Building your own home is a fantastic and fulfilling project, if a challenging one. It certainly isn’t a weekend job: in fact, simply finding the land for a self build can be a huge task in itself!
There are around 13,000 successful self build projects every year in the UK, an extremely low number relative to other European countries. This is largely down to a lack of available space: around 90% of land in the UK is protected, making it very difficult to find an ideal plot to build on.
That is not to say that finding such a plot is impossible, but it can often take several years. Because of this it is important to know exactly what you want to find and where, while also having enough wiggle-room to be able to make compromises. You will also need to know exactly what to look out for in order to avoid any unforeseen problems which could harm your build.
You can get started by hiring a local estate agent in the area you are interested in. An experienced agent will know the area well enough to find opportunities that others won’t. At the very least, they can keep their eye on local listings and auctions, informing you about potential plots as they appear. It will also be important to have a firm idea of what kind of property you want to build, so even at this early stage you can benefit from speaking to an architectural designer and structural engineer. While you are searching, be sure to let others know what your plans are; you may find that they are able to recommend excellent local builders and other trade professionals for when you are finally able to get down to your build.
The first step to finding your ideal self build plot will be to decide exactly where you want to search. While the lack of available land in the UK can make this difficult, spreading your net too widely can make it impossible to do a comprehensive search and you’ll likely end up missing out on some great plots. By focusing on a general area instead, you are far more likely to stumble on something that will suit your needs.
When choosing your area, try to keep in mind exactly what kind of plot you are looking for. Brownfield and infill sites tend to be far more common than country plots, and you could find that local authorities will be far keener to help if you are willing to accept a disused inner city site for your build.
Once you have chosen an area, you should start getting to know it. Taking a walk around the area will do more than boost your health; it can also give you the chance to look out for potential plots! Sometimes finding a self build plot can happen completely by accident: you might notice an undeveloped field or garden, or even a building in disrepair. If you do, securing a plot can be as simple as contacting the owners and asking what it will take for them to sell.
Another thing to do once you have found your ideal area will be to contact the local council authority. If you let them know about your dilemma, a representative may well be able to recommend a place, especially if you are part of a group.
This is not all your council can do for you, however: each local authority publishes local planning applications in order to give locals a chance to have their say. Developers will often apply for planning permission on land in order to make it more appealing to buyers, so you could end up finding an attractive plot before it even goes on the market.
One of the most effective, and perhaps the most obvious, methods of finding a self build plot will be to hire an experienced local estate agent. They can take much of the work off your hands by keeping their eyes on local listings and auctions and help to move the process along once you have found your ideal plot.
If all else fails, you could always create an advertisement to let people know what you are looking for and offer a finder’s fee for useful information.
Buying a plot of land for development is just like buying a house: as well as knowing what you want, you also need to know what to watch out for.
In truth, the price of land can vary significantly, not just across the UK but also in local areas. Why? Because there are so many variables involved which can bolster or cut the value of the land.
If you are considering a plot, ask yourself these questions:
Unfortunately, perfect plots are extremely rare. In other words, when buying land you should always look a gift horse in the mouth and assume that if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is!
One final thing to mention is that when viewing a plot, you should never take it at face value. Many plots, particularly brownfield and infill sites, won’t look like the blank canvases you imagine when you picture your project. Try to think of what a site will look like once it is cleaned up; it could be the key to finding a bargain!
Many people who embark on self build projects do so without the knowledge and experience that comes from working in property. With that in mind, there is one thing that you should remember: never buy a plot of land without first gaining planning permission. It is just far too much of a risk to assume you will be able to get planning permission. This is especially true when you consider the cost of land in the UK: for many self builds, the cost of the land can take up 50% of the total funds spent.
Luckily, there are a few things working in your favour. For one, you will only need to pay stamp duty on the land itself, rather than your self build. If the land is worth less than £125,00, you can even avoid paying stamp duty altogether!
What really works in your favour, however, is that you do not actually need to own a piece of land in order to use it in a planning permission application. Because of this, it is a good idea to go to your local authority as soon as you find a plot which interests you; they should be able to tell you enough about local planning laws to let you know if it is worth progressing.
One thing that you might want to consider is to offer to purchase a piece of land subject to obtaining planning permission. This is known as an ‘Option Agreement’, and it works by establishing an ‘open period’ for you to buy the land once you satisfy certain conditions, such as obtaining planning permission.