Complete a desktop study to home in on the building plots that best suit your needs.

A simple desktop study can save a lot of time and effort in your search for a plot. You can quickly gather enough information to eliminate a plot as a possibility for your self build or decide that it is worth further investigation and a site visit.

desktop study


Further in depth investigations will be required before you buy but this process can sort the wheat from the chaff.

Without too much effort can build up an idea of the plot’s:

  • Geographical location.
  • Surrounding buildings.
  • Natural Features – trees, watercourses etc.
  • Access.
  • Land contours.
  • Neighbourhood – what are the people like?
  • Local amenities – schools etc.
  • Transport links.
  • Planning permission and history.
  • Potential for your ideas.

There’s an incredible amount of information at our fingertips online and in our experience using a few tools can build up a fairly accurate picture of a plot and the surrounding area before you even visit.

Sale Particulars

This is the first wave of information available to you and should include at least: location, plot size, planning permission status, map area. Note the info in your spreadsheet.

It is generally accepted that a building plot should be no less than 0.1 acres in order to build a reasonably sized detached house. Check dimensions on the particulars and make sure you follow it up by measuring it when you make a site visit.

Google Earth

Google Earth is brilliant! Using a combination of satellite imagery, aerial photographs and street view, it’s possible to view almost anywhere on the planet in detail.

These images are fantastic for looking at your plot. You can zoom in, identify the plot, it’s boundaries and explore the surrounding area. Look for trees, watercourses, proximity of adjacent buildings, access options, road and rail networks and any other features.

You can also visualise how your house might sit on the plot.

Google Earth has additional features such as a tilt option that allows you to see the contours of the ground. There may be photographs of the area or it could even be covered by Google’s Street View feature.

It could also highlight issues not mentioned on the sale particulars such as it’s located next to a sewage plant, motorway or an airport runway.┬áIn these cases it could be making it’s way to file 13!

When you do find your plot you can use Google Earth to save an image of the site before work starts and wait for updates before screen grabbing another when your house is finished.

Hey presto! – Free, aerial before and after shots!

Ordnance Survey

Ordnance survey maps are great for analyzing features in the area and provide different information for your desktop study than the aerial images. Reading the contours can you give you a more accurate impression of the topography of the site and surrounding area and most other natural and man made features will be represented by symbols on the maps. You can view maps at Ordnance Survey Online

Geodemographic Profiling

A bit of a mouthful – but you can use it to assess the neighbourhood of your potential plot, including what the neighbours are like, which papers they read, what they do in their leisure time, age ranges and income etc.

All sounds very Big Brother doesn’t it! But there’s no doubt that it’s a helpful tool when you’re trying to get a feel for an area you’re not familiar with.

This information is gold dust for companies and organisations to identify and target customers and as such most of the information providers charge for it. There are a few free sources though and by entering the postcode into the search box on websites such as Open Geodemographics, a wealth of information is displayed about the typical profile of the residents. It’s worth noting that it is not always 100% representative of the area but it’s worth a look all the same.

A little more research on Government websites, The Office for National Statistics, The Highways Agency, Environment Agency and property websites like Rightmove, will open up a wealth of local information on amenities, schools, council tax bands, transport links, leisure facilities, crime statistics, development plans etc.

Planning Permission

Ideally you want some planning permission in place before you buy and the agent’s information should have details of any approvals.

If it hasn’t, then it needs to be a really good plot before it makes it through this first phase of selection.

You can and should have a look at the planning history before proceeding too much further. Visit the local Council’s planning pages to find out more.

Desktop Study – Other Sources

Get on the Internet and have a surf. See what information you can turn up.

The initial desktop study gives you an idea about the plot and whether it could be a possibility or even warrant a site visit. If it does have potential then you need to do a lot more thorough research. Return to Buying Land to self build for more information.

The desktop study is also a good time to start noting factors that may have an effect on your build costs or project management such as proximity to services, site clearance, topography (slope) and access.

If your potential plot has made it through the desktop study then it is time for a site visit.

Return to Buying Land

Return to our Home Page from Initial Desktop Study