The Self-Builder Diaries Chapter One: The Start

Kerry and Frank

Here we go again…  Every time we finish a build we swear never to do it again, but after a few years we get the itch and start looking around for a plot.

Apart from the usual hazards of self-building, we always seem to trigger a crisis of some kind – usually financial or climatic.

The first one was in 1976 when we had the oil crisis and the hottest summer on record.  Then in the second one in 1994 the world was emerging from recession, but we had our own financial crisis when our main funding source ditched us.  Third, in 2008, the day after we signed the contract to buy the land we read about the “sub-prime” mortgages in the US, and we watched the world economy take a dive.  Then in 2010, with construction at a critical stage, we were on holiday when an Icelandic volcano erupted, and all flights were cancelled and we missed a crucial sage of the build.

Self Build Diaries first home build

In 2015 we got really ambitious and went to build a house in Spain for our retirement.  Guess what – Brexit.  Suddenly the Pound-Euro exchange dropped 20% with our house half built and a contract with the builder, and our dreams of a quiet retirement to the sun were dashed.

Finding the Plot

By 2018 our two boys had become men, big family gatherings were few and a 300 square metre house with half an acre of garden was too much to maintain.  We started looking again.  We made an honest attempt to find a ready-built house, but nothing came close to what we wanted, so it was back to plot-hunting.

After being outbid several times, we realised that to secure a plot you had to offer well above the asking price.  We had settled on a plot in Malvern but before we could get to contract the owners changed their minds and wouldn’t sell it.

Next on our list was a tiny plot with no Planning Permission in a quaintly-named village in Worcestershire.  So we found ourselves sitting on a discarded red leather sofa beside the River Avon in a former pub garden in Wyre Piddle, eating our sandwiches in the sunshine on our 29th wedding anniversary.  We decided immediately this was where we wanted to settle.

Red Sofa Kerry and Frank sat on while thinking about a plot

Next day we got on to the Council and requested Pre-Application advice.  The response was favourable so we made an offer to buy.  No asking price was given so we guessed what its market value would be and subtracted the (grossly underestimated as it turned out) cost of obtaining the Planning Permission.

The result was probably more than the sellers expected because, although they really wanted to sell the pub at the same time, they accepted our offer and, after some fussing with surveys, we signed contracts around the end of the year.

Getting Moving

This one was going to be different.  We started in relatively stable times in spite of the pandemic and we expected the process to go smoothly.  The village is almost entirely in a Conservation Area and, although most of the neighbours in the village supported the removal of an unsightly rubbish dump in the centre, there was a vociferous group who opposed the Planning Consent vigorously, forcing us to spend far more time and money than we expected, including going before the Planning Committee twice.


Then somebody started a war.  And we got a 30-day prime minister.  Prices rocketed, inflation took off and the house market slumped so we couldn’t sell the previous house.  So business as usual for us.

Fortunately we were able to get a Self-Build mortgage from the Ecology Building Society.  Funds are released in stages and always limited to 65% of the value of the property at the time.  Our calculations showed we could do it without selling the old house, but we would have to find quite a lot of additional cash on top of what we had already spent to buy the plot and get the Planning Consent.  Raiding our pension funds was the only option.

Chapter 2…

Read chapter 2 to find out how we went about finding an architect for our self-build project.

Published: 18 April 2024

Author: Kerry Mashford