In this two part feature, Pathfinder International Magazine’s Michael Brash, asked Paul Newman, Self Build Director at Potton to demystify ‘self build’ and highlight how building your own home could be a viable option for Service Leavers…

From utilising the technical and project management skills you’ve gained over your years of service, to investing your Service gratuities and tax free pension lump sums in order to provide a new home for you and your family, self-building may well be the first step, in the next chapter of your life!

So, what is self-build?

Well it’s perhaps not as obvious as you might at first think. We’ve probably all enjoyed the TV shows spotlighting building your own home but in reality, these programmes bear little resemblance to the experience of most self-builders.

For starters, the term itself is largely a misnomer, most self-builders are more aptly described as ‘families who commission and participate in the design and construction of their new home’. The problem with this is that whilst it is more descriptive it hardly trips off the tongue. So, Self Build it is.

Most of Potton’s customers commission us to work with them to design their new home. We make the planning application and then provide a package of services and products including the building structure, doors, windows and insulation. Only a very small percentage of self-builders take on the build themselves. Approximately 40% manage the build themselves, tendering and employing sub contract trades, 40% employ a professional Project Manager and the balance contract with a Builder to deliver a turnkey service.

Why bother?

It’s really hard to capture the factors that motivate people to self-build. Many are frustrated by the limitations of traditional routes. Others take on the challenge to make or save money, some are motivated by design and a desire to create something that works for their lifestyle.

For most, the driver is to be involved in designing and constructing a home that meets their needs and is of a significantly higher specification and performance than the mainstream market offers. If you want something, that meets your needs rather than those of a developer, something that will put a real dent in your fuel bills or generate profit when it is sold, then Self Build is probably for you.

How do you find a plot?

This is probably the hardest part of building your own home. There are a number of routes you can take but you will probably need to do them all. The key is to be organised, focussed, tenacious and determined and not to lose heart! Make sure you’re clear on your requirements and being prepared to compromise will help.

Crucially, recent changes in legislation have introduced the “Right to Build”. In essence, this legislation means that Local Authorities have to keep a register of people who wish to self-build in their area and they then have 3 years to ‘satisfy the demand indicated by the register’ with plots for self-build that have planning permission. So, register with your Local Authority and keep in touch with them to find out what they are doing to bring forward plots and sites.

Things to do:

  • Subscribe to the plot listing services on the web – Plot Browser, Plot Finder, Plot Search for example.
  • Network – Make sure everyone you know understands you are serious about looking for a plot. Treat the exercise as a marketing project, even hand out flyers to friends, family, colleagues, not forgetting local pubs and shops
  • Register your interest with estate agents and particularly with local land agents. Remind them regularly that you’re still interested and be very clear about what you’re looking for.
  • Use online mapping services to try and identify vacant plots and walk or drive slowly around the areas you are interested in. Buy a large scale OS Map of your chosen area. Focus on individual map squares and once you are sure you’ve exhausted that area, move on to the next location.
  • Check the planning section of the Local Authority website on a Friday afternoon for new applications, those that have been approved and rejected. Some people seek permission to develop simply to increase the value of their land and in order to facilitate sale. Note that a rejection might only mean that the application was poor or the house design unsuitable for the plot. Use the information available on the website to approach the landowner or agent. This probably won’t bag you a cheaper plot but it may well get you to the head of the queue.
  • Look for opportunities to purchase tired, empty or derelict properties with a view to knocking them down and rebuilding. As an alternative to constructing a Replacement Dwelling, look for plots with large and appropriately located gardens for an old fashioned Garden Grab!
  • Look out for building sites that have ‘stalled’. Whilst it may feel like ‘ambulance chasing’, you are probably helping out someone who’s run out of money.

How can I get started?

The Self Build Academy provides an evolving range of events, seminars, workshops, courses and networking that aim to equip self-builders with the knowledge they need at every stage of their journey. The academy covers everything from finding a plot through to finishing off the build. It will instruct you on how to develop a design brief, establish and articulate your views on energy efficiency, provide opportunities to visit sites during construction and teach you how to build safely and efficiently.


Potton is hosting a one-day event for Service Leavers and Veterans interested in finding out more about self-building. To register your interest on the event will then be emailed to you.

Read the second part of this feature here