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A guide to finding land

Finding the ideal plot of land for your dream project can be almost as hard as deciding what to build on it and in many circumstances may significantly influence what you actually construct. And without that land, the project that has been keeping you awake for so long is unlikely to become a reality. If you have never bought land before it can be tricky to know where to start but almost 13,000 people successfully self-build every year in the UK which means the plots are out there and the process is navigable. Happily, we’ve put together a guide to help make this all a little easier for you.

Where to start when looking for land

It might sound obvious but the first step should be to clearly define your search area. Do some research (see below) into average costs of land in the areas you are looking for as this may determine where you buy and what size plot you can afford. Land prices vary widely across the country and you may be able to purchase a larger plot than you think in a different county.

Once you have identified which part of the country you’re setting your sights on, your search should be as focussed as possible and this is the point that a good old fashioned paper map can come in handy. Starting your search from the ‘air’ will help you spot sites that may not be visible from the road. Keep your search area a manageable size - one that can be explored in your weekends or free time, one that you can get to know well enough to confidently put down roots, but one that also is likely to offer the type of plot you are looking for. The wider the radius you draw the more work you are going to have to do in terms of sifting through potential sites, visiting places, meeting people, exploring planning restrictions and making decisions. So putting the work in up front can save you a lot of time, heartache and potentially money in the long run - you’d be surprised how many people bite off more than they can chew when it comes to this part of the process.

In pursuit of that ideal plot, it is worth writing down exactly what it is you are looking for. Is it a plot with a view? And if so, of what? Does your dream build demand a flat plot or a sloping site? Are you looking for woodland or an open field location? And then there will be your wish-list items which may include streams, lakefronts, forests or perhaps additional land for other uses such as growing fruit and vegetables, outbuildings or even a collection of holiday lets. Are you looking for total isolation, or proximity to shops, schools and other services? If the latter, what is the maximum distance you would be prepared to travel? These things can help define the radius of your search area, but also help you eliminate unsuitable sites within it.

Idyllic, absolutely. But getting planning permission in locations such as this may not be easy

How to find land for sale

There are multiple channels available for finding land for sale and a combination of a number of the following may yield the best results. Also, the more creative you are in your approach the more enjoyable you are likely to find it.

The internet

As with so many elements of life these days, the internet is your best place to start looking as it can form part of your initial research phase, particularly costs, as well as your final ‘homing in’ process. Plotsearch is arguably the most well-known self-build land search site and is an incredible resource. Creating an account will allow you to save plots you like the look of, download full plot reports and set up alerts when new sites that meet your criteria come online. Other house searching sites also allow you to search for ‘land only’ although may not be able to give the specialist advice and resources that specialist land search sites come with.

Other land search sites include:

The Right to Build Register

In late 2016, new legislation was introduced that now requires local councils to make land available to meet the demand of self-builders. This has been brought in to increase the number of self-built properties from around 13,000 in 2016 to over 20,000 per year in the years to come. Local councils are required to take this demand into account when considering larger developer-led applications and is set to become something of a game-changer when it comes to facilitating individual self-building. Check out your local council website for the link to your regional Right to Build register.

Local estate agents

Local property agents can be a wealth of information when it comes to getting to know the potential in a location, how to source land and subsequently pointing you in the right direction of planning experts, architects and surveyors. Having a conversation and registering your interest with them might feel a little analogue in a digital world, but they are the experts in the area you’re looking at and may even contact you about new sites before they are released to the open market.

Word of mouth

Land comes up for sale all the time but many plots are snapped up without ever going on general release, purely through the power of word of mouth. Speak to farmers, strike up conversations with publicans, café owners, hairdressers and anyone else you can think of who might be at the centre of these conversations. Leave your details wherever you go and make sure people know you are actively looking. This process is easier if you live in the same area that you are searching in but can be achieved in a concentrated, well-planned effort over a long weekend or extend

Property auctions

Land does become available at auction and this can be both a blessing and a curse. Auctions are notoriously frantic affairs, where plots may just as equally be snapped up for a steal, or sold for well over the asking price if competition is high. Trying to secure your ideal plot at auction is likely to be a stressful affair as this can feel very much like a one-shot chance unless you are in a position to out-bid all other parties. It is therefore sensible to avoid pinning all your hopes to this single chance, but do your homework and take a strategy into the auction room that gives you the best shot at winning without taking you over a set of predetermined limits.

Again there are a number of websites to get you started, including:

Finding a plot with at least something pre-existing might make getting planning permission a little bit easier.

Quick tips for finding land

  • You may consider land with an existing property that requires renovation or rebuilding, as this is likely to be easier to get through planning permission than a piece of previously undeveloped land.

  • Contact your local planning office for sites where planning has been granted but work has not yet begun. You may be able to negotiate with the owners, particularly if they are unable to start their own build for some reason.

  • Incentivise estate agents, architects and planning consultants with a finders’ fee for information on land due to become available.

A word or two of caution

As with all these things, you need to do your research and ensure that you only deal with reputable, trustworthy vendors or intermediaries. Be wary of people or companies offering you green belt land with planning permission approval for suspiciously low prices. Be aware also that planning permission is far from guaranteed, particularly in sensitive locations so always check before you buy to avoid being left with a piece of land that you cannot use. If in doubt, consult local planning professionals to verify any potential plots before you part with any money.

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