Finding a plot that’s right for you can be a challenge. It will probably be 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Keep an open mind and be realistic. You might not find the exact size or shape desired, but if you use your imagination and think of the possibilities, you might end up with something spectacular. Many an award-winning house has been built on a narrow or sloping plot. Architects love a challenge; however, do bear in mind that this will likely cost more.
It’s also important not to dismiss renovations, conversions or an existing building that may be deemed too small – this can often be extended. The more options you give yourself, the better your chances. You need to be clear on your objectives. Ask yourself how important the location is, for example. The narrower the criteria you set on the area, the fewer the opportunities.
It’s a good idea to let your local estate agents know that you are on the hunt. Some plots get snapped up in a matter of days, so it works to your advantage to have a bit of extra help. Use your initiative and ask around. Farmers, pub landlords or Government agencies might know something you don’t.
Use an online plot service, such as plotbrowser.com, at the start of your search. This will give you a feel for the number of plots that come onto the market in your search area and for the likely price you will need to pay. It will also help you identify those estate agents who specialise in building plots. Once you have identified them, it makes sense to keep in touch with them proactively and frequently.
Many plots are put on the market for sale by auction. Lots are listed at a reasonable price, particularly if in need of repair, and you might bag yourself a bargain. Another positive is that the seller cannot withdraw the sale. They will provide a legal pack for inspection, so you can make an informed decision in advance of the auction date. Auctions are not for the faint-hearted, however. Therefore, it is a good idea to attend one or two with no intention of bidding to understand the process. If successful at an auction, you will need to make a substantial and immediate deposit.
Be very wary of plots without planning permission. There is usually a reason why a site does not have planning permission – a seller has a huge incentive to secure planning permission because it increases the price they can command. Planning permissions vary, so be aware of the difference between consents. Outline permission isn’t as detailed, and once granted, further approval must be sought for the nitty-gritty details. Detailed planning applications submit all the facts of the proposed development from the beginning of the process.
Takeaways: Peter’s six top tips
1. Set a realistic budget
Many self-builders fall at the first hurdle when it comes to building their dream home. There is no magic formula for finding a plot and whichever method you use, remember there are a lot of other people who will be looking too. Setting a realistic budget is a good starting point. Remember that a plot price will reflect the final value of the house in that location.
2. Be open-minded
Even seemingly unpromising plots can be the site of your dream home. Many award-winning homes have been built on narrow or sloping plots. Good architects love a challenge which can often bring out their best work. But bear in mind that it will probably cost more. An existing building that is too small but in the perfect location will almost certainly be worth looking at – permitted development rights will allow you to extend by at least 50%, but you may well be able to increase that.
3. Use free web listings
Use an online web listing specialising in self-build plots, such as plotbrowser.com. It lists sites (and other single-dwelling opportunities, such as conversions) throughout the UK. It’s free to use and is a good starting point to evaluate the number of plots and likely prices in your area. It will also help to identify estate agents who specialise in land sales in your search area.
4. Pester your estate agent
Once you have identified likely estate agents, make sure they know you are a serious buyer. Keep in regular contact with them. Many plots are on the market for only a matter of days, so if the agents know you are cashed up and ready for a quick deal, then you are in the box seat – especially for sales that have fallen through.
5. Do the hard graft
Don’t rely on others to find your plot. Ask around at pubs, speak to farmers, leaflet the area in which you are looking and contact anyone who sells land, including Government agencies.
6. Beware of sharks!
If a plot appears to be too good to be true, then it probably is. Watch out for unscrupulous vendors selling land described as a ‘building plot’ that doesn’t have planning permission. In reality, it is simply agricultural land on the market at an inflated price.