A BE­GIN­NER’S GUIDE TO FIND­ING LAND

E first step in your self build jour­ney is track­ing down a vi­able build­ing site. Keep your­self ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion with Build It’s top plot hunt­ing tips

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Find the per­fect site for your needs with our must-read guide to plot hunt­ing

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 lo­cale 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 scope to be de­vel­oped, then ap­proach the owner and let them know 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 re­gion may be a use­ful source of leads, too – and you might 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 www.self-build.co.uk/right-to-build

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 113 for a taster of what’s on of­fer.

Check out prop­erty auc­tions Many good qual­ity 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 that you will need to have fi­nance in place – once the ham­mer goes down, the con­tract is trig­gered and a de­posit is due. FUR­THER READ­ING www.self-build.co.uk/auc­tions Regis­ter with agents 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 the op­por­tu­ni­ties can help you spot land with po­ten­tial for your pro­ject. Here are some of the key op­tions:

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 more cost-ef­fec­tive than tack­ling a ren­o­va­tion, as VAT can be re­claimed on a new build pro­ject.

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 – and some­times out­side of these. Gain­ing con­sent will be more dif­fi­cult in zones such as con­ser­va­tion ar­eas.

Gar­dens Con­trary to ‘back­land de­vel­op­ment’ and ‘gar­den­grab­bing’ head­lines, plan­ners still pass gar­den schemes – es­pe­cially in places con­sid­ered to be built-up. You may even be lucky enough to have a large space that could work as a vi­able site al­ready; or know a friend will­ing to pro­vide one.

Edge-of-set­tle­ment De­pend­ing on the maps marked out in Lo­cal Plans, this kind of site might fall within built-up area bound­aries or it might not. Gen­er­ally, poli­cies will al­low de­vel­op­ment within this zone – but con­trol it very strictly out­side. This un­de­vel­oped land is known as green­field, and will typ­i­cally only of­fer hous­ing to serve the needs of agri­cul­ture, re­place­ment dwellings and some in­fill.

Ser­viced plots A fairly new op­tion on the mar­ket, this term refers to land that’s ready to build on – with util­i­ties, high­way ac­cess and pos­si­bly other in­fra­struc­ture al­ready in place, as well as at least out­line plan­ning con­sent. This route of­fers the ben­e­fit of more cer­tainty over early-stage costs.

FUR­THER READ­ING www.self-build.co.uk/ser­viced-plots

WHAT MAKES A GOOD PLOT?

Pic­ture the per­fect piece of land and it will prob­a­bly be in a pleas­ant area, af­ford­able, com­pletely level, easy to ac­cess and have good ground con­di­tions, no ob­struc­tions and no plan­ning is­sues that might ham­per your dream home plans. Trou­ble is, that plot doesn’t ex­ist (or at least if it did, a big de­vel­oper prob­a­bly snapped it up ages ago). In prac­tice, even the best site will re­quire you to make a few com­pro­mises. So it’s cru­cial to as­sess con­tenders prop­erly to check you can get as close as pos­si­ble to your goals at cost that stacks up.

Plots gen­er­ally come with plan­ning per­mis­sion in place: ei­ther out­line (which is a fairly loose af­fir­ma­tion that the site can be de­vel­oped); or full (con­sent for a par­tic­u­lar de­sign). Be­ware any site that doesn’t have a cur­rent ap­proval. Land is worth con­sid­er­ably more once con­sent has been granted, so if the deal looks too good to be true, it prob­a­bly is.

Ba­sic po­ten­tial

Once you’ve spot­ted a likely-look­ing op­por­tu­nity, there are two key ques­tions to ask be­fore delv­ing in fur­ther. Can the house you want to build be com­fort­ably ac­com­mo­dated on the plot (eg in terms of size, lo­cal prop­erty val­ues and the like)? And does the ex­ist­ing plan­ning con­sent al­low for that house, or could it be amended to suit? If you can say yes to both of those, then it’s worth a bit more re­search.

In terms of site suit­abil­ity, you need to check for is­sues that could in­crease con­struc­tion costs (which should be fac­tored into any of­fer for the land), make it dif­fi­cult to get the right kind of de­sign for your house­hold, or af­fect the vi­a­bil­ity of a pro­ject. Some of the most no­to­ri­ous bud­get­busters in­clude steep slopes, dif­fi­cult ac­cess to ser­vices (elec­tric­ity, gas, wa­ter etc) or ob­sta­cles such as trees, ex­ist­ing struc­tures and over­head ca­bles. But these is­sues may not be in­sur­mount­able, and with good de­sign some can even be turned to your ad­van­tage. A slop­ing plot is likely to of­fer great views and the po­ten­tial for a base­ment, for in­stance, and you won’t face much com­pe­ti­tion from de­vel­op­ers.

From a plan­ning per­spec­tive, check how long is left on the con­sent. If it’s less than about six months and you need to re­design the house or sort out any con­di­tions the plan­ners have put on the per­mis­sion (such as ap­proval for ma­te­ri­als), this could be prob­lem­atic. It might sound ob­vi­ous, but you should also scru­ti­nise the plot bound­aries to en­sure you’re buy­ing all of the land in­cluded in the ap­proved plans.

De­tailed as­sess­ment

If early-stage in­ves­ti­ga­tions seem pos­i­tive, you can move on to a more in-depth ap­praisal of ex­actly how suitable the site is in terms of plan­ning po­ten­tial and build costs. This will take in things like ac­cess, trees, ground con­di­tions, drainage and le­gal con­sid­er­a­tions. Build It’s in­valu­able re­source at www.self-build.co.uk/plot-check­list can help struc­ture this part of the process. If you come up against any­thing you’re not sure about, seek ad­vice from suitable pro­fes­sion­als. That might mean speak­ing to your lo­cal coun­cil about plan­ning mat­ters or en­gag­ing a so­lic­i­tor on the legals.

A plan­ning con­sul­tant, ar­chi­tect or spe­cial­ist de­sign-and­build com­pany may also be able to point you in the right di­rec­tion or help you un­der­take a full vi­a­bil­ity as­sess­ment.

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

Right: This brown­field in­fill plot fea­tures three lock-up garages, set be­tween a pair of semi-de­tached houses. It comes with out­line plan­ning for a new house and could be an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity – pro­vided the right de­sign can be achieved and a site con­tam­i­na­tion in­ves­ti­gate doesn’t re­veal any ma­jor hid­den costs

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