How do I find a self-build plot?

This is the first and biggest hurdle and one that deters many prospective selfbuilders. However, there is good news on the horizon with the recent Right To Build legislation, where prospective selfbuilders can register with their local council to show their interest which then has to be acknowledged in the local planning policy.

Finding plots generally is still very competitive in popular areas, so you will have to show patience and determination to find your dream plot.

Where to look for a self-build plot

Estate agents are a good starting point. Get on their mailing lists but don’t expect them to call you first when opportunities arise. Agents receive commission on plot sales, just as they do on houses and flats, and are also likely to receive commission on the sales of the houses that are then built. The answer is to contact estate agents regularly – at least once a week.

Plot databases such as PlotBrowser give you a good idea of what you can expect to pay in your preferred area, though good plots are likely to go quickly.

If you are targeting a particular area, visit it often, preferably on foot. Look for large neglected gardens with road access, or gaps between terraces. Find out the owners by asking locally or through the Land Registry.

Visit your local authority planning department or check out their website for successful applications for planning permission. Occasionally, applications are not acted on. Unsuccessful applications also remain on record. Sometimes you, or your designer, may see a way of making an application successful – perhaps by changing the size or position of the house.

What is a brownfield site and is it suitable for a self build?

Former commercial and industrial, or brownfield, sites have always presented opportunities, but bear in mind that the owner will be responsible for any contamination issues unless blame can be attributed elsewhere. A typical example of a brownfield site is a former garage or service station.

Conversions and replacement opportunities

Conversion of offices and agricultural buildings is more acceptable by local authorities now and can provide unexpected opportunities. But don’t assume that because you think a barn would make a wonderful house, the planners will share your enthusiasm. The regulations may well have changed, but there is still a reluctance to see dramatic changes to the countryside, and other issues such as local infrastructure will be taken into account on any planning decisions.

An increasing number of self builds are on sites where out-dated houses and bungalows are replaced with a new dwelling.

Should I buy land without planning permission?

Plots sold at ‘bargain’ prices without planning consent are, in almost all cases, a gamble not worth taking. Generally speaking, if planning consent had been possible, it would have been obtained, and the plot sold at a much higher price.

Beware of any land that has been fenced to look like a plot but doesn’t have planning consent.

Of course, there is always the option to make an offer on land with the proviso that it gets planning permission. and some sites are advertised on this basis.

What preparation can I do while searching for a plot?

Although the design of the house itself will rely primarily on its location, you can start collating images and articles of the styles, materials and shapes you like.

Visit the National Self Build & Renovation Centre to explore the various construction options so you can compare timber frame, structural insulated panels, insulated concrete formwork and even straw bale with traditional brick and block.

Likewise, sustainable energy sources such as photovoltaics, solar panels, heat pumps, biofuel and mechanical ventilation can all be researched in advance.

The same approach can be applied to the interiors, where you can consider dramatic features such as rooflights that transform into balconies, bifold doors that go round corners, and lighting and IT systems that can be adapted for almost any occasion.

Go online and set up your own mood board on, or visit the various self build shows.