Our project - the Trapezium House, in South Lanarkshire.
As clichés go, one which resonates in regard to building your own home is that the first step is often the most difficult. Finding a plot without placing thousands of pounds at risk can seem an insurmountable challenge; enough to put many off before building your dream home is even underway. This post seeks to help you navigate those early steps.
What should one look for in a plot? This really depends on what you are aiming for in your finished home. Many people long for open space and views of the landscape/the sea/the sky – as the antidote to the pace of modern living, this seems reasonable, although a talented architect will be able to create special moments in the most ordinary of plots.
Define your search parameters – draw a radius, but be flexible, particularly around the edges – if you are inflexible on location, even by a few kilometres, it will be more difficult and potentially impossible to find a suitable plot. There are several good websites which sell plots which are well worth keeping an eye on.
Plots with planning permission (as those on the above websites tend to have) cost more than plots without – that is because someone has gone to the effort of preparing and submitting drawings and liaising with the planning department. Plots without planning permission will be a riskier bet, however much of this risk can be mitigated by liaising with an architect at an early stage, and by becoming familiar with your local planning department and local planning officers. Architects offer tremendous value in helping determine what might be possible on a plot, simply by exploring ‘the big moves’ i.e. how big is the plot, what is the pattern of development in the area and so how big a house might be possible.
Advice given at pre-application stage by a planning officer should be greeted with a degree of suspicion, however. Pre-app advice is always given ‘without prejudice’ and in our experience there can be a change of tune when planners are under the formal scrutiny associated with a live planning application.
The Scottish Government publishes guidance which clearly states that the presumption is in favour of sustainable development in any planning application:
What is classed as sustainable development is sufficiently vague (and will be the subject of another post in 2019!)
Keep an eye out for particularly dilapidated houses for sale
Sometimes, plots with extremely dilapidated properties on them will sell for less than a vacant plot with planning permission, so this is worth bearing in mind. Demolition can be surprisingly inexpensive and this is an easy way to release a developable plot for less than you might think.
Look where old houses may once have been
There are certain historical map tools which allow you to search through historic ordnance survey maps. These often show the location of former houses, which can sometimes be used as a justification for the reinstatement for a new home.
One good historic map search is the National Library for Scotland:
Building a house within the boundaries of an existing conurbation is more likely to fall in line with local planning policy (as opposed to plots in the green belt or at the edge of existing towns or villages), so look for small houses with large gardens – these can often be adjusted to accommodate a second home – and there are numerous examples of where this has been done well. There are many anecdotal stories of couples looking for a plot walking up to front doors, knocking, and agreeing in principle to this with people who never realised they were sitting on a developable asset.
A new studio in the curtilage of a listed building in Dennistoun, Glasgow
Go to property Auctions
These often throw up some land at the most competitive prices, although as with any auction, keep your sensible head on and don’t get carried away – do your calculations about what is affordable before the night, do your homework about whether this is the plot for you, and stick to what you agreed before the auction. If you are outbid on a plot you were hoping for, there will always be another opportunity – you create them as much as they come to you.
Our Hidden House Project in Glasgow's West End Conservation Area. With Cameronwebster Architects
Speak to Land owners
If you’ve seen an infill plot or indeed a piece of land, it is relatively straightforward to find out who owns the plot using the sasine search on the Land Register of Scotland:
It is worth making it known as far and widely as possible that you are hunting for land, and if you do happen to make contact with (for example) a farmer about a corner of his field, then the very worst that he’ll say if you ask him to consider selling it is ‘no’. It’s always worth asking the question - don’t be afraid.
Talk directly to volume housebuilders and Estate Agents
Volume house builders frequently have parcels of lend left once they have built out a scheme, and these are sometimes sold at auction. If you make contact with them, they can be keen to sell directly to self-builders to save the auction fees. Likewise, estate agents sometimes know that land is going to be available before it hits the market. If you can offer what is demonstrably it’s value, then this is sometimes a favourable route for all parties.
Be familiar with the local plan
All local authorities publish maps and guidance on what development they are likely to permit in the area under their jurisdiction. It is well worth being competent at looking through these documents because they help you spot opportunity and potential plots.
How we can help
As an architectural practice, we love working on challenging sites. If you have somewhere you might have identified as potentially suitable for a home, do come and talk to us and see if it is something we might be able to help you with. We have a track record of obtaining planning permission in and around conservation areas, adjacent to listed buildings, and in green belt land, as well as with more conventional plots. We love hearing from new people who share our aspiration of making beautiful homes.