For many self builders, buying land is one of the most difficult parts of the process.

We hope to make your experience of buying land a bit easier, with tips on where to look for land, how to assess plots for suitability, the pitfalls to watch out for and the importance of doing your research before you buy.

buying land


In the UK, spare land is scarce. We are a densely populated nation and planning constraints mean that good plots are hard to come by. If a juicy plot comes on the market, you can be sure that it will carry a hefty price tag and attract considerable competition.

Don’t be disheartened. If it’s really what you want to do then you need to stay focused, be patient and keep your eyes peeled!


Finding a Plot

There are some great building plot databases designed with self builders in mind. A subscription gains you access to their information and you can sign up to alerts of new listings meeting your criteria.

Probably the largest database and our favourite is Plotsearch by Buildstore. At the time of writing they have over 4500 listed opportunities in the UK. You can click on the map to view opportunities in your area but will need to sign up for full details and other features.

Joining a plotsearch website gives you a great start but there are other approaches to finding the right plot. To give yourself the best chance of success, use every option at your disposal.

When looking for a plot, keep in mind the old adage, “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” So, beware of offers of cheap land for sale.

Self build usually conjures images of building on an empty plot but renovation and conversion are also options. You may consider looking at unusual properties for sale and converting something a little bit different to achieve your dream home. Alternatively, buying an existing house to knock down and rebuild could be a realistic possibility.

Your Motivation

Before you begin, you should consider your motivation and tailor your search accordingly. It’s pointless casting the net too wide and searching a 50 mile radius if you’re already happy where you live now.

If you don’t want to leave the town you live in then you need to have realistic expectations about the number of plots that may become available, the competition you might face for them and how much they’ll cost.

If you are flexible and willing to move anywhere (within reason!) you will have the advantage of a larger choice of plots and a greater range of prices.

Organising Your Information

Your search will generate a considerable amount of information and we suggest setting up a spreadsheet before getting started. It not only keeps things organised but also allows you to revisit and compare plot information quickly and easily. Use colour filling to identify plots that have been ruled out/sold or made it onto your shortlist.

You could include the following columns in your spreadsheet:

    • Plot name.
    • Address.
    • Date found/on the market.
    • Size.
    • Description.
    • Planning permission status.
    • Selling agent and their contact details.
  • Links to the property details (Cut and Paste the URL into your spreadsheet. The details are then just a click away).
  • Links to a Google Map of the location.
  • Other notes.

Research Before Buying Land

Having found a plot in your price range that may be suitable for your build, the next step is to research the plot and surrounding area thoroughly.

Buying a plot to self build involves a considerable financial outlay and is littered with unknown variables. You need to eliminate as many of these unknowns as possible before you buy. This will increase your chances of a successful project, within budget and resulting in the home you envisaged.

The research can begin without even leaving home. Completing an initial desktop study generates a wealth of information about the neighbourhood, the surrounding area and any geographical features. Information collected at this stage can eliminate the plot as a possibility or put it on your list for a site visit.

The site visit gives you a chance to start visualising the possibilities and assessing the potential of your plot. It is also an opportunity to fill in more of the blanks and gather good, on-site, information. There are a few key things to make sure you look out for.

Following the site visit you may be getting an excited warm fuzzy feeling about your plot. You guessed it! Time for some more research. Before jumping in you need to investigate some matters in more detail:

  • Assess the land price and ensure it is realistic.
  • Ascertain the planning history and permission status.
  • Broaden your desktop study and investigate other matters such as contaminated land, tree preservation orders, flood risks, etc.
  • Depending on what you have found out about the plot ground conditions through your own research, it may be necessary to employ a specialist to investigate further. Ground conditions and excavations are one of the big (and often costly) unknowns of building your own home.

Buying Land: The Purchase

The mechanisms for purchasing a plot are fundamentally the same as those for buying a house and the same scale of stamp duty taxation applies to residential land.

Depending on the vendor and how you found the land, you could be bidding at an auction, on the telephone, negotiating through an estate agent, submitting sealed bids or buying privately.

Whichever way you are buying land, we would recommend employing the services of a good legal advisor to analyse the documents and look for any legal issues before you complete. If you are buying land at auction then you need to ensure that all the research has been completed well in advance.

We would also suggest that it is worth selecting your designer during your plot search process. He or she will be able to advise you on any issues that come up from your investigations before you commit to buying land.

Although buying land is a difficult part of the process, it can also be a lot of fun. Visiting, exploring and researching different areas can be very interesting. Houses you see along the way may even give you new inspiration for what you want in your new home.

Good Luck with the search!

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