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There’s no place like home – particularly when it comes to a Self-Build

Anita Arch, Head of Mortgage Sales at Saffron Building Society introduces us to one ‘self-build’ family who went all out to build their dream home.

One of the most satisfying aspects of what we do at Saffron Building Society is helping people fulfil their home ownership ambitions. As a mortgage adviser you’ll come into contact with people every day with a big plan or a desire to alter the direction of their lives through the purchase of their home. With improving weather on the way and the optimum seasons for construction, there’s no better time to outline the merits of a self-build mortgage to your customers.

Below is an account of how we helped a family fulfil something that was of vital importance to their future. Matthew Switzer lives in an Essex village with his wife Sarah and two children aged three and five. He agreed to tell us about his experience of building his own house. We felt this inspiring story was worth sharing with you to illustrate a real life, self-build homeownership story and what your customers can achieve.

Originally, their plan was to move to a larger house in the village so that they could provide a garden for their children to play in. However, the price of properties with the space they wanted was out of reach, which presented a dilemma. Should they move away from their home village or review their expectations?

An alternative approach

Matthew and his wife knew of some land that they believed would be an ideal location to build on. They approached the land owner and described their plan to see if they could purchase a plot. Matthew explains:
“We wanted to see if the land owner would release a plot for us for two houses. There was no planning consent at the time so we wanted an agreement which gave us the option to buy only if any consent obtained provided exactly what we were looking for. Before we went ahead we wanted a legally binding agreement. Thankfully, the land owner agreed so we prepared an application and submitted the plans.”

The application was approved. Matthew and his wife had friends who were interested in building the other property on the plot, so they were all overjoyed that the project had been given the green light.

A new start

Matthew and his wife then set about trying to plan and finance the project. Their ideal home was a three to four bedroom house with a garden that would give their children space to play. The first step was trying to secure finance which they did through one of Saffron’s specialist self-build products.

Experience and advice

Matthew’s wife is a secondary school teacher who took a break to look after her children when they were born. She was also responsible for the project costings. Matthew explained their experience along the way:

“Self-build mortgages are different from normal ones as you have to plan in stages and draw down the money at specific points. It can be stressful because before funds are released there is a lot of information to provide, such as the costings of the plan, drawings and building regulation approval. Saffron allowed us to draw-down funds as required to suit our project once we had their underwriter’s approval. Some lenders who won’t release funds until certain stages are complete. The flexibility made it easier on the cash flow during the construction phase.

The process for payments can take seven days so the details really matter. The timing of the payments is critical, as you can’t afford to have the building stop with no money to pay for the next stage. Saffron has been really helpful in guiding us through this process and explaining everything we need to know. When problems have arisen they have always been there to help, they’ve been a life saver.”

Matthew is an air traffic controller and took on of the role of project manager of the build to save money. You would have thought that his experience with a profession carrying so much responsibility would prepare him for the task ahead.

“My job at the airport means I work shifts, and this has been most helpful as I’ve been able to spend a lot of time on site. I’ve been able to speak with the builders and tradesmen to make decisions, and if I hadn’t been there they would have had to make those decisions themselves. That’s been critical to getting exactly what we wanted rather than leaving anything to chance. I have been surprised by the number of decisions I’ve had to take each day.”


The project started in April 2017 and the planning took seven months. The groundwork began the following November with the Switzer family recently moving into their new home last Summer. Has it been worth it?
“It’s been tough and there have obviously been some stressful moments. It’s a timber framed house and the frame went up in ten days. We were so excited as our dream became a reality and we could see how close we were to the end. I’d recommend it to anyone, but being prepared and having the right people to work with have been so important.”

Matthew’s top tips for self-build

  1. Planning – you probably don’t need me to explain how vitally important this is! The project management was really tough and I didn’t realise just how much was involved, nor the importance of the order of the tasks.
  2. Experience – our friends were six weeks ahead of us on the project so it has been helpful to learn from them. You may not be that lucky with your own project but try to speak to people who have been through it.
  3. Finance – while the price of the mortgage is important, what we found vital is having someone you can work closely with. Someone very close to the project who understands what you are trying to do has been a life saver when the pressure is on.
  4. Be available – if you are not paying for a project manager you need to be available on site to make quick decisions, and ensure everything is as you expect it to be.
  5. Tradesmen – once people knew it was a self-build they were very helpful. All have been brilliant and very accommodating, so make sure when you explain the project that you assess whether those involved share your desire to get it right.
  6. Be resilient – over Christmas there were three heavy snow falls which made things difficult. We had no choice but to crack on and keep the timings on schedule.
  7. Relationships – build a relationship with your local timber and building merchant. Not only can they offer advice, but when you suddenly find yourself short on materials or the wrong thing is delivered, they will often pull out all the stops to help you out. This can avoid costly delays.
  8. Accuracy – get a quantity surveyor to look over your plans. Knowing the right amount of materials to order is vital and will help with timing and budgeting.
  9. Internal – make decisions on kitchens and bathrooms early. Although they won’t be fitted until towards the end, the location of services is often based on the fittings you plan to purchase.
  10. Involve the whole family – it’s very easy to get bogged down with the daily stresses and decisions on site. Most weekends our children came to view the house and see their bedrooms, for example. It helps them to feel part of the project and reminds everyone of the end goal.
  11. Building control – speak with your local building control officer who is there to help rather than catch you out. Our inspector has been invaluable in sharing knowledge.
  12. Costs – be prepared to accept that some things will cost more and some will cost less. It’s a balancing act and sometimes you have to reign in the luxuries a little.
  13. Energy efficiency – for us, investing in renewable energy sources and insulating the house to the highest level we could afford was really important. The fabric of the house cannot be changed easily, but changing the bathroom suite or upgrading appliances in the kitchen can all be done in the future if required. Installing solar panels or underfloor heating for example needs to be incorporated during the build not afterwards.

Matthew’s story is an inspiration to us all and what can be achieved through a self-build mortgage.

Full product details can be found here.

Brokers can easily submit a case via our online broker portal.

If you have any questions please speak with our Business Development Mangers, who will be happy to help:

Holly Andrews: 01799 582885
Katie Sharpe: 01799 582923
Gemma Reynolds: 01799 582925

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Best Service from a Mortgage Provider - Moneyfacts Awards 2014