Alli Gay of CHI Homes advises on finding the right housebuilding sites.
Availability of land
The site’s location is vital for resale, so choose carefully. Do your homework and stick to locations that you know. Being in possession of first-hand information about local changes can give you the upper hand on potential opportunities.
Register your interest with estate agents, land agents, land brokers, councils and internet portals. Dig a little. Keep your eye on the local auctions and seek out discrete opportunities. Sometimes what might initially appear as a ‘difficult’ piece of land, may turn out to be a great opportunity.
Viability of land
Avoiding the nightmare scenario of buying a site that is subsequently ‘sanitised’ can be mitigated with the right approach. When we buy a site, we always anticipate any problems and deal with them before parting with our money.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that developing is capital intensive. A large proportion of cost is invested before actually starting to put one brick on top of another. Getting to the point of laying bricks is in some senses the easy bit! Ensuring you get to this point, with enough money in the bank to actually build out your desired development, can be tricky, so here are a few considerations:
With or without planning permission?
Buying a plot with planning permission is typically more expensive, and so buying a ‘speculative plot’ without planning can be an attractive option for the brave. Work with a planning consultant who can review potential plots and provide a steer on the likelihood of gaining planning permission before you commit to a purchase.
Just because a plot comes with planning permission, it does not mean that the properties for which planning has been obtained can definitely be built. Many factors can sway the cost of the build that might make the plot uneconomical to build, such as, for example, the type of materials to be used or the cost of connecting to utilities.
Will it fit?
If you’ve found a suitable site that already has planning permission, be wary of eager architects or designers that have squeezed too many units on one small site. There is a risk that when you get on site and start to set out the properties ready for ground works, the properties don’t actually fit.
We once worked with one designer who had detailed room sizes, only for us to find that when we added up the dimensions across the width of the building, they didn’t actually fit onto the footprint. Planning permission had already been granted at this point.
Archaeology or ecology
Some local authorities will condition specialist surveys before building works can commence such as archaeology or ecology reports if the site is in an area of historical interest or certain species of wildlife have been seen in the area.
Finding archaeological remains on your site could at the very least cause delays whilst digs take place or could result in a ‘build over’ scheme or redesign if significant finds need to be preserved. The worst-case scenario would be the complete sanitisation of a site if any significant finds present themselves, rendering the site worthless for development.
It is often easier to deal with the discovery of wildlife on a site. In some instances, there is the requirement for new habitats for example breeding boxes, to be designed in to the development, which won’t cost that much. However, we have known of sites completely halted during the breeding season (March to August) resulting in considerable financial impact.
Knowing an accurate likely resale price of properties will help to determine not only the value of the land, but will be used by the bank’s valuer or your investors to ensure that the land is financially viable for lending purposes. Some eager sellers may overinflate resale values based on assumptions of build materials, design and aesthetics, which may be uneconomical in reality, so do your own research.
Speak to local estate agents about potential resales in the locality of your plot to ensure maximum profit. Are there factors that may affect resale such as north facing gardens, electricity pylons or uninterrupted views that may be developed?
The land itself
Last but not least, there are a few key issues to check on the land itself. Is the land on a flood plain? Is it contaminated? Are there trees that can cause you a problem?
Trees may have a Tree Protection Order attached or contain nesting birds, the removal of which without permission could leave you with a hefty fine. Furthermore, removing what looks like an innocent tree may cause ground instability resulting in the expensive reinforcement or shoring of foundations.
Consulting the local authority and your structural engineer before removal is wise. It is also worth checking the boundaries at the Land Registry, and whether any rights of way exist.
There is a land of opportunity out there, but make sure you don’t fall foul of the many pitfalls which may render your plot unbuildable – financially or practically.