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Last edited 06 Sep 2019
Find a plot
With land for building in increasingly short supply, one of the biggest obstacles for self-builders is finding a site in the right area and at the right price. Although some self-builders may be willing to be flexible when it comes to location, they will often be up against other self-builders, small builders and full-time land finders which may make the search more arduous.
The following is a list of points to bear in mind when searching for a plot for that dream home:
Gathering as much information as possible about a small chosen area that is deemed desirable is advisable. Analysing aerial photography and large-scale maps might reveal potential infill plots, such as large back gardens, waste ground or brownfield sites.
However, as with searches undertaken by solicitors, there are sometimes nasty surprises ready to hit the unwary. For example, discovering that a location is riddled with former mine workings should deter even the boldest of self-builders.
 Understand what is available
Understanding the different types of plot available is important. Many plots come with planning permission. But there are also plots available that are not advertised and cannot be seen from the road. A plot may be eked out of the garden of an existing property, particularly if the garden belongs to a friend or relative who may be willing to do a deal. It therefore pays to be inquisitive and to make enquiries.
Apps such as Streetview or Google maps can help locate hard-to-see plots, especially small plots of land between other properties, and others which may not be immediately apparent.
It is important to keep an open mind: a plot that has a dilapidated property should not be rejected out of hand. It may be possible to demolish the existing building and rebuild from scratch. If the plot is large enough, it might be possible to build two houses on the same plot. The second house could be built at some future time when finances recover.
 Contact the locals
Websites such as plotfinder.net list sites on a UK national basis. They can be a good starting point for a search. In September 2019, plots were available (with planning permission) starting at £113,000. Plots without planning permission may be slightly cheaper.
 Estate agents and land agents
Local estate agents may also have some knowledge about land that is available in the area – although some may not be interested in selling land due to the lower commission they will receive compared to houses. If possible, estate agents who operate property auctions should be sought out for inclusion of plots amid their auction lots. Subscribing to their catalogue list, usually sent out freely around a month or so before the auction date, is also a good move. It is worth getting to know estate agents, flagging your intentions and contacting them regularly.
Getting ideas and advice from others who may have already found a plot – and even started to build – is an invaluable learning experience.
Understand how the local planners operate and the sort of properties they have approved for planning. This will give an idea of the styles, materials and scale that they favour. Just because a plot is bought with planning permission does not mean the buyer cannot reapply with a new application featuring a design that caters more to their needs.
In addition, looking out for plots that have only recently been granted planning permission may pay dividends as it will allow an early offer to be made to the vendor, possibly beating the rest of the field.
Compromise is king when seeking a plot. Rather than stick to pre-conceived ideas of how their ideal plot should be, self-builders would do well to compromise and make a list of the attributes that are really essential to them. Otherwise they may be looking for a very long time.
The location does not have to be in the Cotswolds, South Wales or by the sea – areas which are often highly sought after and therefore very expensive. Considering less popular areas could bring a few unexpected surprises.
It is also important not to have unrealistic expectations in terms of style: plans for a brutalist house are unlikely to be approved in, or on the outskirts of, a rural English village. On the other hand, respecting the local vernacular in terms of style, scale and materials is likely to be viewed more sympathetically.
 Be pragmatic
A site in a remote location may seem idyllic on a warm summers’ day. But it may feel eerie at night and, if far from a hospital, police or fire station, may take the emergency services a long time to arrive, which could prove fatal. Also, during periods of torrential rain or heavy snowfall, the site may be completely cut-off.
Scenarios such as these may only come to light after having lived on the chosen site – by which time an expensive mistake may have been made. It is therefore crucial to run through and evaluate as many scenarios as possible before opting for an isolated location.
 Be aware
Be aware that there are a number of scams that attempt to exploit people looking for self-build plots. Always keep in mind the phrase ‘buyer beware’. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Building an extension.
- Building regulations.
- CDM for self-builders and domestic clients.
- Community infrastructure levy.
- Community right to build.
- Custom-build homes.
- How to build a garage.
- Kit house.
- Localism Act.
- National Planning Policy Framework.
- Neighbourhood planning.
- Open source architectural plans for modular buildings.
- Planning permission.
- Right to build.
- Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill 2014-15.
- Self build and custom housebuilding registers.
- Self-build home project plan.
- Self-build homes negotiating discounts.
- Self-build initiative.
- Serviced plot.
- Statutory permissions.
- Types of building.
- VAT refunds on self-build homes.
- Walters Way and Segal Close.
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