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Make sure your grand design runs as smoothly as possible with our no-nonsense guide to finding a plot for your self build project.

self build guide finding a plot

Image: Plot for sale in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, Roger Parry & Partners (rogerparry.net)


Finding the perfect building plot for sale is clearly key to a successful self-build, but it’s also likely to be the most difficult and stressful part of the process.

Be wary of plots of land with planning permission close to expiry – even six months can be too short – as planning departments can take up to 12 weeks to consider applications. If preparatory work or investigations are needed, this could delay things substantially. Equally, if you’re a plot owner and you hope to sell your land some day, it’s crucial to keep the planning consent up to date.

Bringing an architect on board early can be helpful when considering the purchase of a building plot, because they are trained to look for opportunities, assess building land for suitability and uncover potential pitfalls. It’s also worth remembering that a site that appears to be a bargain may be cheap for good reason, so be wary – it could leave you out of pocket. If you find the perfect plot and are haggling over price, bear in mind that the cost is dependent on the classification of the land (what it can be used for), location, size and potential.

Unfortunately for self-builders, residential or housing sites are always going to be the most expensive. Agricultural or grazing land sells for a fraction of the price and is sometimes misleadingly advertised as available for sale with planning permission, so steer well clear. If you find a space and are unsure of its potential, contact the local planning department. And check out the council’s land-use development plans online, which will indicate the classification of the site.

Planning Portal (planningportal.co.uk) and your local authority’s website will offer unitary development plans, which provide guidance on development, conservation, regeneration and improvement activity in your area.

Sometimes, however, less obvious routes can lead to a fruitful purchase. If you have your heart set on a particular location, keep an eye on regional newspapers as a plot of land might be listed locally and you could even snap up a bargain. And ask around – don’t be afraid to knock on doors, chat to locals and network like crazy, because private land for sale could be your best chance of securing an a ordable site. It’s equally good for the seller, as it’s a welcome opportunity to avoid paying expensive agency fees.

Searching for the ideal building plot of land is never going to be without its struggles, yet it could allow you to create something truly original. ‘Building your own home is cost effective and it has eco credentials,’ says landscape designer Angus Thompson, who worked with friend and architect Phil Waind of Waind Gohil + Potter Architects (020 8735 5367; wgpa.co.uk) to build his timber-framed house on a tight spot close tothe centre of Oxford. ‘If we had the chance to do it again we would jump at it. Designing spaces to suit your family’s needs is a real privilege.’ If you get fed up with searching, look closer to home. Do you have a large garden, an unused garage or even a disused commercial building?

Subject to approval for change of use, this could provide the space to build your future dwelling. There are many advantages: you already own the land, you know your neighbours and you can keep an eye on the progress of the build from the comfort of your own house.

Essential contacts, these agencies can help you discover your dream location:

Plot Finder (plotfinder.net)

Plotbrowser (plotbrowser.com)

Plotsearch (plotsearch.co.uk)

PrimeLocation (primelocation.com)

Gumtree (gumtree.com)

For more advice on starting your own self build, pick up our latest issue of Grand Designs Magazine, out now.

Article accurate at time of print, December 2016


Words: Amanda Cochrane; Jo Messenger

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