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Thinking of Buying a Building Plot?

We’re going on a plot hunt and we’re going to find a big one!

Plot Hunt Family

Plot hunting and bear hunting are surprisingly similar.

The scarcity of what you’re looking for can be hellishly frustrating and when you finally find one, you face many dangers – how do you catch it, what do you do with it, and how do you avoid those bear traps that seem to be set to catch you out?

Avoiding bear traps

To the trained eye, or rather one with the experience of a thousand cuts, the question of avoiding traps is fairly straight forward – take a methodical approach to plot appraisal, asking a thousand and one questions and never ever assume you know the answers.

Key questions when appraising a plot

This is the million dollar question and one that professioanl builders are surprisingly good at figuring out – mainly because they have the experience. For a self-builder who will probably only ever build once, you wont have the benefit of this experience and therefore plot appraisal can feel particularly challenging and risky.

Whilst it’s not possible to cover all possible questoins within an article, I can recommend following a methodical approach and here are my top seven places to look for ‘bear traps’.


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As self-build guru David Snell repeats, like a parrot, everything starts with money! How much do you have, how much do you need and what will it be worth when it’s all done?

Working out what you have is fairly straightforward – the bank manager will tell you. Finding out what you need is much more difficult and will be influenced not only by the outcome of your plot appraisal but also by what you want to build. How big will it be? What’s the method of design; Package or Architect? Route of build? Self-managed, project-managed or turnkey builder (each progressively more expensive).

In terms of what your finished home will be worth, as a Yorkshireman this is always on my mind and serves as a useful safety net. Self-builders should be mindful of the financial outcome by understanding the financial consequences of your proposals and decisions.


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When is a plot not a plot…..when it doesn’t have planning permission!

Planning is critical to unlocking the potential of a piece of land and the ability to secure this permission will drive the value of both the plot and your finished home. Understanding planning potential is not something you can do as a part-time occupation, always employ planning professionals such as Potton to work out what’s possible and secure the necessary approval and never buy a plot without planning permission first being secured.

If you own a piece of land and think it has potential for building on, then why not take advantage of our Free Planning Appraisal Service. 

Site Access

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Don’t overlook plot access, ideally it should be owned (not shared) and should be directed off of an adopted highway. Anything short of this should be reviewed by a solicitor to ensure ‘bear traps’ such as ransom strips and visibility splays don’t occur after your plot purchase has been finalised.

Ground conditions – look out for surprises

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I often think about the first shovel in the ground as being a bit like Christmas – there is always likely to be a surprise you didn’t expect (and probably won’t like) and it always costs more than you planned. Good news is that most problems in the ground are resolvable but unfortunately at a cost. The trick is to find out what the ‘surprises’ are before you agree a purchase price as any additional expense should be discounted from the cost of the land.

Employ an engineer to carry out a ground investigation and dig a hole to find out if problems are lurking below the surface.


Mains Services

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Issues with services come in two forms – when you want them but can’t get them and when you have them but don’t want them! Confused? Let me explain.

Mains services such as drainage, gas, water, electric and telecoms are preferred and the cost of providing the connections can wildly vary depending on what’s involved. Make sure you understand which services are needed and how much they cost to install and connect.

Connection costs are not the only problem when it comes to services. Land is a bit like a second hand home that has had its wiring and plumbing fiddled with over many years – you just don’t quite know where all the pipes and cable runs are and Sod’s law states one will be just where you don’t want it to be. It is a common occurrence, particularly on brownfield plots, to find existing services in the way of your proposed foundations. At best, additional cost may be incurred if the service has to be diverted but at worst an existing service could even prevent a plot being developed.



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Problems with site boundaries don’t always arise as you would expect. There is always the potential for disputes with neighbours but there is also a risk that the boundary position might not quite be as the land registry plan shows and this may impact on your development in unexpected ways!

For example, your approved design may need to be offset a certain distance from the boundary and if this boundary is out of place and the dimension is used to set out the build, you could find your home is in the wrong place.

Equally as serious, but possibly less catastrophic, is the potential of buying a site that in reality is a different shape and size to the title plan. Such a situation is resolvable but the time and money involved is not an appealing prospect.



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In some ways this brings us right back to bear hunting and bear traps – Flora and Fauna may look pretty or even cuddly but on occasions it has been known to bite – especially when it has protected status.

Despite the fact that we have a housing crisis and 98% of the UK’s land mass is ‘green’, law and policy require us to protect and safeguard ecology even at the expense of housing needs. I advise a health warning on all things ecology and suggest that you do your research and have a plan for managing this on your site.

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