23 Dec 2014

What is the secret to finding the perfect plot?

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Raymond Connor, Chief Executive of BuildStore Ltd gives a useful insight into finding that elusive plot.

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New Year is traditionally the time of year for making new resolutions and embracing new beginnings. It’s also the time of year when there is a significant peak in the number of plot searches conducted as those who have contemplated building their own home actually make a concerted effort to make those dreams become a reality.

Of course, this ‘call to action’ can be triggered by a number of factors, such as extended family descending over the festive period pushing your current living arrangements to the extreme, or making the most of favourable mortgage interest rates. But it is undeniable that finding that dream plot is probably one of the greatest hurdles of self-building.

Finding the right plot, at the right time and at the right price can be a challenging task, given that we live on an island and land is inherently allocated to either local authorities or private landowners. So, what is the secret to finding the perfect plot?

It’s all too easy to get carried away with how your home will ‘look and feel’ so I strongly suggest taking five minutes out to compile a wish list before you even start your search for land. For example: do you wish to live in a rural idyll or would you prefer to live in a community with established transport, schools and infrastructure? Do you wish to live near family members? Will it satisfy your needs now and in the future? What size plot do you actually need to fulfil the build structure? What is your plot budget and how will you secure ongoing finance for the build?

Only start looking once you have determined the location, plot size and budget. On average, finding and securing the right plot and obtaining the correct planning permissions can take an average of 12-18 months, so it is always advisable to commence your search at the earliest possible opportunity. It is no coincidence that searches conducted in the New Year correlate with the majority of self-builds that commence in favourable Spring weather conditions.

For some, lady luck can play a part – such was the case with James Wragg who, while enjoying a Sunday drink at his local pub, happened to notice a vacant plot adjacent to the beer garden and subsequently purchased it from the brewery. For others, it’s a case of thinking ‘outside the box’, like Mr & Mrs Raettig who bought a dilapidated cottage with the sole intention of knocking it down and creating a contemporary family home on its footprint.

However for the majority of us, it’s a case of putting in the legwork and using all the tools made available to us. If you’re keen to remain living in the same area, adopting tried and tested methods such as visiting estate agents, attending land auctions, scouring the property pages of local newspapers and even driving round your desired location can pay dividends; if you see a vacant plot of land, don’t be afraid to knock on doors and make enquiries. Additionally, why not visit the local planning office and review the latest planning applications? Even if planning has been applied for, this does not necessarily mean that the site will be built upon. Don’t be afraid to approach the applicant, be upfront and honest with your intentions to self-build and offer a fair price for the land.

Taking to the internet can provide a convenient solution to finding your ideal plot, especially if you are looking to build in a new locality. Using Google Earth to identify infill plots and posting your ‘wanted’ flag on the Self Build Portal’s ‘Need-A-Plot’ noticeboard can be useful. However, this can also be time-consuming and will not necessarily provide instant gratification.

Online resources

Essentially what you need is to find a plot of land, in your chosen locality, that satisfies your budget and most importantly, comes complete with planning permission. Recently re-launched to offer mobile and tablet functionality, www.plotsearch.co.uk meets all your requirements and more. As the UK’s longest established land finding resource that only lists plots of land that can be genuinely be built upon, the site currently features over 8000 plots across the length and breadth of the country, with prices starting from as little as £5000. The site currently has over 80,000 subscribers looking for land, so it’s imperative that you get a head-start on any competition. You can register onto its Plot Alert service to be instantly notified of any new plots that become available.

If you thought all the options to plot-finding had been explored, think again as there is an additional route to finding a plot. Recent government initiatives to drive forward its ‘Right to Build’ housing scheme include awarding eleven local authorities ‘vanguard’ status to deliver custom-build sites. Presenting ‘shovel ready’ plots, complete with planning permissions, custom-build gives you the opportunity to do as much or as little as you desire. Although these individual plots may be part of a larger self-build site, they still present the opportunity to create the home of your dreams.

The level of support being offered by the government is very encouraging and I was delighted to be a member of the Joint Industry Working Group set up to widen the opportunities available for people to build their own homes. Richard Bacon MP has been driving forward self-build and custom-build in the UK, with his bill to make local authorities implement custom-build registers receiving cross-party support. With the bill expected to be passed in April, it is anticipated that local authorities across the country will soon be hosting dedicated registers to accurately measure local demand and provide appropriate custom-build sites.

Although still in its infancy, custom-build sites are springing up across the country and you don’t need to wait until individual authority registers are created to be informed of these opportunities. By simply registering with the Custom Build Register – www.custombuildregister.co.uk – which already has over 13,000 subscribers, you will be notified direct of any custom-build plots that become available in your chosen locality. Furthermore, this data is fed into local authorities, landowners and developers to encourage the release and availability of land. To find out more about custom-build and potential sites, www.custombuildhomes.co.uk provides an invaluable resource.

I acknowledge that finding land can be frustrating at the best of times, but by exploring all the options available to you, peppered with a little patience, you will find your ideal plot of land.

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