23 Sep 2019

Find a plot that ticks all the boxes

Building a home is a real bucket list event for a lot of people, yet so few make it a reality. In the UK, self-build can prove a complex process for the uninitiated, which often dissuades people from giving it proper consideration. Paul Smith, Founder of MyPlot, reflects on the challenges of finding the right plot.

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Particularly for novice self-builders, finding the perfect plot of land is often considered the most challenging hurdle to surmount – a task that sees countless self-build dreams squashed before they’ve begun.

Technology has made the process of finding a plot of land much more straightforward than it used to be – gone are the days of knocking on doors and scouting neighbourhoods for plots of land at the weekend. Take MyPlot as a case in point – now you can find your plot and a directory of experts all on one single platform, stripping the complexity from the process. However, while plot listings make it more straightforward to find the perfect parcel of land, whether you’re looking for a smart suburb with a coffee shop culture or a rural idyll with silent skies, it’s important to understand what to look for and what to avoid.

While you need to love the location, practicalities must have equal weighting – a completely dispassionate approach may be too much to ask (remember your advisors will be able to help), but having a good understanding of the basic ingredients for a good self-build plot will stand you in good stead.

It’s a big ask, but try not to let your heart overpower your head.

Start with the basics – size, location and price. Never compromise on those factors – while the view may be beautiful, if it means scrimping on outdoor space or the size of your kitchen, you may well live to regret it.

Once you have an idea of location, it’s also worth registering your interest in self-build with the relevant local authority – they will keep your details on their Right to Build Register, the aim being to match you with a suitable plot of land in that area.

Whilst plot listing sites can be really helpful, not every potential self-build plot will be marketed for sale. You can use aerial photographs and maps to try to spot possible development sites and, if you’re not afraid to knock on doors, do approach the landowners – they may well be interested in selling it.

Purchasing a self-build plot is much the same as purchasing a home when you’re considering location – make sure you do your research. Visit at different times of day, during the evening and on different days of the week. Note noise and any problematic traffic patterns, look at the local crime map and check out residents’ Facebook groups to get an indication of any issues.

If you need to ask to view the site several times before making up your mind, then do – you don’t want to get this wrong.

You should also take some time to consider more practical considerations. This is where choosing your advisors early in the process can pay dividends – specialist planning consultants, architects and building contractors can all give you advice on whether it will be possible to deliver your ideal home on the plot you’ve found.

If you have a very modern, ambitious design in mind, but your plot sits within a neighbourhood of predominantly Victorian buildings, for example, you may struggle to secure planning permission. Look at recent planning submissions that have been approved – or refused – and work with your advisors to gauge the likelihood of success. If the gulf is too wide, it may be wise to look elsewhere.

If you’re looking at rural sites, don’t neglect the boring technical stuff – or worse, make assumptions. Make sure that there is suitable access to the site without the need to traverse third party land in any way, and that utilities are within easy reach.

Planning permission is a crucial consideration when finding the right plot of land for a self-build home. By asking the right questions early on, buyers can save themselves unnecessary stress and wasted time further down the line. The ease with which your home secures planning permission will depend to a large extent on where it is located. Land close to, or within, a conservation area or an area of natural beauty will of course come with much more stringent conditions than a plot of land within a developed urban location.

Those purchasing a property with the intention of demolishing it and building a new home on the land may find it more straightforward to secure planning permission, yet they will pay a premium for the privilege and may well find that it comes with more constraints.

While your self-build should be a home first and an investment second, it’s important to think to the future and make sure your money is well spent. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the project, but every road and location has a ceiling price, so make sure you’re not likely to exceed it. The property may well be your “forever home” but unexpected life events could mean you need to sell sooner than you’d envisaged and you’ll want to make sure it performs well as an asset.

The self-build journey isn’t without its challenges (although the reward makes up for it), so it’s important that you love the location and are completely committed to building your home, come what may.

Knowing what to look for and being clear on non-negotiables will get your self-build journey off on the right foot.

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