How to find a plot of land for sale
In the words of Mark Twain “buy land, they don’t make it any more”.
That may have been easy in Missouri in the 19th century, it is certainly not easy now, especially not in London. So, here are our top 5 tips on how to find a plot:
1. BE PREPARED TO COMPROMISE
Buying a plot will always require a compromise. Unless you are extremely lucky, you will need to think carefully about which of the following characteristics in which you are prepared to compromise: location, price, the potential size of your new home or the risk of planning. In our experience, you cannot have them all! Unfortunately, most of us have a budget we have to stick to, and so we will either have to go for something smaller in the location we want or something bigger in a location that isn’t our first choice. By buying sites without planning permission, the risk increases and therefore the price comes down, but this does mean that you could be waiting a long time before you start building. Our current longest record to get planning is four years!
2. PRIVATE SALE
By far the best way to secure land is to speak to and negotiate direct with the owner. Once you develop an eye for land, you will see lots of ‘left-over’ bits. For single plots, this could be a bungalow in a row of taller houses. It could be an old garage site or it could be a closed down shop. We have seen houses built on the tiniest of plots, so with a good architect, persistence and a good local authority, you could find a little gem. To find the owner, you can use tools like Land Registry or Google. It can require some detective work but can pay dividends. Don’t always assume that going privately will necessarily be cheaper or easier or will take less time, very few landowners will be sitting on land that they don’t know the value of and most will have been approached by people before. You should think about it from their perspective, what would you expect if you owned land and someone approached you to buy it? They will be nervous about time-wasters and selling below value, so you will need to work out ways to demonstrate that you are serious and prove that you’re paying market value.
A lot of land is sold through auction. The advantage is speed of purchase. It may sound obvious, but at the end of the auction, the person with their hand in the air will buy the land. The vendor won’t change their mind, put the price up or take their time and that is all helpful to you as a purchaser. The downside is that auctions are a good way to get rid of sites which really have no chance of getting planning or sites where there is something fundamentally wrong with them. So, you really do have to do your homework – and that’s not easy because you typically have only 2 or 3 weeks to get it all together. Once you’ve bought it, you have no chance to then change your mind without losing your 10% deposit. In a sense, this risk should be reflected in the price of the land, but it isn’t always! It should go without saying that you need to get a professional to look over the legal pack and check out the land with you.
4. ESTATE AGENTS
Estate agents still play a role in selling land. Land doesn’t come up very often, but Rightmove, Zoopla and On the Market are all places to keep searching. Estate agents work on the principle of less is more – especially when it comes to doing work! So if they can sell a new instruction with a couple of calls to a handful of known developers, they will. If you think about it from their point of view, that cuts down their workload and reduces the perceived risk that the purchaser might not come up with the money or might pull out of the deal. So, just like with the private landowners, you have to prove you’re serious. If they haven’t managed to shift the land to their developer contacts, then they may stick it on Rightmove or Zoopla. This likely means that developers think it over-priced or too difficult. However, this is where you may be prepared to compromise.
5. ESTATES GAZETTES
This is a weekly magazine which is aimed squarely at property professionals. All the main estate agents advertise their latest sites for sale. The sites they advertise do tend to be larger than single plots, but not always. And, it is potentially a great way to find a plot of say 2-4 homes which you can then buy with some friends and split the cost. We’re also looking at putting together a match-making service so we can put you in touch with other like minded people who are also looking for a plot. All public land is disposed of either through the EG or the auction as public bodies are duty bound to sell at ‘best value’ so that no-one accuses them of corruption by selling below market to a friend of the land disposal team. You should be able to find the magazine in local libraries.
6. BONUS TIP: CUSTOM BUILD REGISTER
This isn’t one we have used yet, but times are a-changing for self-builders. Councils will soon have to keep a register of all those people in their borough who want to build their own home. The idea was to gather interest from the general public in the idea of self-building. If there is overwhelming demand then the theory is that the councils will allocate some land. It’s very early days yet, so we have no real way of knowing how this will turn out. However, each council appears to be using its own register and the GLA have launched one too. At Inhabit Homes, we have decided to launch one as well; the idea being that if we can get a few hundred people interested in a particular area, we will then go and lobby the local council waving the ‘self-build and custom-build housing act 2015’ at them. Or if we find a big site, (like in #5) we can then split it up and sell it on to people on our register. If you think that this is a good idea, please do register – it will help us to understand your preferences.