Buying a plot of land

With the current economic climate here in the UK (although this is not exclusive to the UK), the number of new houses being built is dropping. However, 10,000 – 15,000 of us are still self building each year, and probably just as many of us again renovate or convert a major property. But, while building your own house is a true viable option, a lot of people find it extremely tough and rife with problems. The first stage in the process is of course securing a plot of land to build on and is what we will discuss here.

When going down the route of buying a plot of land it is always advisable to seek the professional advice of a solicitor or a licenced conveyance who is a specialist in property. Solicitors should be able to help uncover extra information about a plot that may not be totally obvious, such as limits on the area of the land that you can actually build on. This happens relatively frequently, while a plot may have planning permission, it may not actually be for the entire plot due to specific building boundaries. There are other aspects such as the quality of the ground (this is related to the type of foundations you will need), drainage and the risk of flooding, and other restrictions on building such as protected trees etc.

Setting your expectations

If you are planning to self build your mental mind-set must be right from the outset, and you should accept what is realistic before you start. Things will probably cost a lot more than you expect, and if you want to build your dream home it may have to be in an area that you may not initially consider desirable. You will also need to have your finances in order otherwise the dream of building your perfect home will never materialise. It is not all doom and gloom however, as thousands do buy their plot of land and build their homes on them, but you just need to be aware of certain issues that could crop up and haut your progress.

If you are really serious about building your own home then you will succeed, but if you are merely testing the water you will probably have a whole host of excuses ready and it will never happen. It should be noted however that self builders in different areas of the UK will approach things very differently. In expensive areas, for example Surrey, people may tend to sell off their existing house in order to build their new one because the price of land is very expensive. However, in areas of Scotland land prices can be nearly 10 times less than in Surrey, and self builders can therefore afford to buy land and build on it without selling their current home.

Read more about the price of land here.

Be wary of cheap land

If you search hard enough you may come across companies selling land for what seems like a bargain price. There will be enticing adverts that catch your eye, and if you are not careful, hook you and reel you in. If you see such an offer be very careful because in a lot of cases the land you are buying will not have planning permission. To make matters worse it will probably lie outside of planning boundaries, and therefore it will be virtually impossible to ever get planning permission for the land, making it useless for building on. You can spot such companies because they tend to try and discourage you from using solicitors, and offer land for the same price as a 2nd hand Ford Mondeo. Don’t be fooled and don’t hand over any cash to these companies, they are simply selling off bits of field that at best you can graze some cows on.

Where to buy land

Once upon a time finding a plot of land was difficult and generally disorganised, but this has changed. The whole land finding process is a lot more professional, with dedicated websites with satellite imagery that allow you to see the plot from the comfort of your current home. There are other ways to find plots of land and learn about their availability before they reach the masses, such as specialist databases (e.g. and, or you can see if there have been and recent planning permission applications granted in your district.

Around half of the self builds in the UK are in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, while the other half are in England. Considering the population of England is 5 times larger than Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland combined, it suggests than land prices in England are a major stumbling block for self builders. This reiterates the point about being realistic when you are considering building your own house, either be prepared to spend a lot of money, or if this is not an option, be prepared to build somewhere other than your number one location (if it happens to be in an expensive area of the UK).

If you are ready to buy a plot of land to build on you can either do so using a public auction, a formal tender, an informal tender, an informal telephone auction, or you can simply go down the private sale route. Each route has its own pros and cons, which will be briefly touched on below.

Public auction

Pubic auctions are just this, public, which keeps everything out in the open. Buyers bid on the plots of land just like a standard auction, and the winner normally needs to pay a 10% deposit so funds are needed immediately.

Formal and informal tender

In both of these cases bids are submitted in a sealed envelope and must be received by a specified date. The vendor then opens all bids and selects one that they think is best. Formal tenders mean that once the vendor selects a winning bid it is legally binding and the buyer is contracted to progress with the purchase of the land. Informal tenders are not instantly binding, and contracts will still need to be signed to make it so after a winning bid is selected.

Informal telephone auction

A popular method that gives a lot more flexibility to the procedure, but does also encourage both weak bids and bids that are never going to be upheld (bids are not legally binding). Bids can be upped to try and get a sale, which can sometimes slow the whole system down because if 2, 3, or 4 bidders need to communicate is can be difficult to get hold of all parties. In some cases the bidding type is altered to an informal tender to speed things up.

Private sales

This method of buying and selling plots of land is quite common, and is simply where the buyer and seller directly communicate and agree a price for the land (probably via a solicitor or agent). No public channels are followed, and the overall procedure is pretty similar as it would be to buy a normal property. However, things are not quite so straight forward when buying a plot of land. Of course there is no property there so you are already one stage further back, and while you have done all you can to ensure permission is there to build the kind of property you want to build, until you finalise the official paperwork you are still at the fingers crossed stage. Nothing is set in stone just yet. This means you are effectively buying land without certainty that you can build what you want to on it.

Whichever method you adopt to buy your land, you will of course need to pay necessary taxes on it. Land is subject to the same taxes (i.e. stamp duty) as normal properties, but the fact that land is cheaper (compared to land with a house already on it) means you can buy the land for relatively cheap and then later build an expensive house on it later. This means the amount of stamp duty you pay for the end value of the fully built house is significantly less compared to buying an already constructed property.


Self building is not an easy option, but it can be cheaper if done effectively compared to buying an already built house, but in a lot of cases costs can pile up, especially if you are adding individuality to your design. Buying land to build on is the first stage in the process, and there are several channels that you can go down to acquire the land. If you look hard enough you will see there is still plenty of land out there for purchase, but you must be carefully that it either has planning permission suitable for your needs, or there are no restrictions on planning permission that could stop your self build before it starts.

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