How to find plots of land for sale in London and across the UK
We recognise that finding plots of land for sale in London and across the UK is particularly difficult.
To that end, we’ve developed this detailed guide that we hope will help you find the plot for your dream home.
So you’ve decided to start building your dream home - well done. Before we start talking wallpaper, dream kitchens and French doors you will need to find a plot of land.
The task ahead is exciting but it can also be very daunting.
How do you find a plot of land?
Hopefully, after reading this blog you should have enough knowledge to find and buy yourself a plot of land - let's get started.
Preparation is key
Firstly, mentally prepare yourself for the task ahead. Most people aren’t able to find a suitable plot of land for themselves is because they are not willing to compromise.
We agree with Homebuilding and Renovating, who suggest that it is as important to know your do’s as your don’ts so you know on what you can and what you should never compromise on.
Quite frankly, if you aren’t ready to make any compromises, chances are that finding your ideal plot might take you a very long time.
You should also keep in mind that the local vernacular will dictate the design of your dream house. So if you have a very set idea what your house should look like, you need to be flexible on the area.
If you want to live in an area with lots of English baroque buildings you might want to reconsider your plans to build a futuristic space house simply because your chances of getting planning permission will be quite slim.
However, this doesn’t mean that your search area should be too large either as this will often lead to you losing the plot!
Once you’ve determined the general location you’ll be looking in and the type of home you want it’s time to do some homework – do a bit of research and familiarise yourself with the area and begin gathering as much information as you can; you’ll be surprised about what you can find with a little work.
Before you begin, here’s a top tip from a former academic:
Be methodical and thorough - make sure you make notes about each and every plot of land you come across. This will help you when later on, when it’s time to compare plots.
It’s also important that you understand the different types of plots available as not all plots suitable for self-build and custom build come with the label ‘land with planning permission’.
Here's a useful guide to plot types, which generally fall into one of the following categories:
- Spare Land This is land that has no current use and is hidden from view by walls or fences, which gives the illusion that the street scene is uninterrupted.
- Garden Plots As their name suggests, these tend to be gardens that possess a wide frontage where sections adjoining a carriageway are lopped off.
- Back-land Development This is another type of garden plot, where the development is at the rear of the existing house.
- Brownfield Land This refers to land that previously had planning and has likely been previously developed, usually in the form of old factories and so on that is in need of redevelopment.
- Greenfield Land These types of plots have not been previously developed.
- Green Belt Land This is an entirely different designation from greenfield land in that its preservation is given legal status. In general, no new development is allowed on greenbelt land.
- Replacement Plots These are plots that are currently occupied by a house/building that is either substandard or is not realising the full potential of the plot.
- Fully Serviced Plots These plots will tend to have the services connected to already.
Finding your plot of land
Now that you’re chomping at the bit to get started - here are a few places where you should start looking for your plot of land:
Find those auctions
Auctions are a quick way to buy a piece of land but you’ll need to make sure you go prepared.
You’ll need to ensure you’ve done your sums before heading to an auction you intend to bit at as a 10% cash deposit is required at the fall of the hammer and the remainder has to be paid within a month.
To ensure you get the best possible deal, make sure you’ve done the requisite research on the plot of land you’re interested in.
Failing to do so could mean that you end up being a victim of a property scam, which is something you need to keep an eye out for. Property scammers often advertise very cheap plots of land that will realistically never get planning permission.
As eternal optimists, we advise you that if it looks too good to be true it usually is.
Professional land finders
Alternatively, you can use a professional land finder.
Developers quite often make use of them and they will have the know how to find you the best plot possible. However, it usually takes them as much time to find land for multiple plots as it does for a single plot.
Land listing agencies
Land-listing agencies such as Plot Browser, Plot Finder, Plot Search and the like are specialist agencies that list smaller plots of land that are available for sale in the UK by private individuals and specialised estate agencies.
