It’s best to think of self-build, custom build and regular new build as being on a spectrum. Broadly speaking at one end you have people building their own homes from scratch and on the other a house-builder building a home speculatively and you have everything else in between.
The self-builder doing it themselves takes on the most amount of risk and has the most choice (and, arguably, the greatest reward), while the person moving into the off-the-shelf new build house has the least risk, the least choice (and arguably the least reward).
Custom build and self build are both ways of commissioning a home that suits your needs, but there is not one typical example that all custom builds stick to. Instead, there is a range of routes and models, but most are on a multi-plot site where your neighbours will be like-minded people who have also commissioned their home. There are numerous routes but it can be quicker and simpler, as the process of finding land, securing planning permission and installing services have all been taken care of, so you are getting involved further along the journey from land to home.
Custom Build sits somewhere in the middle between a one off self build and a regular new build home. It falls into three main types; serviced plots, shell homes or customisable turnkey. In each route, a developer or enabler will be involved to a lesser or greater degree.
For a serviced plot, a custom build enabler has put in the work to ensure the land is buildable, plots are drawn up, planning permission (at least in principle) is established and the services are taken care of – right to the plot boundary. This usually means that infrastructure, such as roads and boundaries, also come as part of the site.
Where it gets a little complex and potentially confusing, is that the models overlap. For example, once you buy a serviced plot from a custom build enabler, you are actually self-building your own home from that moment.
Similarly, if you buy a shell, you will be responsible for the fit-out yourself.
Custom build often means that you’ll be living on a street or development with other houses, so if you want an isolated country house this is not the route for you. The advantage of building on a multi-plot site is that you move in with like-minded people who’ve been on a similar journey to you.
Unboxed Home’s guide to self build vs custom build
Custom Build generally falls into one of three models, all of which start with the plot:
1. The serviced plot
This plot will have planning permission and infrastructure already in place. Planning may be outline with a design code or what is known as a ‘plot passport’ which enables you to get detailed planning permission more quickly than usual. It may also have a detailed planning permission in place. (see Plot Passports and Design Code FAQs).
2. The shell
This is a wind and water tight home with no internal fixtures or fittings. You will need to arrange for all the trades yourself to complete. Sometimes this is also called ‘self-finish’ which may mean more of the internal works have already been done.
3. The customisable Turnkey
The final route is for the custom build developer to build the entire home for you to your design and specification. Normally these will be taken from a menu or catalogue of choices, but sometimes it can be bespoke. You spec up the home with the designer/builder and they build your vision – simply turn the key and move in!
Different enablers have different models, so just don’t expect to find one universal route to a custom build home.
Most housing sites will have a Design Code, which sets out a site-wide vision for the site, often with details about plot boundary treatments, planting plans and so on. A Plot Passport does a similar job, but on a house-level. This sets out what’s allowable on that plot, such as material choices for exteriors, size, positioning, building lines and services and so on.
The key things to understand from your custom build developer are:
Your best bet is to keep looking on Rightmove and Zoopla for sites and plots along with websites like plotbrowser and plotfinder.
Sign up to NaCSBA newsletters and newsletters – you can do this in the My Profile section of NaCSBA’s website. Choose to hear from third party to receive emails from our gold partners – who send out a limited number of emails about products, shows and – importantly – news of sites coming to market.
Follow the social media of the Custom Build developers and other NaCSBA members, who may share news of sites, especially package manufacturers. These are companies that usually supply single homes, but more companies are experimenting with custom build sites, where they bring on a few homes, such as Potton and Border Oak. Find these companies on NaCSBA’s member directory.
Beware of scams offering agricultural land that will soon be allocated for housing, there really is no such thing as a good deal like this with land.
Yes, although the reality is that most affordable homes to date are linked to community-led housing initiatives, such as cohousing and Community Land Trust models. As custom building evolves, we hope to see more affordable homes come forward.
See the question above about What models are there?
This simply refers to a home where the entire thing is commissioned and finished for you. Quite simply you turn the key and move in once built.
It’s hard to quantify precisely because each model and site is very different.
Generally, a self-build takes between 3-5 years (depending on if your site has planning). Building on a serviced plot tends to be much quicker, and should take 12-18 months depending on whether you need detailed planning or whether it’s already in place.
A shell should take about 3-6 months.
Government Guidance regarding what counts as a Custom Build Home is very clear.
The Legal Definition states.
‘’In considering whether a home is a self-build or custom build home, relevant authorities must be satisfied that the initial owner of the home will have primary input into its final design and layout.
“Off-plan housing, homes purchased at the plan stage prior to construction and without input into the design and layout from the buyer, are not considered to meet the definition of self-build and custom housing’’
Models vary by company as to how much choice you have, however, the purchaser of the home should be firmly in the driving seat of the design, shape and floorplan of their new home, not just the internal layout. The best thing to do is to check with your chosen provider once you’ve found a site that you like.
Custom building offers far more than simple choices of fixtures and fittings, which is what many speculative builders offer.
All of our custom build members offer substantial choice to their customers.
Visit the Self Build Portal and find and sign your local self build register. Then research as much as possible – visit the NSBRC, the magazines websites (Build It, Homebuilding and Renovating, Selfbuild and Design and Grand Designs), and search for companies and sites in the area you are hoping to live in.
Many package / custom build companies operate nationwide, and some operate their own FREE in-house Training Master Classes, so don’t limit yourself in your search. Visit our EVENTS page for details of upcoming shows and training.
Find NaCSBA members on the directory on the Self Build Portal.
Check with your mortgage provider, as typically the funding from your current home sale will finance part of the new build, but mortgage companies know that you need somewhere to live during the build, so your home can be sold later on.
To access some of the benefits of self building, such as VAT and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) exemptions, the new build must, ultimately, be your sole residence. Equally, you must occupy it for three years from completion, or some of these exemptions will become due if you move before this point.
Many companies provide clear guidance on preparation and how to get started. NaCSBA is a great starting point as a source of information.
One of the fantastic things about self/custom-building is that you’ll end up with a property that’s unique to you. This is your chance to specify exactly what you’re looking for in a home, from major areas such as looks, layout and running costs to the little details, such as quality of finishes.
Before deciding which route to follow to build your home, you’ll need a clear understanding of the time and commitment you can devote to your project. If you are time precious, then hiring a project manager or even a turnkey builder might be the way to go. If you dream of being hands-on throughout the process, then it’s entirely possible to self-manage your own build. You’ll need to be honest with yourself about the time and energy you have available though, to avoid conflicts, delays and extra expense.
Choosing the right system for your new home will involve carefully researching the options available. Remember that looks shouldn’t be the be all and end all here: you will be able to finish the house in the style you like later. The most important factors at this stage are cost, efficiency, and the build itself.
Many companies have guidance or advice on their websites, see our custom build members, below.
There are dedicated custom build mortgages, but self build mortgages will also work on many multi-plot sites, as long as you are building a house for yourself. Get professional advice, as there are different models, such as stage release payments.
But the products are typically in place for the duration of the build – often at a slightly higher rate – and then you transfer to a standard mortgage product on completion of the build.
Each model will have its own payment terms.
Yes, although as yet in the UK there are not many companies offering apartments. But the model does work in Europe, and NaCSBA hopes to see more shell apartment schemes coming forwards in the future. Unboxed have completed a shell apartment scheme in London and Goldcrest are also building one.
Whether you are a member of wanting to commision a custom build home or working on something much larger, our Custom Build Members have tried and tested experience of multi-plots sites.
Find them in the Member’s Directory