Can custom build go mainstream?

The term ‘custom build’ has been around since 2011, but the UK has been slow to embrace this way of housebuilding. Compared to other European countries, we’re lagging behind, constructing these types of homes at a much lower rate. However, this trend could be about to change.

Comprising 1,900 homes, Graven Hill in Oxfordshire has been labelled as the UK’s boldest experiment ever in self-build and custom build. The local council has acquired disused Ministry of Defence land providing acres of space for homes ranging from two-bed properties through to six-bed detacheds. There are various options available for potential buyers, including being able to design and customise their own home, which is then assembled on site.

The development is now well underway and has attracted huge interest providing a potential blueprint for other local authorities and developers to follow.

Housing associations are also showing an appetite for bringing custom build to the masses. Places for People has recently announced that it has set up a new business called This has been positioned as a ‘new model for custom build that works within the constraints of the UK planning system’ providing purchasers and longer-term renters with ‘considerable choice’ as to how their new home is configured and finished.

Providing choice is a fundamental part of placemaking, so this is where custom build could come into its own. Mixed tenures and housing types are essential to help meet local needs and build sustainable communities. Offering people the chance to create a unique home that suits their needs, lifestyle and design preferences could be the logical next step.

For housing associations, the model could help to reduce financial risk, with buyers providing the cash up front to fund the build. And this commitment from purchasers could help to improve engagement and encourage further investment in the wider area.

There are however, some drawbacks. Question marks remain around mortgages for custom build properties and there is still a long road ahead in terms of getting buy in from local authorities and funders for this type of housebuilding.

Developers including housing associations, which are already setting foot on the custom build path must ensure they retain some control over the construction process, including setting design parameters so that the area still works in terms of service charges and that values aren’t compromised.

This type of housebuilding is most likely to unlock opportunities for small to medium-sized (SME) developers, which could cause some hurdles when attempting to incorporate custom build into larger schemes. SMEs will have to ensure they provide a complementary product and won’t be able to benefit from economies of scale, so the cost of custom build is likely to remain high.

Despite this, the desire for custom build is certainly growing. In a world where consumers are increasingly demand more control and choice, this way of housebuilding could tick a lot of boxes.

The current challenges may mean that it will take a while before it becomes mainstream. But if these hurdles are tackled, then what is currently a small market in the UK could play a huge role in helping to boost housing supply.

Jonathan Corris is a partner in our Real Estate and Projects Team





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