These specialist land listing agencies are a great place to start, in order to get a feel for the price, availability of plots and popularity of your area.
Google is your friend.
Google Streetview and Google Maps are great tools that you can use for FREE, from the comfort of your living room, or favourite establishment with WiFi, to look for empty plots that can be turned into the ideal residential building plot for your home.
Please note that you should, if possible, always visit the plot before considering making an offer.
Right to build register
The Housing and Planning Act 2016 requires local authorities in England to find the demand for self build and custom build in their constituencies, which they usually do through a register that you can find here, and to release land accordingly.
If you’re interested in learning more visit the Right to Build Portal, set up by the National Custom and Self Build Association or NaCSBA.
Use estate agents
Although estate agents might seem like the most obvious professionals to go to when looking for land for sale, beware as not all of them will be able to help you, say Homebuilding & Renovating. If you're in the market for land, get in touch with our sister company - Rare Space - an estate agency for design lovers.
Bear in mind that in the UK, the commission on selling land is not as attractive as that for houses, so most agents have very little interest in selling plots of land.
On the plus side, they often will be able to give you useful information on plots for sale that may be released for development in the future.
Visit planning departments
If you want to be ahead of the game then find a planning register, which are available from the planning department of local councils.
Planning registers are public records with all the planning permission applications. Although getting your hands on a planning register might sound complicated, it’s not and they are a valuable source of information.
Look for any recent applications, preferably outlining plots of land with planning permissions for single houses, that haven’t been approved yet. A plot will usually be advertised for sale when the approval has been granted and subsequently will also be more expensive, this is something known as planning gain.
This is a good way in which to approach sellers before plots of land even hit the open market and you’re inevitably faced with competition.
Keep an eye out for any outline applications you come across as plots with outline planning will usually be sold once planning has been obtained. This is because, from the seller's perspective, there is no point in drawing up a detailed set of plans that may be changed by a purchaser in the future.
Although sometimes owners of outline permissions do not intend to sell, there is no harm in asking if the plot is for sale, so do not hesitate to approach them politely - you might just get yourself your ideal plot at an incredible price.
Land owning companies
There are a handful of companies, organisations and institutions around the UK that own significant amounts of land, which they sell off periodically.
One option you have available to you is to do a bit of research and try finding and contacting them to see if they are or will be selling off any plots in the area your are looking in.
These types of plots of land tend to be a bit larger and might work slightly better for a group self build or group custom build rather than for an individual.
This is also a strategy that will require a lot of work and can be disheartening at times as big developers often snap up desirable bits of land that are placed on the market.
Once you’ve identified the area you want to live in, find out if the area has any local newspapers, which are a great source of information.
A little proactivity here goes a long way - you can place ads in the local newspapers you’ve identified, letting people know that you’re looking to buy a plot of land to build a home on.
You’ll often find that landowners who have a bit of land to sell want to live next to a nice person rather than selling their land off to a developer.
Ignore current plans for the site
This piece of advice might look a bit controversial and might seem a bit counter-intuitive on first glance but bear with us.
What if you come across a plot of land that seems perfect; the location is ideal, the dimensions are perfect and the price is fantastic - the only holdup is that the current planning permission for the site doesn’t suit what you have in mind. What do you do?
Ignore the current plans!
Landowners and developers looking to sell a piece of land often apply for planning approval with the least controversial plans possible to maximise their chances of adding value to the plot of land via planning gain. This means most plots of land with planning will tend to be for some sort of mundane housing scheme.
Try not to worry about this too much - speak to a planning consultant to see what’s possible and to determine how much a new planning application process will cost in terms of both time and money.
Similarly, there might already be a house or some other structure on your dream plot of land that simply isn’t your dream house.
What should you do?
Again, speak to a planning consultant, who will help determine if what you want to build is realistic for that particular site and the relevant costs.
If it’s possible to build your dream home on that perfect plot, then don’t allow that existing structure to stand between you and your dream home - bring it down!
