Choosing the right plot for your self-build project is the first step on a long but rewarding journey. Because it is such a big decision, plot hunting can be a time consuming business and there are all sorts of things which must be taken into consideration along the way, from the size of the plot to the planning permission you’ll need.

With more than 10,000 people a year successfully completing their own self-build projects, competition for land can be tough and finding a good plot may take years if you’re restricted by budget or geographical location. If the search is on for your perfect plot, here are a few top pieces of advice to bear in mind while you’re looking.

Narrow Down the Search Area

If you cast your net too wide and look for a plot over too great a geographical area, you will soon find yourself overwhelmed. Pinpoint a few towns or villages you are interested in and then get to know that area inside out – walk or drive around on a regular basis to see if there are any potential building sites and sign up with any local estate agents who can give you a heads up when plots come on the market. Searching online is often the best place to start. You can search for land on Rightmove, or there are more specialist sites such as PlotBrowser, PlotFinder and BuildStore’s PlotSearch to help you narrow things down.

Always Work Out a Budget – and Stick to it

Nothing spells disaster for a self-build project like going into your plot search without a clear spending limit in mind. Your plot will be the single biggest outlay in terms of cost, taking up between a third and a half of your overall budget depending on where in the country you are buying and building. You should have an idea how much your dream home is going to cost to build and budget for land accordingly – even if you think this will be your ‘forever home’, if the land and the build cost more than the finished product, you could be in trouble if you ever do need to sell. Know what similar properties in the area are on the market for and be realistic about how much you can – and should – spend on your plot.

Keep an Eye on Planning Applications

Local authorities tend to publish weekly lists of new planning applications and decisions on their websites, so keep up to speed with them. In some cases people making planning applications are open to offers, so if you make a direct approach they may be willing to sell the land to you rather than carry out the work themselves.

Never Buy ‘Off Plan’

Buying a plot with no planning permission is a dangerous game, and it could be a costly mistake if permission to build is not granted once you’ve parted with your cash. Most plots will be sold with ‘outline’ permission, meaning there is permission to build a house but the finer details of design have not been fixed. Others will have ‘full permission’ where a design has already been submitted and approved. If this is the case, you shouldn’t necessarily be put off – there is nothing to stop you buying the plot and submitting your own planning designs, just remember that planning permission does have an expiry date and you should always check the time limits you have for doing the work.

Be Open Minded

Sometimes you have to look beyond the superficial mess and chaos of a plot to see its real potential, so be open minded. If you hire the right tools it shouldn’t be more than a few hours’ work to clear a site which is overgrown, while buying a plot which already has a derelict building on it and knocking it down will give you a blank canvas. If it’s a location that you like and all the permissions are in place, nothing should put you off from doing a little more hard graft.

Always Have a Survey Done

If you’re plot hunting and think you’ve found the perfect site, it is always worth investing in having some surveys done. Especially if the plot is on brownfield which may have been contaminated in the past, getting expert advice on any potentially hazardous materials, the condition of the ground beneath the topsoil and some analysis of flood risk could all save money in the long-run. Before you commit yourself to a plot you should get some pre-application advice from the local authorities, to make sure you get all the necessary land, structural and tree surveys done, and possible heritage, archaeological or ecological surveys.

As this is such a big decision, the best advice of all is to take your time and never feel rushed into making your choice. Think things over, budget and be open-minded about what you want – happy hunting!