Decide on the area you want to look in, and research it. It may sound obvious, but lots of people have a vague idea of wanting to live ‘in the Lake District’, which covers quite a large area where it is difficult to get planning permission unless you’re already a local.

Be prepared to compromise – chances are, the perfect plot doesn’t exist, and if it does, local planning restrictions may mean you can’t build exactly what you want on it, so be prepared to adapt your expectations to suit what’s available.

You will of course ideally want a plot with planning permission, but that’s not as common as you might think, and the permission might not be for the house you actually want to build, so it is worth looking at sites that don’t have planning permission yet, or only have outline permission.

TYPES OF PLOT

There are various types of plot you may come across for sale:

Garden Plots: exactly what it sounds like – this used to be part of someone’s garden. A backland development is also a garden plot, but where the new house will be at the back of the existing house.
Brownfield Land: land that previously had planning, usually has had something built on it before, and has often been in industrial use for a factory or similar. Can be expensive if remediation is needed due to soil contamination.
Greenfield Land: land that hasn’t previously been developed.
Replacement Plots: currently has a house on it, which may be run down (in our experience, the majority of replacement plots fall into this category), or may just not be using the space available to best advantage.
Fully Serviced Plots: often have infrastructure and services (drainage etc) already in place, but can be restrictive as to what you can build and what company you can use to build it.
Green Belt Land: will generally not be allowed planning permission for anything!

WHERE TO LOOK

Local Council’s Right to Build Register
Auctions
Professional land finders (e.g. Plotbrowser, Plot Finder)
Streetview and Google Maps
Estate agents
Buy an existing house and apply for planning to knock it down and build what you want (a rather expensive option!)
Serviced plot developments like Graven Hill (see www.gravenhill.co.uk)

FOUND A PLOT – NOW WHAT?

So, once you find what you think is the perfect plot, what next? Time to look the plot over carefully, find all the obvious issues that might cause you problems (access, sloping site), work out whether the asking price is reasonable for the area, look at the surrounding houses and see if your ideal design fits in well enough to have a realistic chance of planning permission, check up on things like tree preservation orders and possible land contamination – in other words, do a lot of research!

Pay particular attention to the following, as they can really spoil the plot for you, so to speak!

Neighbours – try and meet them before you go ahead.
Access – if you have to access a neighbour’s land (see above) or a local landowner/farmer’s land to be able to build, this could cause issues, or indeed cost you money.
Planning conditions (e.g. external appearance, number of stories high) – this will affect what you can actually build.
Conservation areas – this will mean restrictions on what you can build.
Expiring planning permission – this will put you on a countdown to get your house built that might not suit your wallet.
Tree preservation orders and protected species, and the dreaded Japanese Knotweed – the first two will affect what you can build and where (and indeed how, in some cases), and the latter can be a reason for funding to be refused.
Flood risk (these can change year on year with climate change, unfortunately) – fairly obvious, if there is one, don’t buy!
Drainage (foul and surface) – again, something that can be costly.
Ground conditions (soil type) which might affect your foundation costs.

There you go, a quick rattle through the basics of looking for land. If you want to go into more detail, there‘s some useful further reading here:

The Complete Guide to Finding a Plot

A Guide to Plot Types

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