London’s Expensive But Your Build Doesn’t Have To Be

Friday, February 13, 2015

If you look across the London skyline, everywhere’s a building site. Over the last 3-4 years, high end development has taken off at a breakneck pace and build costs have been brought along for the ride.

You may wonder why skyscrapers and office blocks are driving up prices for domestic builds. Though they’re different markets, they share the same resources, particularly in labour.

During the recession, contractors lost business rapidly. The best of them worked in tight knit teams of skilled workers that took years to build up but disappearing profits made it a struggle to keep them together.

Instead of letting their teams scatter in the wind, they struggled through the hard times by taking losses and borrowing money. With years of lost income to make up for, contractors have suddenly spiked their prices now that they’re in demand.

And that demand is insatiable. Contractors, especially in specialist fields like electrical and plumbing, have gone from twiddling their thumbs to being able to pick and choose projects. Their overhead has gone from around 5% a few years ago to 12-15% now, both simply because they can and to make up for years of scrimping and saving.

It puts London self builders in a difficult position. While building your own home is never a decision to rush in to, build costs aren’t going to wait for you to catch up. With a forecasted 10% increase this year, a project that finds its feet today will be around 20% more expensive by the time it completes.

Hearing of successful self builds from their friends is a common source of inspiration for my clients but this also means they’re working off old data when it comes to costs. You’d have to add a third or more to your budget for the equivalent of a recession era build.

As disappointing as it may be to have to adjust expectations or budget, it’s crucial to be realistic and receive accurate costing assessments from the start. Some bury their heads in the sand or exhaust themselves seeking different quotes, but the true cost will out.

So how can you build a home today that still provides value for money?

It’s all down to how you think about space. Estate agents and property developers are eager to boast about square footage. After all, it’s an easy to understand figure to hold against the price for a sense of the value.

But it’s an entirely deceptive figure. The efficiency of the space is far more important than the quantity.

You could have a vast, four storey house but it will still feel cramped if its packed with too many rooms. Those rooms will feel even smaller if they’re deprived of natural light, doubly so if half their space is filled with storage.

I would take a bright, open, tidy home over one twice the size, every time. Efficient design is far less expensive than materials or labour and ultimately leads to a better home.

It an approach that has defined Dyer Grimes Architecture and continues to provide our clients with unique, beautiful and high value homes. Click here to see them in our portfolio.

By John Dyer-Grimes