10 top tips to finding your self-build plot
Identifying the right plot is arguably the most important decision in the home building process. The plots location, size, orientation, shading, access, current designation, planning permission and a whole host of other factors will all effect the design of the home that you can achieve. So, before you hit the streets, you’ll need to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, what you’re willing to compromise and what is a non-negotiable. This is where you need to begin your design brief.
1 Define your requirements
A design brief is essential for a successful project, it clearly and unambiguously sets your main requirements, details your vision and communicates your aims. It is a live document which will grow with your project, initially fluid but becoming more defined as decisions are made. To start with it can be a simple list of the main functions of the finished project; a set of bullet points which identify your motivations and expectations; budget expectations; time frames for milestones and lists of issues which may impact on the project. Developing a brief at an early stage will ensure that solutions are built in from the beginning, reducing risks and improving the final design.
2 Get on agents lists
Armed with a list of requirements you’re ready to start your search for the perfect site. You can register with plot finding websites and auction houses which will notify you of potential sites, but will these teams be scouring the area you want and how many thousands of people will receive the same notification? Though these options are useful as they can give you an idea of price and availability. Estate agents should know their area and if you are able to build a relationship with them you may get to hear about an opportunity before it hits the market, beating the crowd. Both options are good if you’re looking for a fully serviced plot or custom home but if you want that sweet spot you’re going to have to put in the hours.
3 Knock down and start again
Don’t rule out a site which has already been developed, buying a dilapidated house can be a great way to the right site. The advantage of this route is that the principle of a house is already established which means that you might not need to argue for a change of use, simplifying the planning process. But be careful that the building isn’t listed, or you will not be able to remove it.
4 Go for a walk
Travelling around your favourite towns or villages, you’ll see plenty of potential sites. Try different ways of travelling, and different times of day as a site might be more visible. Try using cycle paths and footpaths which take you somewhere new. Don’t just look for a virgin spot of green turf. You’re looking for old buildings that have fallen into disuse or disrepair, large side gardens or infill plots.
Hidden behind a hedge, behind a building or along a private street, locations where a potential site is hiding that you just can’t see from a public right of way. This is where you need to surf the net. Using tools such as Google earth to look for sites hidden from the naked eye.
5 Knock on the door
These plots will not be in the market so you will need the courage to knock on the owner’s door and ask if they would like to sell. Impress upon them that you are not a developer but a genuine self-builder who wants to create your own home and anything is possible. If you can’t identify the owner by asking the neighbours and nobody at the pub / post office / hairdressers has any idea you could try the parish records or land registry.
6 Embrace the challenging plot
Many of the plots left in popular locations can be funny parcels of land which are not desirable to developers. Though for self-builder who don’t have to conform to pre-designed off the shelf buildings you can develop an exciting home that fits your brief. A good architect will help you bring the best out of an unusual site.
7 Take a second look
Once you’ve identified a potential site ask yourself “why it’s still there?” Take a second look, and a third. Do your research on the area, is there a risk of contamination, does that tree have a preservation order or has planning already been an issue. Check for covenants or ransom strips. If it looks like the reason is that no one else has spotted the potential get some expert advice. Expert advice can help avoid delays looking at a site that has already been proved impossible. Planning consultants can help with identifying what will be required to get appropriate permission to build. Architects will be able to advise on what can be achieved on the site. You will also need to consider a ground survey, identify a good solicitor experienced in conveyancing for the issues and ensure that your finances stack up.
8 Buy subject to consent
If you’ve found the right plot but are concerned about the potential of obtaining planning permission agree a conditional contract. This can allow you to move away from the sale if planning is not permitted, this is where a good solicitor will be able to support you.
9 Build your design team early
Having your architect on board from the start means that the site can be maximised, ensuring the site and building work together. After the long search you don’t want a carbuncle blighting your enjoyment.
10 Don’t give up
Finding a plot can be difficult, especially if you have a small search area. The process can be frustrating, especially if you lose a great site. Keep going back to the brief for a reminder of why you’re doing this.
Good Luck, we’d love to hear about your search.