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Inspiring People - I built my first house at the age of 26

Blog number eight of our sixteen part series on inspirational stories for dandi London is written by Lorna Dodge following her self-build adventure.

Inspiring Stories
Lorna Dodge - I built my first house at the age of 26


From an early age I was interested in houses. Being the daughter of a carpenter meant there was always some kind of project, extension, alteration happening in our home. By the time I was six we had moved from Essex to our 3rd home in Northamptonshire.

After multiple extensions my parents started to get itchy feet and view houses that could be changed and also land that they could build on. We used to receive a weekly house paper called The Masons and I would help them to look through for projects that could be suitable. We viewed lots, however with a young family they never wanted to take the next leap and borrow too much money.

With this experience growing up I had the bug for properties. Myself and my partner Dean purchased our first home when I was 24. We managed to put a 20% deposit down leaving us with an affordable first time mortgage on a three bedroom detached home with a garage! My partner and I would share stories of our childhood, including all of the potential projects my family never quite did. With our love of properties Dean started to buy a monthly magazine all about self build projects. This is when our house building adventure began…

We did our research and found out what you could borrow and how the lending worked for building a house. Basically they would lend 80% on land and then the build element was over five stage payments (meaning you had to hit those stages in the build or money would not be released). After our calculations we realised that we could just about buy land and build a house, although it was very tight and we would have to be very strict with the budget. We started to look at land and found a few plots we liked.

After subscribing and trawling through multiple plot search websites I came across one that was being marketed in Cambridgeshire however was located on the edge of Northamptonshire. It had been one the market for a long time which we put down to nobody in the area realising that it was up for sale along with the fact it had a prefab bungalow and multiple garden buildings that all needed demolishing. So we viewed it and put an offer in lower than the asking price which was accepted. At this point the property market was very buoyant so put our own house on the market and sold it within a matter of weeks.

The sale of our home went through first and we then moved in with my parents to save money. Our self-build mortgage was agreed, so we just needed to get some plans drawn up and put in a planning application. We used a local architect and let him lead on the project as everything was new to us. Subject to a few minor tweaks the application went through and full planning permission was agreed for a five bedroom dormer style bungalow. The property had to be sited towards the front of the large plot to keep in line with the other properties already built.

Throughout the summer whilst waiting for planning and builders we spent our time in the evening, weekends and days demolishing and clearing the site. We were very lucky to have the support of our friends and family and especially having my Dad work on the project. Ground works on the house started in October and by Christmas the walls were going up. January started with lots of cold weather and snow which slowed everything down. By the start of April we were ready to put the roof on. Weather once again was against us and there were severe wind weather warnings, this did not put us back too much but did mean it was pretty scary watching a crane swing with trusses and see my Dad working on the roof to get it fixed.

Every spare moment was either spent at the house, cleaning, tidying, doing the jobs that we could do rather than pay tradesmen or looking for deals and offers for tiles, kitchens and bathrooms. We managed to buy a kitchen in the January sales and defer the delivery, enabling us to save quite a bit of money. The kitchen and bathroom tiles were on special offer. The downstairs bathroom was an ex display model and therefore priced to sell quickly. The hallway we used a laminate flooring, we chose one that was on a deal meaning further savings. There were a few areas we could not quite afford to finish when we moved in this included the bathroom upstairs and all external garden works /driveways. These happened about a year later when we could change our mortgage and increase it to cover the final works.

It took ten months from start of build to us moving in to a 2500 sqft home. Our old three bedroom home was about 800 sqft, so as you could imagine the furniture we had did look lost for quite sometime until we had the money to buy more, but we were finally in. This happened quite a few years ago so the costs have changed somewhat but at the time it was relative. We purchased the land for £47,500 and spent £80,000 on the build (our labour costs were very low due to support and help from family and friends). We spent nearly four years in this house and sold it for £282,000.

Since our journey began Dean and I have continued to build houses in our spare time. We are now on our fourth build as well as helping out and supporting friends and family to take the plunge. We certainly could not afford the house we are in if it was not for the years of hard work doing self-build projects. My advice to anybody looking at building a house would be go for it…but expect delays, problems and issues as building a house is not always plain sailing. Finding good and reliable tradesman will make a huge difference to timings. We knew from the start of our first project that it was unlikely that we were going to finish with the budget we had, however for us with no spare cash we took the gamble and it paid off. Subsequent projects have had elements that have gone well and others not so well. We plan to do more builds in the future. For my parents after 25 plus years of living in the same home they too took the plunge and purchased a house project on a large plot!

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