SINCE 2016, people in England have had the right to build their own homes. This means English local authorities must permit a planning permission for a suitable serviced plot to match the demand they have.

“That legislation underpins government ambition to diversify housing supply, because we have a huge housing need, not only in terms of numbers of dwellings but also the quality of those dwellings,” says Tom Connor, head of operations at Custom Build Homes, a specialist estate agency that supports the sale of serviced plots and customisable homes.

Incorporated in January 2019, Livingston-based Custom Build is a start-up business within a larger organisation: BuildStore Ltd.

Taking its lead from the right-to-buy legislation, it aims to help ordinary people to design and create their own homes as part of a supported process.

“There are some serious barriers to entry for ordinary people, not always just monetary but also the time they have to invest in the project,” says Mr Connor.

As part of BuildStore Ltd, whose CEO is Mr Connor’s father, Raymond Connor, Custom Build has not faced that same problem.

The fledgling company has benefited from the experience and knowledge base of the parent firm, as well as from funding, allowing it to avoid the rounds of grant applications that many entrepreneurs face.

“That’s allowed us perhaps to grow quicker than a start-up founder ordinarily would,” says Mr Connor.

“We were able to have our minimum viable product funded for us and once we had proof of concept BuildStore decided to incorporate a separate company.”

Having worked in the self-build sector in the USA, Mr Connor joined BuildStore in 2015 to develop the Custom Build offering with a team of three people.

Custom Build creates development opportunities with landowners, developers and local authorities and currently has 1,000 plots either available or in the planning system.

“We essentially create serviced plots, which is a plot of land with utilities, and then sell that opportunity through a specialist estate agency,” says Mr Connor.

Custom Build, which has also poured resources into creating a right-to-build register, then works with the buyer to ensure they can source an architect they like and can afford, a structural engineer and a builder.

This effectively generates new customers for the parent company, as BuildStore does around 75 per cent of all stage-release mortgages in the UK.

“That’s one of the reasons why they wanted to create this additional company,” says Mr Connor.

He also believes that Custom Build chimes with the Zeitgeist.

Currently, the UK house-building market is “suffocated” by six volume housebuilders, but not only are the Gyproc palaces they produce “extremely expensive”, they do not match the contemporary taste for the bespoke, as exemplified by the offer of companies such as Uber and Airbnb.

“Consumer attitudes are changing towards getting what they want rather than getting what they’re given,” says Mr Connor.

This is not just about taste and diversity. It’s also about tackling housing affordability.

“The government wants to enable ordinary people to procure their own homes,” says Mr Connor.

“That will increase supply, but it will also decrease value because you will start to adequately supply key locations.”

In this supportive legislative context, Custom Build is working on a five-year plan to facilitate 7,000 new homes.

The long-term plan is to reach to 25,000 houses a year by 2039, which would equate to a third of all new build housing in the UK.

“We’ve got legislation and consumer attitude on our side,” says Mr Connor. “What we don’t have at the moment is the professional capacity in terms of industry.”