Is buying land a good investment?

Finding the ideal plot and building your own home can be worthwhile, but make sure you understand the planning implications before you go ahead

Buying land to build a home

Buying land can seem the answer to finding the ideal place to live. Land can sometimes be bought for a very reasonable price, and you have the added benefit of knowing that you can build a house to suit your own specifications – no one-size-fits-all design for you – that is, if you can get planning permission! Prices have gone up though – in the past, you would expect the plot to cost a third of your project, build costs another third and then a profit the last third. But nowadays, the land can account for around half of the house’s complete value.

Whether you have plans that would appeal to Kevin McCloud for his Grand Designs TV programme or have more modest aspirations, you will still need to investigate the planning situation for your chosen piece of land. Notably, Apex Planning Consultants has previously provided advice to a client in respect of a proposed self-build, sub-terranean house, which was granted planning permission, and the build was subsequently followed by Grand Designs.

Planning permission

If you buy a piece of land with no planning permission, it will, naturally, be far cheaper than a plot with permission already in place. However, you should be aware that getting permission may take a long time and is not always an easy – or guaranteed – process.

It pays to start planning sooner rather than later. In fact, you don’t actually have to own land to apply for planning permission, so you can apply for permission before deciding to buy. You just have to let the owner, leaseholders (with at least seven years’ lease remaining) and agricultural tenants know. If you use the services of a planning consultant they can prepare the application and serve notice on the owner/leaseholder/agricultural tenant as appropriate, on your behalf.

Of course, you might not want to put in the time and effort if the land is going to be bought out from under you, so consider buying an ‘option’ on the land, which gives you the right to buy the land at a certain price, by a certain date, once you have obtained planning permission. Legal advice is recommended if you plan to do this.

If you choose a plot with planning permission already agreed, you will of course be paying a higher price, but it is far more convenient – and you know exactly what you are getting.

It’s worth keeping an eye on planning applications in your chosen area, as they could alert you to plots that are going to be sold on with permission. Your local authority will have them listed on their website.

Your land may have one of two kinds of planning consent – outline planning permission (OPP) or detailed planning permission (DPP). With outline planning, the principle of a development is established, but the detail is not agreed. The detailed element is a second phase application called ‘reserved matters’, and you can do this  yourself – but it must be done within three years of the permission being given and you are likely to require architectural services, at least.

In some areas, DPP will have been required, perhaps because the site is in a conservation area, or because the proposal is for the replacement of an existing building. If you want to change the detailed permission, you can do some research into why it was obtained in the first place. This should tell you more about how likely it is that you can get the permission altered. At this stage it’s advisable to bring in a planning consultant to look at this with an experienced eye. However, if you want to materially change the approved plans, be aware that you will probably have to reapply for permission.

Brownfield sites

Of course, not every site will be a new greenfield site, in fact with the government pushing for development of brownfield sites, it may be that you find somewhere where you need to demolish an existing building. Generally speaking, if the site is inside an urban or built-up area, defined in a Local Plan, then it should be deemed suitable for a new home. The advantage of a brownfield site is that you will usually already have utilities coming to the site, the downside is that you will have to factor in the cost of demolition.

You should also be aware that if you are building a replacement dwelling, which is bigger than the existing home on your plot, the council may decide any existing Permitted Development rights should be restricted or even removed when you get your new planning permission. This can affect things like future plans to build an extension or an outbuilding, or even building a porch.

Suffice to say, finding a plot and building your own dwelling is an exciting – and sometimes profitable – way to purchase your new home, but you should be very aware of what you are entering into and ensure you get independent, expert advice on legal and planning matters.

Be prepared!

It is the ambition of many people to build their own home, but one should not expect that if they own land that can accommodate a house then planning permission will be granted. There are many things that will be factored by a council when determining a planning application, including Local Plan policies which speak to the principle of the development, the size and design of the house, its impact on the character and appearance of the area, and the neighbours’ amenities. These are all issues where Apex Planning Consultants can consider the implications and then advise on a course of action – accordingly, it is highly recommended that if you are considering your own development that you first obtain advice via a planning appraisal.

If you would like to discuss your own project with us, or just find out more about what we do, please continue to browse the website or drop us an email to: info@apexplanning.co.uk without obligation.