Finding and securing your ideal plot

The hardest single task in any self build is to find a plot. The key to success is perseverance and flexibility.

Find a plot for your dream self build
One day, you will find a plot for your dream self build

If you are new to self-build, it’s very easy to under-estimate the time and effort required to find a suitable plot. Consequently, you might approach the task on a part-time basis, flicking through some on-line sites, perhaps, on the odd Saturday morning. You might also over-estimate the supply of suitable plots. You may be too quick to dismiss anything that’s looks difficult or doesn’t meet all of your criteria. Obviously, hindsight is a wonderful thing!

The best course of action is to prepare thoroughly, be persistent and be ready to compromise when you discover a close match to your ideal plot. There’s a lot of competition for the best plot. There will be self-builders with perhaps deeper pockets and there will be developers with different ideas about what is possible.

To acquire a plot, the first step is to study a detailed map
Be realistic about your plot search

To acquire a plot in your preferred time-frame, it’s best to be realistic from the start. If you have a maximum plot cost, an online search of your preferred area will indicate how many plots, if any, are available for that area and for that price. If just a few plots show up, see what you can do to increase your plot budget and/or broaden your target area.

Your aim is to generate a sufficient number of plots appear in your search so that you actually have plots to visit and assess. It’s only by getting out there and seeing what you get for your money that you can quickly re-adjust to market availability.

Be flexible in your plot search

In an ideal world, it will take you just days to locate a greenfield plot with Outline Planning Permission in exactly the right location. While this ideal world might occasionally be found in areas of Northern Ireland or Scotland, most of us are searching for plots elsewhere. In some areas of the UK, you might wait 10 years and never experience this ideal scenario. The message is therefore prepare for the worst and consider all possibilities, such as brownfield locations or even assembling a good-sized plot from several adjacent smaller plots.

There are plenty of ways in which you can be flexible in your plot search:

  1. Widen the acceptable area
    If your original aim was for a specific location, try to widen the acceptable area. If you had a specific acreage in mind, you could go smaller. Equally, you could go larger if the market for large plots was particularly weak.
  2. Relax your criteria
    If you had a riverside site in mind initially, you are going to find that there is much less competition for plots a few hundred yards back from the rivers edge.
  3. Reduce your obstacles
    Staying away from National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) makes it easier to gain new build planning permission
  4. Switch Needs to Wants
    Review your list of essential features and see if you can reduce your requirements. This could be to do with the connectivity of the location, for work, schools, shops, amenities etc. Similarly with your nice-to-have features. The result of some judicious pruning of features could be an increased pot of plots for you to look at!
Widen your search

Instead of focusing on a plot search, broaden your remit into a site search. This now opens up possibilities involving the demolition of existing properties so that you can build on or close to the existing footprints.

Group-build

And how about joining a group of self-builders? Often, self-build groups have a better chance of securing a large piece of residential land. There are then several ways to develop the land, including individual development and communal development.

Have the right approach

Have the right approach from Day One and assume that it is going to be very difficult to find everything that you want in one plot. You can manage your approach to the search task by considering a sliding scale. At one end of the scale, the aim is to acquire a plot within 12 months, which will require a compromise on a lot of must-have features. At the other end of the scale, the aim is to acquire a plot within 10 years, which means there is a lot more time to locate the perfect plot, with no compromise on the must-have features.

Where are you on the sliding scale? Be aware that it’s easy to pick a compromise position on paper. When you actually come across a plot that fits your compromise position, there is always the temptation to say “Lets keep looking. If we’ve found this, we must be able to do better”. Make sure you will not regret turning down your compromise plot.

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