The A to Z of plot search

I have collated a few bits of advice on plot search with my own experiences and a good dollop of creativity to produce this ideas-rich guide for you.

I hope this becomes your go-to document for your plot-search strategy.

Ask the editor of a local booklet if any plots are ever advertised. If so, don’t wait for the next monthly publication, ask the publisher how to get an early pre-published copy. If you can insert an advertisement, describe your Plot Search with care. Stress that you are a private buyer with a desire to build a family home, this allows you to present yourself as a lovely prospective neighbour. It goes down better than being a builder who plans to develop the plot and then move on.

Assemble a plot
Buy several dwellings or plots. Assemble land for one plot, then resell the rest. If there are over-long thin gardens adjacent to each other, try and purchase the often-neglected end-bits and package them into a self-build plot.

This is a good source of single-house plots and properties ripe for demolition. You may get lucky and end up with a cracking plot. However, do your homework first by visiting the site and reading the legal pack.

Be sure that everyone in your family, business and social group knows you’re looking for land. Plots are often found in the garden of an existing property, so spread the word that you’re open to ideas and opportunities.

Brownfield sites
Councils publish lists of brownfield sites that are for sale. Browse through the Council website for the list.

Business for sale
A failing business with an attractive parcel of land might be for sale. If the business is not valued very highly, purchase the business, close it down and self-build on the land.

Commercial property for sale
Planning laws are currently relaxed about a change of use from commercial to residential and so it’s worth looking at commercial property with potential. Example properties are pubs, garage forecourts, scrapyards. Be aware that contaminated sites might require expensive remediation.

Community Group build
Councils have to look favourably upon community groups that wish to purchase unused land for self build.

Demolish an existing property
An existing property might be worth purchasing for its’ land value so it could be a good strategy to demolish and start again. A benefit of a new-build is that VAT is reclaimable on new-builds. VAT canno be reclaimed on refurbishments. Bear in mind that you may be limited to building on the existing footprint and to the existing height.

Demolition fees are highly variable antd its not unusual for one bid to be twice as much as another bid. It all depends on whether the demolition contractor has a queue of projects or not. The contractor might be desperate to utilise expensive plant and labour that is sitting idle. Obtain a competitive price by requesting several contractors to quote for the job, then ask them to bid lower for your work.

Work out the financials. A popular approach is to demolish a bungalow and then build two semi-detached two-storey dwellings on the same site. This is an excellent strategy if the existing footprint is large enough and the neighbouring houses are high enough. With a little pre-planning effort, you will discover the likelihood of achieving planning permission for such a site.

Development sites
Builders and construction companies might want to quickly dispose of the difficult parts of a large development site. Increasingly, Councils are placing a duty on developers to allocate a part of the land to self-build.

Estate agencies
Register with local estate agents as a first essential step. Then, become their best friend. Ring and visit them regularly.

Most of us drive around, looking for potential plots. This is not very effective at spotting the hidden gems. You will need to walk around your selected area. Just think how healthy you will be by the time you have found your plot!

As you walk, you are looking for infill sites, large gardens or disused garage blocks. In the current climate, many Councils are open to their re-use as residential sites as long as the planning regulations are complied with. If you spot somewhere, knock on the owners door. Alternatively, write a letter introducing yourself as a potential purchaser. The land-owner might not realise the potential of the land.

As you walk, take the time to chat to locals. Pop into the local shop for bread/paper etc and engage in conversation with the proprietor. Have a drink in the local pub and mention that you are looking to buy land. Word-of-mouth is a powerful tool.

Gaps between houses
Planning consent for development between existing houses usually has less chance of refusal if your design seeks to fit in with the existing properties. You need to be alert to the right to light of existing properties.

Small-scale development in gardens is still possible in the current political climate. One-off houses are usually preferred over multi-unit developments. Ensure there is good vehicle access.

Group purchase
If the larger plots are out of reach for you as a single land-buyer, form a group to buy land that can be split up between you. If you don’t know enough self-builders in your area to do this, find some! Put posters up in shops, leaflet drop, subscribe to websites that have been created for this very task, create your own “self-builders in This Town wanted” website etc

Infrastructure plans
New roads, railways, bridges and other infrastructure might result in the sale of small parcels of surplus land. Walk around these sites to see if you can identify such opportunities.

Local development plans
Planning departments prepare local development plans that identify land set aside for residential use. Approach the owners of this codified land to learn their intentions.

If an empty house or a commercial property has been destroyed or part-destroyed by fire or flood or some other action, there may be an opportunity to purchase it for demolition. Obviously, any approach needs to be done sensitively if you are unaware of the circumstances of how it came to be destroyed.

Ordnance Survey maps
The best scale is 1:250,000 as it shows fences in gardens, potential infill plots, waste ground and brownfield sites.

Planning Office
Most Councils offer an online portal where you can view planning applications and their progress through the approvals system. The person who applied for planning permission might be looking to sell with planning permission, rather than build themselves.

Some surveyors and architects may find out about new plots before they come onto the market. Drop them a speculative email, expressing an interest. Offer a finder’s fee to property professionals. For large organisations where a finders fee is not appropriate, it’s enough to promise to drop by their office with a crate of champagne!

Offer a reward in a “Wanted” notice in local shops

Right-to-Build register
Councils now have a duty to operate a register of people who want to self-build in their area. Log onto your Council website and register yourself as a potential self-builder looking for a plot. This is a long-term strategy but it’s worth doing.

Social media
If you are on Twitter, Facebook etc, use these platforms to tell everyone about your plot search. Your online “friends” may have relatives or friends with land to sell.

Search Online
Use a search engine such as Google to find websites that are selling single plots of land. Google Earth is useful for spotting houses with large gardens. Shortlist those addresses for a walk and an inspection over the garden fence. If any are untidy, it may be that the owners will be glad to dispose of part of their garden for a reasonable price.

Subscribe to plot-finding websites. Some are free, others charge a fee