Find a plot: The Grand Designs guide to finding a self-build plot of land

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How to find the right self-build plot

Securing a good site is vital for a successful project, so make sure you explore all avenues

By Staff writer | 7 March 2022

Since more people than ever want to build their own homes, finding good self-build plots can take some time. But if you are patient and prepared to consider a range of plot options, such as a sloping site, you will increase your chance of success.

Once you have a realistic idea of your project budget, the search can begin. Bringing an architect on board when you find something promising can be helpful as they’ll assess the land for its suitability to be built on and uncover any potential pitfalls.

Colin and Marta's Grand Designs airship house in Scotland

Building a home on an airfield they already owned required lengthy debate with the local authority before Colin MacKinnon and Marta Briongo were given permission. Photo: David Barbour

Plot-searching tools

Use a variety of search tools to improve your chances of finding self-build plots. Websites such as Grand Designs magazine Land Finder, Plotfinder and Buildstore Plotsearch advertise thousands of land listings. It’s also worth checking out property portals such as Zoopla and Rightmove.

You can also register your interest with the councils in the areas where you’d like to build. Under Right to Build, local authorities must maintain a record of demand for plots to match the number of people who have shown an interest in building a home.

Express an interest in what you’re looking for and sign up with the estate agents in the area you want to build in, as they’ll be the first to know about any local sites for sale. And speak to local architects and surveyors as they’re likely to find out about new plots early. They may know of a site that’s not right for them, but perfect for you.

Suitable self-build plots for single houses are often sold at auction, either as renovation projects or demolition and rebuilds. Ask local estate agents to alert you when auctions are upcoming.

Try writing an enquiry letter including your contact details and post to all the houses in, or close to, your ideal area. Someone might be keen to sell their property, or a portion of their garden, or know of someone else looking to sell.

Finally, scour the streets for potential sites, and contact the planning department to see if an application has been submitted or contact the owners through the Land Registry.

This pair of corrugated steel-clad homes were built on a postindustrial plot spotted on an auction site

This pair of corrugated steel-clad homes were built on a post-industrial plot spotted on an auction site. Photo: Fiona Walker Arnott

Can I build on it?

A percentage of land can’t be developed due to protections imposed by the government. Constructing a new house in an area that hasn’t been built on before, such as designated greenfield land, can be difficult. Many home-building plots tend to be on brownfield sites – sites that has been developed in the past.

If you spot a piece of land that appears to have potential and want to find out more about it, the local authority’s land-use development plan maps will indicate the ground’s classification, that is what it can be used for. The next step is to check its ownership via the Land Registry.

Also, the local planning authority keeps records of all planning applications made regarding the plot. Any past applications will also show its ownership at the time, as the forms ask who the owner is and that they are notified – even when an application is by someone else.

This should provide the title register and a plan of the plot, which will set out who owns it and should show details of anyone else who has a right to the land.

House in Assynt, Scotland

This site in Assynt, Scotland, had existing planning permission, but the architect re-designed it to make the most of the views and returned to planning. Photo: David Barbour Photography