Buying self-build land? Here are the top 10 things to look out for

Looking to do a self-build and buying land? Make sure you check these points to avoid buyer's remorse

Finding land is hard, whether you’re looking for self-build land for sale in London or a bigger plot out in the country. 

Once you’ve found your ideal plot of land beware of some things that may cause you to lose the plot, quite literally.



Here are the top 10 things to look out for when buying self-build land:

1. Neighbours

In urban areas, available self-build plots are often 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.

4. Contributions

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 self-build 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.

6. Access

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

This house in Berkshire, near the River Thames, was built on a plot that was prone to flooding every year and so the house was built on timber posts, to match the set requirements. Source: Homebuilding & Renovating


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.

The courtyard of this self build was designed to preserve a 100-year old pear tree, and to create a private outdoor space. Image Source: Homebuilding & Renovating


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.


If you’ve gone through all the 10 issues listed and you’re happy to go ahead… great! We wish you all the best of luck with building your own perfect self-build home.

Check out our plots for sale at Green Oaks which are ready to go and where we’ve done all the hard work for you.

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.

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