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Build, buy or rent?

Assuming the structural faults aren't going to cost an arm and a leg to put right, one might think everything is plain-sailing and it's just a matter of moving in. The bulk of the heavy lifting will be taken care of by a removalist who has been hired for the job. Would that be for an agreed figure, or at an hourly rate? The job could take longer than estimated, perhaps because no-one thought to take a few measurements, or hadn't considered access difficulties. I once spent twenty minutes squashed behind a wardrobe in a service elevator, going up and down until it eventually agreed to stop level with the floor where it was to be off-loaded! While on the subject of furniture, a seller may reduce the amount of it to give the illusion of space. Some will actually strip the house of the originals and hire just enough to make it look flash and appealing. Display homes are a classic example of this ploy, the agent often setting up bedrooms motel-style; but people don't live out of suitcases in their own home, certainly not the kids. The open-plan main living areas might look spacious until the lounge suite and dining table from the old place go in, if they will fit at all. Then, buying new furniture could be the only answer. Need I say more? Everyone acquires possessions along the way, and most prefer to take these with them - they are what make someone else's house their home. If a house for sale can't be found that's big enough to take all of the goods and chattels comfortably, the next best bet is to start from scratch and build.

There are numerous ways to go about it. Obviously, land has to be purchased and hopefully there will be some available in the desired location. Land for sale as part of a new development usually includes the essential utilities - water, power, phone and sewerage. At least, these are on hand, but the cost of connection is likely to be born by the owner. In some instances, land-and-house packages can be the way to go. In both cases, local building regulations should have been considered by the developer or agent, but plans still need the approval of the relevant authority for which there could be a charge. Inquiries regarding planning-permission and restrictions are best made before the land is bought. Prospective builders who prefer a tree-change may be looking at re-zoned farming land, or a hill-side abode might sound appealing. Although the price of this land could be much cheaper than the smaller blocks in suburbia, the site-costs alone can be a killer. If truck-access is limited or non-existent, a suitable roadway would have to be constructed before other work can commence. If there is rock below the top-soil it will probably have to be blasted to lay the foundations. A sand-pad could be needed to raise the house because the area is prone to flooding. Perhaps there is no deep-sewerage, so a septic pit and leech-drain will have to be dug in. Assuming all of these are not an issue and have been covered, construction can begin.

In our experience it won't take too long, weather permitting. A word of warning - building sites are like a charity supermarket for dishonest home-renovators. Materials can disappear overnight – bricks, sand, window frames, timber – but the builders should have all this insured. Just check that changes made to the original plans are included in their policy: we switched from an electric cooker to gas and discovered, just in time, that we had to arrange our own insurance against loss. During construction, frequent visits to the site are advisable, just to ensure the builders are following the plans and aren't cutting corners.

Soon enough, the proud owners will be able to take up residence in their brand new home. Presumably fencing has been considered, the driveway laid and the cost of establishing gardens accounted for. If fly- and/or security-screens are necessary, were they installed during the construction process? How about carpets and light fittings? Then there are window treatments. When there's no spare cash left, newspaper could be the only affordable curtains.

This last item may seem petty and irrelevant but, in truth, privacy is the main reason we prefer a home of our own. Whether to build, buy or rent is a matter of personal choice. We've tried all three and have eventually gone back to renting. It suits our current lifestyle and is less of a strain on the budget because the landlord takes care of the repairs and maintenance. There was, however, immense satisfaction when we achieved the other two and we spent many happy years in both. We’d like to think it will be that way for you. So, good luck with the house-hunting, and if you think well before you take the plunge, you'll only need the newspaper for wrapping the china.

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