Buying land to self build ain’t easy. We hope to make it 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.
In the UK, spare land is scarce. We are a relatively 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 though. If it’s really what you want to do then you need to stay focused, be patient and keep your eyes peeled!
Your Plot Criteria
Before you begin, you should consider the essential criteria for your building plot 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 may 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 setting up a spreadsheet before getting started makes it much easier to keep on top of it all. It not only keeps things organised but also allows you to revisit and compare plot information quickly and easily. Use colour to highlight plots that have been ruled out/sold or made it onto your shortlist. It’s useful to leave them in there rather than delete them completely in case they fall through and come back on the market.
You could include the following columns:
- Plot name.
- Date found/on the market.
- 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 Google Maps of the location.
- Other notes.
Finding Potential Plots of Land for Your Self Build
If you want to buy land to self build, exploring all possible avenues with give you the best chance of success. Let’s have a look at a few of the mainstream options and a couple of other ways to get your hands on a good building plot:
Estate Agents’ Land Listings
The obvious place to look for property…
Online property websites like Rightmove, OnTheMarket, PrimeLocation and Zoopla carry listings from most estate agents. Select ‘Land’ in their ‘property type’ filter to return relevant results. You can even sign up for an account and select specific search areas and criteria as well as opting in to receive e-mail alerts of any new listings that meet your needs.
As well as searching online, pop in to local estate agent offices in your search area to let them know what you are looking for, what your plans are and that you are keen.
Good plots are rare and there will be competition. The early bird catches the worm, so if you’ve built a relationship and can get a ‘heads up’ when a new plot is coming onto the market, you can start doing your research and be ready to pounce!
There are other property marketplace options like TheHouseShop where sellers can list directly, removing the need for agents and saving on fees in the process. As a result, they are often filled with listings that you probably won’t find anywhere else. There may be a slight cost saving or room for negotiation due to the seller saving on fees.
Plot Search Databases
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.
The following are worth a look:
Plotsearch by Buildstore.
PlotBrowser by Self Build & Design Magazine.
Plotfinder by Homebuilding and Renovating Magazine.
Could You Already Have a Building Plot Right on Your Doorstep?
Where better to start searching for a plot than on your own doorstep?
There are a lot factors at play here: location, space, surrounding area, transport links, your local council’s Local Plan and Land Supply.
First stop… Local council planning website. See what their Local Plan says, what the situation with land supply is and have a look on the Unitary Development Plan map to find out the designations at and around you. Once you’ve got your head around it, you could give them a call to discuss your ideas.
If you are able to build in your garden and can arrange the finance, you could even stay in your current house while you build the new one.
Word of Mouth
Finding a plot privately is also a good option. Friends, neighbours or local landowners might have a piece of suitable land and welcome the additional income from selling it.
If you plan to stay in the same area, ask around and let people know that you are looking to buy land.
Get online and use your social networks to put the feelers out and you could even go ‘old school’ for potential sellers who aren’t connected and put an advert in the local paper.
If you are looking for a plot in a new area, spend a bit of time in the local pub (It’s not all hard graft you know;)), post office etc. and drop it into conversation. It’ll give a bit more insight into the area and if you do end up moving there you’ll even get a headstart on getting to know the local community! You never know what might come up.
Keep your eyes open and ask around but be sure to be confident of your planning permission situation before you buy.
Buy Land at Auction
Auctions are a good place to buy land. You need to do all your research and legal checks in advance and be fully prepared for the auction. The rap of the gavel signifies the sale of the plot, is legally binding and requires the immediate payment of a deposit, usually 10% of the final bid. Get Googling for local property auctions and browse the upcoming lots.
Builders’ Land Banks
Local builders often subsidise their contracting work with small developments. They will pick up pieces of land here and there and when times are hard they will offload some of their plots to sustain cash flow.
Keep your eyes and ears open and remember that asking the question never hurts. Selling privately to you may even save them precious time and agent’s or auction fees.
Local Authorities and Utilities Companies
Local Authority and Utility companies sell off unwanted land at auction. They do have estate management and again we believe in the ‘don’t ask don’t get’ approach so it’s always worth seeing whether they have any plots available that might be suitable.
Developers will often buy a large parcel of land, divide it into plots, obtain planning permission, build some houses, sell some houses and sell some of the plots on to self builders. The benefit of these is that you will probably buy land that has some degree of planning permission and maybe even access and services to the plot.
Remember, Leave No Stone Unturned
If you are on the hunt to buy land then stay on the lookout all the time. Leave no stone unturned and 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.
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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