BuildStore - self build, renovation & home improvement

Mr & Mrs Macdonald - Timber frame self build bungalow

A couple of years ago, Katie and Darran Macdonald were keen to move up the property ladder to a larger house, but in Oxfordshire (and everywhere else in the UK) the property 'boom' was in full swing. They knew they would never be able to afford the size of house they truly needed. Darran is from Australia, where building your own home is considered 'the norm', and is also a site construction carpenter, so suggested to Katie that they go down the self build route.

Timber frame self build bungalow

Katie says: "I didn't take too much convincing that it was also the way to go. Darran works on sites building and constructing timber frames and roofs, and has first, second fix and final fix experience, so he already has some of the skills needed for our project. My own background in office managerial and personal assistant positions meant I had the skills to deal with the legal, financial and project management side of things. I was also in the process of growing my own business, so it was a great opportunity to hone my organisational skills too!"

Decision made, the couple set about researching their project to learn about the process of self building and all the options they needed to consider. They subscribed to BuildStore's land-finding database, PlotSearch to start their hunt for the plot, and also visited its National Self Build & Renovation Centre in Swindon, to get more advice and inspiration.

Timber frame self build bungalow

After their visit to the Centre, the couple made an appointment to speak to a BuildStore mortgage advisor, to understand their borrowing options and get a clearer picture of how they would manage their finances.

"It was not difficult to find a mortgage, and a call with BuildStore sorted everything out for us. We went for the Accelerator mortgage, which worked really well, and managing this financial side of the build has been very easy. We didn't even look for another self build mortgage lender elsewhere, as we knew that BuildStore are the leaders in this market."


With their finances in place, the couple's search for land could really begin. It took them about a year, but eventually they found a acre plot which was once the garden of a Grade II listed building in the centre of Wem, a market town in the north of Shropshire. The building still stands, fronting the High Street, and Katie and Darran's build is set back behind it, completely hidden from view.

Timber frame self build bungalow

Since the couple were living in Oxfordshire, they needed a project manager to oversee the critical groundworks and foundation stage, so they employed someone recommended by their architect. For the last eighteen months however, Katie and Darran have been project managing, and doing the building and construction work themselves - it has been a self build project in the truest sense:

"Apart from the foundation stage, we used a roofing company to lay the slates, a plasterer for the skim coat, and a gas fitter to install the gas pipes. We have done everything else ourselves; building the timber frame - we built it from lengths of timber on site, building and fitting the roof trusses, installing underfloor heating, screed and insulation, and plaster boarding, you name it!

Darran also learned how to install all the electrics and plumbing, both of which have been tested and have been signed off by an electrician and Building Control. We also chose a brick slip system for the outer skin of the building - partly due to the weight-bearing properties of the ground, but also because it was something that Darran and I could do ourselves.

Timber frame self build bungalow

"Because we are so hands on, it allowed us to keep track of everything, and keep to our budget. The advance stage payments we draw down at the beginning of each build stage also helps with this - we always have a positive cashflow, which made it much easier to manage our budget - we knew how much were getting, and when we would get it."

As with most self build projects, Katie and Darran have faced a few challenges along the way, but overall, their build has gone well so far and they have no regrets about taking the project on. Darran comments:


"I don't think you can embark on a self build project without there being 'challenges' - but we worked through them. I think we under- estimated the length of time some things would take; the brick slip system was an example of this, taking six months to complete. Also, the access to the plot is very narrow, about 2.5m wide, so we bought a second-hand flatbed truck, which measured exactly the right width to get to the plot to transport our materials on to the site.

Timber frame self build bungalow

"Until March 2010, we were only spending weekends on the build, apart from a couple of weeks off to do the frame and roof trusses, so it was tricky to manage and arrange things. We have now moved to Shropshire and are renting just around the corner from the plot, so it's much easier to keep an eye on things. We have both worked full-time throughout the project, and we spend most of our spare time on site, although with working it's still mainly weekends, with a few evenings."

Summing up their experience so far, Katie says:

"Until you have your own plot and are living and breathing the build nothing can really prepare you! Its hard work, both physically and mentally, stressful, but such an immense achievement to have literally built our home ourselves. We look back on it now and can't believe we've done it. We are really looking forward to moving in and enjoying what we've spent the last two years working on.

"We have to say that all the people at BuildStore, from our mortgage advisor, to the experts in the Centre and the TradeCard team, are always so helpful and cheery when you speak to them; they've been a calming influence, which is good when you have a self build project going on!"

BuildStore helped these people create their dream homes – contact us now to find out how we can help you.

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