Beginner’s guide to finding land
The first step in your self build journey is tracking down a viable building site. Keep yourself ahead of the competition with Build It’s plot hunting tips
Maximise your chances of finding the perfect piece of land for your needs with our essential plot hunting tips
Above: Gorgeous plots do exist – but if you have grand designs on that dream rural setting, bear in mind that it’s incredibly rare to get planning consent for a completely new house in the countryside. Demolish and rebuild may be a better route
Tracking down the right plot for your project is a little more complex than purchasing an existing house. The good news is 13,000 people manage to do just that every year – but if you want the best possible chance of identifying a viable site, it’s worth getting to grips with the process first. Here’s what you need to know.
LAND FINDING ROUTES
Few self builders simply stumble on a great plot by chance and end up building on it. Identifying the right opportunity can take considerable time and effort, so it pays to adopt a multipronged approach. So what are the best land hunting routes?
Use your contacts
Don’t underestimate the power of networking. Tell your friends and co-workers that you are looking for a plot. They may have heard of someone selling in your preferred area, for instance, or even have a large garden they’d be willing to split at the right price. Social media can be a big benefit here, spreading the word even quicker.
Explore the area Walk around the area to identify empty land between houses, garden plots or disused garages – all of which could offer potential build opportunities. If you spot a site that you think could have the potential to be developed, then approach the owner and let them know that you are interested. If the owner isn’t obvious and you can’t find out via the Land Registry, try speaking to the neighbour.
Talk to locals
Head to pubs and shops in the area you’re considering to meet residents, as they may be able to tell you about opportunities not yet listed. Professionals such as architects, building surveyors or planning consultants in the area may be a useful source of leads, too – and you may want to use their services further down the line.
Speak to business owners
Local farmers, breweries, universities and other organisations may have surplus land they want to sell (or would consider selling). Many do so via estate agents, but there’s no harm approaching them directly.
Sign up for your Right to Build Councils are now obliged to maintain official self build registers, thanks to the government’s Right to Build legislation. You can record your interest in obtaining a plot and state the type of project you are keen to pursue. If 200 people sign up, the council is then supposed to permission 200 viable sites within a three-year period. You aren’t guaranteed land, but the legislation should see the availability of build-ready plots improve dramatically. FURTHER READING
Visit the council’s website Local authorities list current planning applications online, usually under the ‘planning’ or ‘housing’ sections – with details of the scheme, who has applied and when. If you find a likely-looking opportunity and can get in touch with the owner before they get consent, you’ll be in a strong position to secure a purchase.
Use plot finding databases Buildstore’s Plotsearch (www.plotsearch.co.uk) lists thousands of sites with planning consent across the UK. Happily, it’s also free to use. As well as giving you the chance to find a good plot, this resource helps you get a feel for land prices and availability in different areas. You can also see which estate agents are active in your region. Turn to page 121 for a taster of what’s on offer.
Check out property auctions Many plots change hands this way. Auction houses such as Clive Emson, Allsop and Savills sell a variety of sites, so get on their mailing lists for catalogues. Remember you will need to have finance in place – once the hammer goes down, the contract is triggered. FURTHER READING
Many building plots are still sold through traditional estate and land agents. Monitor the books of both types, as some may have overlooked the planning potential of properties they’re selling (eg for a demolish and rebuild opportunity). The personal approach can pay dividends with this route, too – if they know you, they’re much more likely to give you a heads up when something’s coming onto the market.
TYPES OF BUILDING PLOT
Bespoke homes can be constructed on a range of sites, and knowing about them can help you spot land with potential for your project. Here are some of the key kinds of opportunity available to self builders:
Brownfield sites This is basically previously-developed land that is or once was occupied by a permanent structure. Government policy supports the provision of new housing in such locations, so councils tend to look favourably on plans that have the potential to improve these plots. Plus on a practical level, services are likely to be in place already.
Demolish & replace A type of brownfield opportunity where you could knock down an existing building, such as an old bungalow or former non-residential structure, and construct a new (usually bigger and more attractive) home in its place. It’s often cheaper than renovation, as VAT can be reclaimed on a new build. Learn more on page 102.
Infill plots There’s no formal definition of this type of site, but many councils take it to mean a small gap between an otherwise built-up frontage or group of houses. Infilling is usually allowed within settlements’ development boundaries