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Buying Land – All you need to know

Key information
  • Greenfield and brownfield land present different challenges
  • Not all land has planning permission
  • You need to account for more than the price of the land
  • You’ll need to act fast but also do your research

Whether you’re looking for the perfect plot to build your dream house to replace your current property or a location ripe for a larger development, buying land is an exciting and rewarding venture.

But like all investments, finding the right piece of land for you can be fraught with pitfalls if you don’t know what to look for. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to everything you need to know before you buy.

Most popular reasons for finding land for sale:

  1. Building your dream home
  2. Planting a forest
  3. Commercial property or residential development


Greenfield vs Brownfield 

There are two types of land you’ll encounter on the market: greenfield and brownfield. Greenfield means that the land hasn’t been previously built on, and is typically rural. While a picturesque acre in the country might sound like the ideal location for your bespoke home, it’s not without its difficulties. The planning process can be notoriously difficult to get for building on agricultural land for example, and distance from essential infrastructure can increase construction costs.

Brownfield land has already been developed. It might not have the same initial attraction as Greenfield Land, but the benefit of Brownfield Land is that getting planning permission for your development is likely to be easier as the site has been built on.

However, brownfield sites do have drawbacks. It’s often more expensive overall than a greenfield plot, as you’ll likely have to pay more after buying it to clear the land. This could include demolishing any existing structures or disposing of leftover industrial waste. And while planning permission might be easier to acquire for brownfield plots, it may come with restrictions like limiting your new build to the same height or footprint as what was previously on the site.

Land with planning permission

Shaking hands

Some plots of vacant land come with planning permission already attached. This is usually in the form of outline planning permission, which is consent in principle for development but still requires the details of a proposal to be approved.

Sometimes development land will come with detailed planning permission for a commercial property or residential property. However, that doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker if the approved designs don’t fit your own plans. Even if a piece of land already has detailed planning permission given, you can resubmit your own designs without revoking the existing consent.

If a piece of land doesn’t come with any attached planning permission, be wary. Even outline planning will drastically increase the land’s selling price, so if there isn’t any attached to a plot it may mean that past applications have been rejected. If in doubt, speak to the local planning authority (LPA) and discuss what’s possible in a pre-application meeting. An indication of whether a plot will be likely to be granted planning is if it fits within the National Planning Policy Framework guidelines.


How much does buying land cost?

Land disussions

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to the cost of land. In 2020 the average price for an acre of farmland was £12,000-£15,000, but with the right variables that cost can easily triple. A plot of land’s value depends on anything from its location and condition, to nearby developments, to the surrounding environment and wildlife.

In fact, in areas with high land values, the price you pay for your plot may account for up to 50% of the value of your completed house.

Thankfully, you can get a mortgage for land just as you can for a house. Generally, this will mean putting down a deposit of 20% of the land’s sale value, although that will vary depending on the lender.

For those looking to get a good deal on a property buying land for sale at auction can get you an excellent price if you know what you are looking for, and even very profitable if you looking to flip the land.

Keep in mind though that it’s not just the sale price you’ll need to account for. Land purchases will also include paying for the services of solicitors and surveyors, and you may also have to pay Stamp Duty Land Tax depending on its value. Stamp Duty rates and thresholds vary across the UK and are subject to change each tax year, so make sure you’re up to date on what charges you might face.

Although it is rare, one-way people also attempt to acquire the freehold title without actually having to buy the property is by exercising their squatter’s rights. 10 years of living in a derelict property give ‘squatters’ the chance to claim the freehold title of the landowner free of charge.


Land buying process

When you think you’ve found the right development land from a land agent for your commercial or residential property building project it’s important to act fast. Around 90% of land in England currently can’t be built on, so good plots don’t tend to stay on the market for long.

But that doesn’t mean you should rush the process either. Even if you’ve done plenty of research already, you still need to do a thorough assessment of the land you’re buying before you hand over any money.

That means seeking professional advice. Calling on a land surveyor is a crucial part of any land purchase. They’ll carry out a feasibility study on the land plot to make sure your plans to build there can actually go ahead, and will highlight any potential problems like flood risks, soil pollution or overhead power lines. A land survey will also clarify exactly where the boundaries of your plots of land are, to remove any doubt and prevent legal disputes with neighbours down the line.

You can also do some background checks yourself using HM Land Registry. For a small fee you can find details on your land’s history, including its past ownership, planning permission applications, and its general boundaries and rights of way.

And as we’ve said, it always pays to speak to the relevant LPA about what developments will be possible on the land, even if it already has attached planning permission. A pre-application meeting is only informal and has no guarantee of consent later on. But building a rapport with planning officials by sounding out your plans early on can go a long way when you submit your proposals.

There’s a lot to consider when buying your own parcel of land. But so long as you’ve done your research and know what to look for, there’s no reason it can’t be an easy process.


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