Choosing the Right Self Build Building Plot – Understand the Different Types of Plot and What to Consider When Selecting Land for Self-building

Summary: This project explains the features that you should be looking for in a self build plot. Everyone’s needs and aspirations are different so the choice of plot will be different; there will be compromises that you have to make and things that are more important to you. Much of your choice will depend on your budget, how you are going to complete your self-build, and the amount of risk you are comfortable taking. This project explains these tradeoffs and helps you to select the building plot that is right for you.

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There are, broadly speaking, three main elements which you have to deal with when you take on a selfbuild project; the building itself, the finances and the land or plot.

The build element is relatively self-explanatory, in that this is about getting your new home built. You can mitigate the risk of things going wrong by using experienced professionals, project managers or doing your homework if you are going to be more involved.

The financial element is essentially ensuring that you will have enough money to complete the project, whatever the ultimate cost actually is, regardless of what your initial budget is. We have a project to understand the lending options to help mitigate this risk.

Key elements to a successful self build

The Key Elements to a Successful Self Build Project

The final element is that of finding a suitable self-build plot, and this is probably one of the hardest things to achieve. There are two elements to this; firstly finding land, and then secondly ensuring that it is right for you.

Much of the success of your project will come down to choosing the right bit of land for you. This is what this project is about.

We will help you evaluate the options that you have and ensure that you pick the best one for you from the plots that you have found and are evaluating.

With the Right to Build Scheme, the government have forced local authorities to make land available, which helps the search for a plot.

We also review the best places to find suitable land to build on in our project all about finding a building plot – this project is more about the search than evaluating and selecting the right plot.

The Options and Different Types of Self Build Plots

There are a lots of options when it comes to choosing the right piece of land for you and your needs. There is effectively a range or continuum when it comes to building a new home.

The more that the developer is involved the less design input that you have, however the less risk that you have to take on.

The build continuum

The Build Continuum from Entirely Self Build to entirely Developer Built

Many people believe that self building starts with a green field and you have to somehow get your home built on it. It can be this, but there are other options in between this extreme and the others where a developer builds a home and sells it to you. This is where the concepts of custom-built homes and service plots come into the mix.

Custom Building and Serviced Plots

As a potential self-builder you know the benefits (and some of the risk), but if you want more about this have a look at our introduction to selfbuilding project.

A new build that is built by a developer will not have your input during the build, and you'll have to pay stamp duty and VAT. The attraction of self building is that you get to avoid these costs, while enjoying all the design freedom the planning regulations give you.

A custom build is somewhere in the middle. A custom built project allows you to enjoy many of these benefits, but without the daunting challenge and risk of going it completely alone.

A custom build is where you work with a developer to create the house for you, with your input. The developer is there to facilitate the build, while you still have the freedom to create a bespoke home to your style, within the limitation of the planning conditions

The big attraction to this approach is that you have an experience developer on your side who will be able to make your project happen, while you still have the input that you want.

As you move up the scale further towards the self build end, you are taking on more work, responsibility and risk.

The benefit is that you will potentially have more control over the design and there might be significant savings if you manage the project well.

Right to Build Scheme serviced plots

Serviced Plots – provided under the Right to Build Scheme – take the risk out of buying a self build plot - Image courtesy of Halls

Under the Right to Build Scheme, your council is obligated to make a service plot available if you need one. A Serviced Plot is land that is available for self and custom builders with the following services provided:

  • Access from the highway
  • Water
  • Electricity
  • Gas – if available
  • Mains sewage – if available
  • High-speed broadband and telephone

They will typically have outline planning permission granted, and in some cases detailed planning. This allows you some freedom to design your own home without the risk that you'll fall at the first hurdle and fail to get planning permission.

Also the costs of getting services to an un-serviced plot can be prohibitively expensive. If you know that these are already available this is a significant risk to your project resolved before you even start.

The Different Types of Self-Build Plot and their Relative Risk

So far we have touched on the options that are available to self and custom builders when it comes to choosing land. If you know which of these you want before you start you can then ensure that you are looking for the right kind of plot from the outset.

Here is a summary of the different types of building plots

  • Green Field Site; Un-serviced and no planning
  • Serviced Plot; Serviced and no planning
  • Plot with Planning; Un-serviced but with planning
  • Infill Plot; Building in between existing buildings
  • Demolish and Rebuild; Site with existing structure to be knocked down
  • Serviced Plot with Planning; Serviced and with outline planning
  • Serviced Plot with Planning; Serviced and with detailed planning
  • Renovation or conversion; Existing property in ndeed of complete renovation

The relative risk levels plummet as you go down the list, particularly from Green Field Site to Services Plots. A plot without any form of planning is a big risk and might mean that you can never start your project.

