Depending on which part of the UK you wish to live in, finding a suitable plot to build your house on may be a challenge! If plots are scarce focus on finding the plot first, don’t even think about your house design. When you’ve found your plot then you can design the house to suit that plot. For more information on house design take a look at the SBE House Design Guide (link to .pdf download).
Most people will want to live in a specific part of the country due, perhaps, to work commitments / travel to work considerations, family ties or simply because it’s somewhere they know and like. If this is you, your task is possibly easier than if you are willing to live anywhere. Albeit your options may be limited.
Before you start your plot search, consult the Local Development Plan(s), to establish the area(s) where a proposal to build a new house is likely to be acceptable. Having done this take a look around the area(s) to check it is somewhere you would wish to live.
Having decided on your preferred area to live you can set about finding your plot.
There are obvious places to look such as local press, property websites, estate / land agents (this and the following blue underlined examples to link to appropriate yellow highlighted copy below, in light box), large land and estate owners, auction houses, builders / developers, local authority and so on. There are also dedicated national plot databases / websites such as Plotfinder (link to website) and Plotsearch (link to website). But, one of the most successful and little used ways of finding a site is to use your own initiative.
There are landowners out there who may not be looking to sell land but if the idea is put to them may consider it. Think about driving around the area and if you see a spot you like, find out who owns the land and make a direct approach. The worst that can happen is they say ‘no’!
If this seems a bit scary, think about asking the local pub landlord if they know of anyone thinking about selling land or place a ‘Plot Wanted’ ad. in the local press, shop, post office, etc. You could also produce a simple leaflet and pop it through neighbouring letterboxes.
Searching Google Maps (link to website) might reveal a hidden gem which is not obvious from a drive past. Large gardens may offer a back-land site. Also, look for derelict buildings or buildings of low value to pull down and replace.
A search of the local planning register may give you an advantage. Most landowners looking to sell a potential building plot will seek Outline Planning Permission (Planning In Principle, in Scotland) first, in order to maximise its market value. The application will include the owner’s (or their agent’s) contact details and a simple enquiry will establish if the plot is for sale. If it is, you are then in pole position and may be able to strike a deal before it goes on the open market.
Warning: Land Banking Services
There are a large number of businesses currently offering small plots of land for sale without planning permission. There are variations in the marketing but the general implication is that due to the shortage of building land, these plots have a reasonable chance of obtaining planning permission. Be warned that if you buy one of these plots you are simply buying an overpriced parcel of agricultural land, costing you up to ten times the current market value with little likelihood of ever obtaining pp. Furthermore some of these land banking firms have been shut down by the FSA with the result that investors have lost their money and not received any land. Avoid.
Whatever you do, do not purchase land without planning permission. It could be an expensive gamble!
Estate and Land Agents
It is definitely worth speaking to your local estate agents. Although most will only sell the occasional plot, they are still your mostly likely source of a plot. Many agents will have good contacts with property developers and landowners. They may also be aware of properties with large gardens with building plot potential. Remember to keep in contact with estate agents on a regular basis as they will rarely contact you except when they are trying to dispose of a ‘difficult’ property.
Large Land and Estate Owners
Many parts of the country have large estates which may contain a variety of building in addition to the main residence. There may be opportunities for change of use for some of these properties or there may be planning possibilities where ruins exist. Opportunities sometimes arise following the death of the main landowner when inheritance tax is due.
Builders / Developers
Occasionally local builders may be prepared to sell off part of a development area, for example if they need to raise some cash quickly.
While most self-builders look for single plots for a single house, most developers purchase land with planning permission for a number of houses. If you can find a group of likeminded people, you may be able to club together to buy development land and then sub-divide it between you. If you decide to take this route, it would be strongly advisable to use a solicitor draw up a legal agreement between each member of the group prior to purchasing the land.
Sometimes local authorities will sell off land with development potential. This may include land with commercial buildings which can knocked down and replaced. Some local authorities, particularly New Towns, have also been known to sell off individual plots of land to self-builders instead of developers e.g. Milton Keynes.
Plot Databases / Websites
There are a number of commercial databases which have details of building plots normally organised by county. Usually you have to pay a fee to see the plots available. These services are worth trying but don’t get your hopes up too high. The best plots go very quickly and most of these databases will contain a fair number of hard to sell/undesirable plots. Many of the best plots never get onto these services. If you do subscribe to a building plot service, make sure that the plots on offer have planning permission – see warning.