues surrounding covenants and access, and the planning process, as another, where there may be a need to overcome problems concerning your neighbours, concerns from the Parish or physical archaeological issues concerning our heritage. By definition, therefore, programmes may have to contain elastic properties to accommodate the unforeseen.

Stage 1 – Budget & Finance

In the last article about budgeting we looked at how to develop your budget and, crucially, how to allocate the right proportion of this to your land purchase. Having done this, it would also be sensible to identify the brokers/lenders you intend to use so that you are conversant with how they like to operate, how much they might be willing to advance toward your plot purchase, what information they will need to process an application and their generic timetable to complete the process.

Stage 2 – Land Acquisition

Buying land is like any other property transaction except that building plots generally come with extant planning consents rather than physical houses. And because building plots have in the past had former uses, for example, amenity space, someone else’s garden, agricultural land, or a brownfield site, they may need a new registered title as a sub-division from something larger. This requires extra diligence in the property search to ensure there are no latent covenants which may restrict your ultimate enjoyment of the site, to ensure you have an unencumbered access and to ensure there are no nasty conditions in the planning consent which may affect the way you have to develop the site.

So the conveyance, itself, may have some elastic programme elements to it but the real test of your patience and determination will be the identification of the right plot in the first place. There are several good books on looking for land and buying sites and the magazine has its own expert advice provided by Mike Dade. Suffice to say that there is a plethora of ways to improve your chances for finding a plot in just the right area for you.

Stage 3 – Design & Planning

For the majority of the projects I have come across, planning is an essential ingredient. You may be lucky in finding a site with consent for a design which you are happy to build but, generally, even when plots are sold with detailed planning permission, the new owner will want to modify the layout to suit their own, more personal, requirements. This is after all why many of us choose to build in the first place.

A detailed planning application, or the submission of reserved matters, should take no longer than 6-8 weeks. But, if there is insufficient information included in your application to foster a decision, or the planning officer is airing on the negative side, you may have to be referred to committee, or your application may be put on hold pending the provision of more details etc. Pre-application consultations are, therefore, really helpful in determining issues as they give you an opportunity to prepare your response such that your submission is couched in the most favourable way possible. However, sometimes too much compromise takes all of the excitement out of a project and it may be necessary to challenge the guidance being offered and, whilst this might be the right thing to do in the long run, it can play havoc with your programme.

Stage 4 – Specifications & Cost

This is the stage that many folks least prepare for and seemingly least enjoy. And yet that extra diligence prior to the commencement of the construction phase is what will make the difference between a well-controlled budget and programme and one that may flounder or splutter along.

This is the time to make all of your specification choices on how the house is to be built, what it’s going to look like, how it will eventually perform and to satisfy yourself through effective pricing that all of your choices will be affordable. Whilst the desire to start building may be overwhelming, taking the extra time necessary to get everything costed will help to mitigate any risks and provide all of your wider stakeholders with the reassurance that the project will proceed as planned.

The elasticity here comes from your own efforts and decision making and ultimately the availability of the contractors you wish to appoint. Sometimes it’s worth waiting for key contractors to finish another project in order to work on yours.

Stage 5 – The Construction Phase.

This has been shown as a healthy ten months but, your eventual programme, will be influenced by the way you choose to manage the project and whether or not your own involvement needs to be factored into the sequencing. Professional housebuilder’s will easily manage a standard house type on a large development in 25-30 weeks where the procurement is well understood and all products available on a just in time basis. Your individual projects will probably involve key lead times for certain specialist products like windows and doors, possibly your bricks and tiles, and, where systems are being used, off-site fabrication. Commodity building materials are usually all available within a few days.

If you are planning to manage the project yourself then the availability of certain sub-contractors many affect your programme and you may lose some of the efficiencies which are more routine with a small building firm who employ most of their trades all year round. This isn’t a problem but you should build in a little flexibility into your programmes to accommodate this.

In summary, the building industry likes to use the time/cost/quality dilemma to help focus a client when pushing for programmes to be shortened; You can reduce the time on site and maintain your quality but your costs will go up, or you can manage your costs and maintain your quality but the time taken will be longer. As regards the third option, I won’t even go there!

This article was written by Tim Doherty, and originally published for Build It Magazine. Tim is the Director and Principal Surveyor of Dobanti Chartered Surveyors, a building surveyors based in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Get in touch for more information about Dobanti’s property and building services, or read more online now. Further articles and blog posts can be found here.