Once planning has been approved, the risk plateaus, as it is probably the biggest risk that any would be self builder faces; without planning the project cannot proceed. Most other factors tend to translate into higher cost which may or may not stop the project being viable, but they are not a flat “no”.

There is a premium paid for land with planning granted, as this is removes a huge risk to your project. It is well worth employing a planning consultant to assist you with your planning application or to advise you about a plot before you purchase as this could save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

Even if you do not want to employ a planning consultant, we recommend a call to your local planning office before you make a purchase on any land that does not have planning granted.

While they will not be able to advise you specifically they will be able to discuss the rules that they work to which will give you an indication of what it feasible and achievable.

Different types of building plot

The different type of plot will determine what you can build - Image courtest of hebrideanhomes.com

Co-housing Project or a Community Self Build Project

Buying a large area of land for development need not be limited to those who run large building companies. Getting a group of like minded self builders together and sharing in the cost of a large building plot can considerably reduce the cost of an individual home.

By working as a group you will have a lot more clout to get things done and not only to share the costs. Working together with you future neighbours will be a bonding experience that should bring the community together before it's even built.

You can find out more about Community Self Builds at the Cohousing Network or even the Community Self Build Agency.

Choosing the Right Plot

We have covered in detail the two biggest factors that you should consider; getting planning approval and getting services to the plot.

These will feature highly in your search, but when you have found the land, or have a short list of plots, there are a number of other things to consider when evaluating them.

Choosing the right type of plot

Choosing the right type of plot makes your self build project much easier - Image courtesy of Buy to Build

You will be very fortunate if you find a flat plot of land, devoid of trees, easy access and with all services conveniently located for connection.

There are many considerations when you find a plot and we have outlined below some things to look out for. Just because we are listing them doesn't mean that any will necessarily pose a problem, but we hope we have pointed you in the right direction to determine your course of action before making your mind up.

  • Land is on a slope – if the slope is not gentle then you may have to build retaining walls, which can increase the build cost considerably. Discuss this with your architect. You may also have to dig deeper trenches for the foundations, and have stepped foundations but this should be no problem at all
  • Access to the plot – Depending on the layout and slope, there may be difficulties in getting bulky materials to where they are needed – think about where blocks (a lorry load at a time) and 10 ton loads of sand can be delivered, where the cement mixer can be set up etc. You may need to hire a pump lorry, but the cost may be exorbitant; oh the joy of a job made easy
  • Land has trees on it – there are a number of concerns here, the first being the effect they may have on the stability of the house. Discuss with your architect, and who should be able to recommend an appropriate consultant, who will consider the proximity of the trees to where the building will be, whether the soil is “shrinkable”, such as clay and whether the trees are mature or still growing. Don't get overly concerned before any investigation is carried out but, the worst case could be significant foundation or drainage problems due to subsidence or heave
  • Trees next to the highway – If the trees are on the edge of a highway and may impact your development then you should contact the local council. You will also need to find out whether the trees have preservation orders (TPO) on them - you can buy a copy of a Tree Preservation Order from the council
  • Flood Risks – This will be available from your solicitor or the environment agency. While land in flood plains is nice and flat so easy to build on, it is low lying and therefore prone to flooding and all the cost and upheaval that comes with it. It will make the property hard to sell if it has been subject to flooding and you haven't built the appropriate defences
  • Services (gas, electric etc.) crossing the land – this is not an uncommon situation but you should get a survey carried out to detect them before any excavations are made
  • Radon gas – your architect will get search results for you and will include the appropriate measures into the detailed building plans. The most common level of Radon protection, basic protection, is to have a non-permeable barrier across the ground floor. Higher levels of protection are really run-of-the-mill and nothing to be concerned about
  • Rights of way – There might be footpaths and access over the land you are planning to build on. These can be very difficult to change, so it is worth addressing early so that you can find a solution
  • Boundaries - If you are not clear where the boundaries between the property and a neighbouring properties are, this will not often be resolved immediately or whilst on site and you may need to refer to the conveyance deeds, the HM Land Registry title plan and perhaps consult a chartered land surveyor

It is important that you like the plot and can see yourself building a beautiful home there as well as these more mundane factors!

This project should help you understand the different types of self build plot that are available and what factors you should consider when choosing the right one for you.

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