Best commuter towns for self build revealed

New research by developer Searchfield Homes reveals the best commuter towns around the capital to build your own home.

Harpenden in Hertfordshire tops the list (see Table 1) as the best self-build commuter town, followed by Esher and Weybridge, both in Surrey. In all three areas, self-builders looking to knock down an existing property to make way for a new one will require an increase in floor space of less than 30% for the project to be viable.

Most self builds around the capital are built on plots with an existing house that’s demolished to make way for the new one. As a rule, for the build to be viable the self-builder will require planning consent for a house that is larger than the original, so it is worth more than the cost of building it. Locations requiring the smallest increase in floor space for the self builder to break even are the most viable, as they are more likely to get through planning and cheaper to build relative to land cost.

In first place Harpenden, self builders purchasing a plot for the typical price of £1.2m, will require consent for a 24.4% increase in floor space to break even, with the new house costing them around £1.8m to build, inclusive of the plot, SDLT and mortgage interest. The most affordable town in the top 20 is Epping in Essex where you can build your home for circa £1.3m.

Surrey and Hertfordshire offer the greatest choice for self-builders, with 12 of the top 20 commuter locations falling within the borders of these two counties.

Table 1: 20 best commuter towns for self-builders

RankTownTotal cost incl. plot, SDLT and mortgage interest


Increase in floorspace


1Harpenden                     1,765,18524.35%
2Esher                     2,039,82626.80%
3Weybridge                     2,428,08128.16%
4Borehamwood                     1,667,20129.57%
5Rickmansworth                     1,678,32829.82%
6Reigate                     1,479,55730.22%
7Beaconsfield                     2,037,46230.81%
8Gerrards Cross                     1,831,94231.10%
9Chigwell                     2,012,36731.13%
10Maidenhead                     1,310,19231.59%
11Walton-on-Thames                     1,814,17531.63%
12Amersham                     1,492,59531.80%
13St Albans                     1,328,30531.95%
14Hertford                     1,408,56032.08%
15Ascot                     2,099,81232.42%
16Virginia Water                     3,132,19732.47%
17Leatherhead                     1,722,94932.56%
18Potters Bar                     1,419,04432.73%
19Windsor                     1,468,06632.82%
20Epping                     1,322,65133.07%

 As well as ensuring self-builders don’t lose money when they come to sell, viability is key for financing the build. Most lenders restrict the loan amount to 60% of the final valuation and will stipulate that it does not exceed 90% of the total cost of the build and land.

Commenting, Andrew Searchfield, Owner and Managing Director of Searchfield Homes, said:

“With a rebuild being the most realistic option for self builders wanting to live around the capital, viability should be the most important consideration other than choosing a location that you want to live in.”

“Our research identifies the minimum floorspace required to make the build viable but generally speaking, building the largest possible house for the plot will give self builders the best return on investment. Before purchasing a plot, we recommend hiring a RICS surveyor to look at the comparables and give you a price per square foot valuation for the house you’re proposing to build.”

“Now is the ideal time to build your own home. The Government is keen to double the number of self-build homes to 20,000 by 2020 and is incentivising local councils to include self and custom build developments in their plans for future housing. When it comes to high value homes, the stamp duty saving also makes self-build compelling, with SDLT charged on the purchase of the plot as opposed to the value of the completed property.”

“Employing a professional developer or Development Manager can save a huge amount of stress and money by ensuring the project runs smoothly and to budget, we well as providing access to established relationships with suppliers.”

5 top tips for a stress-free self-build

  • Find a plot with an older house that isn’t restricted by listed buildings and conversation areas. 1930s houses are ideal because of their large gardens and comparatively lower prices per square foot.
  • Hire a RICS surveyor to value the price per square foot of your proposed house.
  • Calculate the minimum size required for the house to be worth more than the build cost.
  • Discuss your proposals with the local planning authority and a planning consultant before purchasing a plot.
  • Put in a planning application for the biggest house that you can a) afford and b) the local authority will permit.

Useful websites
National Custom & Self Build Association
The Local Self Build Register
The Self Build Portal
HCA Home Building Fund