Use self build and custom build developers
Companies that specialise in self-build and custom build homes are another great way to find your ideal plot of land.
These companies have the know-how to find good plots of land and usually buy larger sites, which they split into individual plots to sell to you and people like you.
Here are a couple of custom build and self build developers:
- Unboxed Homes (shameless self promotion)
- Custom Build Homes
You think you've found the ideal plot
The plot thickens - you’ve finally found your ideal plot and you’re chomping at the bit to view it.
First off, make sure you visit it a couple of times as you’ll be looking for different things.
During your first visit, really look at the size, location and surroundings of the plot and determine whether the pricing seems justified.
If you like the plot of land you’ve found, visit it for a second time; this reduces the likelihood that you missed something on your first visit.
Try and visit the plot by yourself on at least one occasion to ensure no one has influenced you on its merits. Take your time and decide whether this plot is right for you; you will want to make a deliberate decision and not be rushed into anything.
Make sure you take note of the existing housing in the area and that your dream home fits into the area. This will increase your chances of getting that planning permission for your dream house.
Do your research (again)
You’ve now seen your ideal plot a couple of times and have fallen in love with it; it ticks all the right boxes.
All that’s left to do is to buy it for a good price, right? Not quite, what you’ll need to do is more research!
Determine the price per sq ft of your plot and then go to Rightmove, Zoopla, Plot Browser, Plot Finder, Plot Search and find the price per sq ft of plots in the surrounding area - this should help you determine how much to offer and whether the guide price is realistic and accurate.
You’ll also need to make sure you know what the current planning permission status is of the residential building plot you’re interested in as well as the planning status of the land in the immediate surroundings. The latter is actually really important; ensure you check for contaminated land, tree preservation orders, flood risks etc.
If you have any doubts definitely hire a specialist to do more research – especially when it comes to environmental issues.
Although this might sound tedious, these issues are often very costly and could potentially interfere with getting planning permission for the home you wish to build - so make sure you do your due diligence.
To plot or not to plot
Once you’ve found your ideal plot of land beware of some things that may cause you to lose the plot, quite literally.
In urban areas, available plots are urban infill or ‘backland’ locations, which means that they are enclosed on all sides by neighbouring gardens or buildings.
Often the neighbouring owners are not as excited as you are about you building your dream house as it will disturb the peace. So before you start applying for any planning permission make sure you are on good footing with your new neighbours.
2. Expiring planning permissions
Planning permissions usually expire after 3 years, so if your dream plot only has 6 more months until its planning permissions expire, you’ll be on a very tight schedule to make any changes.
Bear in mind that a renewal of a planning permission is not a foregone conclusion either. An expiring planning permission can also cause you some additional problems as lenders will look at how long the planning permission lasts and they will not be too thrilled to lend on a site where planning permissions are quickly expiring.
3. Planning conditions
Nowadays, each planning permission will come with some strings attached, regardless of whether you are buying land with planning permission containing an outline plan or a detailed plan.
If you are lucky, the council will only ask you to seek approval for external materials or landscaping, but it can also be more intrusive by restricting the number of stories you want to build.
The worst-case scenario is if the conditions attached to the planning permission require you to do work such as improving access to a plot where not all the land will be in your control.
Councils are increasingly granting planning permission for new houses under the condition that a contribution will be paid towards local infrastructure or facilities.
The costs of these contributions can vary from a few hundred pounds to more than £20,000, so it is important to find out if your plot of land is subject to this and what the contributions are.
When you are looking into this you want to not only look at the amount as a higher sum will affect the value of the plot and therefore your offer. Rather also the timing at which the contribution needs to be made; is it an up front payment or does it need to be paid before first occupation.
5. Legal matters
There are a few potential complications that will require some legal experience and knowledge.
We therefore recommend a solicitor to look into the following:
- First and foremost, is the plot of land legitimately for sale?
