The current state of the housing market in the UK has created a new opportunity for property investors. Rather than buying property, many are turning their attention to buying land instead. And there are numerous benefits in doing so.
Buying land in the UK is a viable option for first-time buyers intent on self-building as well as those who can’t get on the property ladder for one reason or another. You can also look into acquiring land for development purposes as an alternative to investing in traditional property.
Naturally, most people think about buying land to build their own property and with the intention of owning a little piece of the world we live in. The purchasing process is simpler than buying bricks and mortar and, crucially, it can be just as profitable.
That being said, if you’re not familiar with the process of buying land in the UK, it’s easy to get confused or make a poor decision. So here are 9 questions to ask when buying land in the UK.
Why do you want to purchase land?
Before you go further with your plan to purchase land, you need to ask yourself what your objectives are. Do you see land as a better long-term investment than other assets? Do you plan on acquiring a site for your own use to build a house or to become a smallholder? Are you trying to take advantage of the current housing shortage and buy/sell land for development at a healthy profit?
Your long-term goals will determine the type of land and exact location you should be looking for. They will help you decide if you should be looking at greenfield sites that have never been developed or brownfield sites that have previously been built on.
Have you researched the market?
Before you put your money into any form of investment, you need to thoroughly research it for viability and profitability. Have you looked at the market for land for sale in the area? There is a large variation in land values being achieved, depending on location and quality.
Before you make an offer for any piece of land, you need to look at the market to get a clear understanding of what is reasonable to pay. It is also recommended that you work with an experienced local land agent who will guide you through the process.
Does the land have growth potential?
The real estate saying ‘location, location, location’ applies for purchasing land as well. You need to look into the local market to see it if meets your criteria.
Buying land is always more prudent in areas earmarked for improvements in local infrastructure and transport links. These can make a huge difference to the land value. Another thing to watch out for the planning permissions for the land you have your eye on.
Some plots of land are sold with planning permission already granted, although this is often only ‘outline’ planning permission – you will need to clear the final details with the local council or building society.
Has a land surveyor checked the land?
Buying land should be preceded by an appointment with a certified surveyor. There may be hidden snags that a qualified surveyor will unearth and investigate. This professional service will establish any boundary and rights of way issues as well as ground contamination and flood risks. These are all potential problems you want to know ahead of purchasing land.
What are the access rights?
It is important to look into the current access rights of the land you intend to buy. Does the plot have good access to a public road? What access is there to the land for you, including vehicle access?
Often times, landowners overlook what is known as a ‘ransom strip,’ where the current landowner holds back a piece of land between your plot and the access point and will not allow you access unless you pay extra. You should also be wary of shared access or a public right of way across the land. In the event of shared access – such as a shared driveway – make sure there’s a legal agreement in place about how maintenance will be paid.
What is the state of the land?
Whether you’re buying land in the UK for yourself or for development, you need to be sure of its quality. Has the land been previously contaminated with chemicals? Is it on a floodplain? Is the soil suitable for digging foundations? Is the ground level? If it’s a sloping plot, it could cost you more to develop. If you have any doubts about the suitability of the land, get it looked at by a qualified surveyor.
Is the land in regulation?
Some plots of land are nothing more than that – simple land. But it makes more sense to buy land with a mains water connection on site or a well. Drilling a borehole to get your own supply is certainly an option but it’s pricey and not all ground allows it. The costs of this vary according to the location and geology of the site. Likewise, off mains sewerage costs will depend on the scope of the project and geology.
Why is the owner selling?
It is always worth looking into the reasons behind listing the land for sale. Perhaps the current owner is aware of some issue that the agent is not disclosing? When purchasing land you also want to be mindful of the neighbours. Are there any ongoing property line disputes with neighbouring landowners or any existing tenant or lease obligations?
The time that the land has been sitting on the market is also important. A plot of land that has been listed for four weeks is a safer bet compared to one that has been on the market for four months. While there are always going to be exceptions, this question is often asked by prospective buyers to gauge the overall quality of the land.
Who will broker the deal?
Same as with any property, a good agent will help you navigate the local market and avoid any pitfalls. Every property or plot of land you see is being marketed by a full-service estate or letting agent. However, always choose one with whom you can work in person. It may be more difficult now that lockdown restrictions still apply but how your agent treats you speaks volume about the quality of the land and the legitimacy of the deal.
These are some of the important questions you should ask the seller before buying land in the UK. While this is not an exhaustive list, it should help you get an idea of a property’s existing state as well as future.
The more information you can find out beforehand, the more questions you’ll have. It is a good rule of thumb to appoint a conveyancing team experienced in land transactions to further look into the state of the land you want to buy. They’ll help you decide if it’s the right piece of land to fit with your plans – and help you negotiate the right price to pay for it.
Ultimately, you should tailor the questions you ask to the land plot in question. If there is anything in particular which strikes you as strange or unclear, there’s never any harm in just asking someone about it. Be it the seller, neighbours or the agent who manages the sale. In addition to these essential questions that you should ask, you can do additional research before moving forward with the purchase.
There are no two real estate transactions exactly alike. Every piece of land is different, and the buying process depends on different locations, property uses and individual buyer and seller circumstances. You can use this as a general guide, rather than an exhaustive outline when looking for land to buy in the UK. Always consult a qualified land professional to ensure you’re getting the right information and advice.