Finding land for a self-build is no walk in the park. These proven tips and tricks can help you get there faster — without losing the plot!
Where houses have been neglected, ‘demolition and rebuild' might be an option
Ask yourself a few key questions
Before you begin your search, it’s question time. Ask yourself where you want to live and narrow it down to a few manageable search areas. Work out the maximum figure you’re willing to spend and the key features you’re looking for in a plot. Be honest and establish which of these you won’t budge on and which you’re more flexible about. Answering these questions now will help you manage your plot hunt in a more efficient way.
Understand where you can build
Did you know that around 90 percent of UK land can’t be built on? So self-builders need to understand which categories of land do provide opportunities to build. Demolition and rebuild, where you find a desirable plot, knock down its existing building and start again is one of the most common plot types. Within village boundaries, buying a slice of someone else's garden (known as garden grabbing) is also seen more and more these days. And councils are often keen to redevelop brownfield sites, which may have services such as power and water in place.
Agricultural land – particularly in Green Belt areas – is unlikely to gain planning permission.
And a plot is not a plot unless it has planning permission.
Generally agricultural land cannot be build upon
An open-minded search is a faster one
Plot-hunters face fierce competition for suitable plots from self-builders and developers, so it pays to be flexible. If your search area is fixed in a town or city, you’re likely to be disappointed what you can get for your cash. Many self-builders choose to relocate away from these areas, where they find the search gets easier and they have access to more affordable and attractive land. If you won’t compromise on everything, expect a long and sometimes demoralising search. For those who are prepared to look deeper at a site, they’ll often find hidden potential. Lots of fantastic self-builds go up on plots of just an eighth of an acre. So it pays to keep an open mind.
Know where to look
By far the easiest way to build a new home is on land you or your family already own. But not everyone’s that fortunate, so where do the rest of us find a great plot? High street and online estate agencies are obvious entry points. Building relationships with local agents can pay off as it might get you a first crack of the whip when something suitable hits the market. Plot-finding websites, such as Rightmove, Plotfinder or PlotSearch, can give you an idea of the amount of land on the market and its price. Auctions provide an opportunity for a quick transaction, but you have to be careful and understand there might be a reason why property or land is going through an auction. Also remember that you can't back out once you’ve made a bid.
Finding the best value plots, however, may require more time and toil. Tips include visiting your local planning department where you should be on the lookout for recent, outline planning applications. With these, there’s a good chance the vendor is planning to sell. Spread the word that you’re hunting for land among family and friends, get your message out on social media, look at the Local Plan (which can provide insights into where future developments are planned) and enquire with the estate departments of large institutions, organisations and companies as they sell off parcels of their land from time to time.
If it's within a village or town boundary, a garden plot could be an option
Think outside the box
If you want to get more creative, then you have to be proactive. Try exploring your target area in close-up. Walk the area and look for opportunities that owners may not even realise could make them money. For example, hunt out large gaps between and behind houses, disused land and brownfield sites, or piece a plot together by assembling sections from several neighbouring gardens. Leaflet drops as well as advertising your search in the local paper can also pay dividends. You could also speak to a pub landlord or two in the area that you like. They are often well connected or can pass you on to other people who may be able to help.
Be on scam-watch
First-time plot hunters should be aware of unscrupulous agents and businesses that prey on their inexperience. Be savvy and never buy land without planning permission. There’s no reason why a feasible plot shouldn’t have outline permission as it only costs the vendor £335 to apply for. And watch out for land banking, where someone buys a field on the edge of a village and slices it into inexpensive plots. You’re told the land is likely to be zoned for development, but this never happens and you’re left with land that’s worth next to nothing. Use you common sense and get independent advice regardless of how attractive a deal sounds.
Give yourself time to put in the necessary legwork
First-time plot hunters seem to be the most picky. If that’s you, then be realistic that your hunt may become virtually a full-time job. And when you do find something suitable, you’re likely to face stiff competition from other buyers, including well-resourced developers who might consider putting several homes on a plot you plan to put just one on. Try not to be too dismissive of the plots you see, or your search may go on forever. Good luck!