- What are the covenants, if any? A covenant is a contract stating the conditions tied to the use of land. It is important to note that these conditions are independent from the conditions attached to the planning permission. As covenants usually include conditions you need to ensure that any covenants do not interfere with your plans.
- Is there a title deed of the plot? This is a signed agreement that processes ownership of land and its legal rights.
- Is there adequate right of access to the plot? This is especially important if your only access is via a private road or a shared driveway. Make sure you know who is responsible for maintaining the access and what kind of costs to expect.
Once you have ensured you have the legal rights to access the plot, you must make sure there is actually enough space to accommodate access.
You will also need to check if there are any specifications related to sightlines that are subject to the planning permission. Sightlines include a normally unobstructed line-of-sight and the exact specifications will depend on the access road.
If you own all of the land this is normally not a problem, however, if you do not, then make sure you do not end up in a situation where you have to cut the neighbours’ hedges in order to comply.
7. Conservation Areas
A conservation area has been deemed worthy of preservation or enhancement because of its architectural or historic interest.
While this generally ensures that the area is stunning; if your building plot is located in or close to such an area this might cause restrictions regarding the way in which you develop the house and land.
It might even lead to unforeseen costs such as those related to potentially expensive materials, which will ensure that your home will blend into the surroundings.
Also, bear in mind that in conservation areas ‘permitted development rights’, which allow you to extend your house or erect buildings without planning permission, might be restricted.
8. Water Issues
Planning permissions take into account flood risks; however, please note that the risk of flooding might have changed since the permission was granted, so it’s best that you double check if your plot is located in an area that is at risk of flooding.
Two other water issues you should look into include foul drainage and surface water.
In the case of foul drainage attached to a public sewer, check if you can access this without crossing someone else’s land and ensure there is adequate capacity.
Surface water drainage is usually done by public sewers. However, if the chosen method for surface water is to soak away, make sure that the water indeed soaks away.
Different solutions for the aforementioned issue will involve different costs that you should be aware of and factor in before you finalise your offer.
9. Flora and Fauna
Before deciding on which trees to remove from your plot of land, to create a nice and open garden, you will need to check whether any of the trees have preservation orders.
Trees with preservation orders are usually, but not always, prevalent in conservation areas and it is a criminal offence to damage or destroy a protected tree.
Bear in mind that just because a tree is protected that doesn’t mean you can’t ever knock them down. However, if a tree has a preservation order, you will need the local council’s approval before removing it.
Besides trees there are also a huge number of protected species of both plants and animals.
If they have found your plot, the council will probably have taken this into account in granting planning permission. In some cases they do require follow-up surveys, which can result in a lot of extra expenses and delays.
You will definitely want a surveyor to determine whether your dream plot has Japanese Knotweed! These beauties were initially brought over to the UK to glam up gardens but have been causing real trouble; additionally, they grow at a ridiculous rate and are near-impossible to get rid of.
Moreover, immediate removal of Japanese Knotweed is very expensive costing £1,000 for 10m2 and in some cases they have halved property values. Dealing with Japanese Knotweed is a legal obligation so you’ll need to deal with as you could be fined up to £5,000 or be sent to prison for up to 2 years if you don’t.
10. Ground conditions and contamination
Planning permissions do not take into account the ground conditions and your foundation costs will greatly vary depending on the soil type. So it’s worthwhile making sure you know the type of soil under foot.
If your building plot served industrial purposes in the past, contamination is usually picked up at the planning stage and conditions will be attached to the permission, which might require follow up investigation and could potentially lead to extra costs.
That’s about it folks - you should now know how to find plots of land for sale in London and across the UK.
If there are any additional tips that you’ve used successfully and would like to share, please send them to us and we’ll add them to this article. Similarly, if you have any questions please don't hesitate to send them to us.
And finally, if you found this article helpful, insightful or simply entertaining, please do share it as there will undoubtedly be others in your situation this information might help.