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Last edited 04 Jan 2022
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 problematic.
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.
 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. It therefore pays to be inquisitive and to make enquiries.
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.
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 receive compared to houses. If possible, estate agents who operate property auctions should be sought out. 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.
 Other techniques
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.
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.
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 key when seeking a plot. Rather than sticking to pre-conceived ideas of how the ideal plot should be, self-builders should make a list of the attributes that are really essential to them. Considering less popular areas could bring a few unexpected surprises.
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.
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