Building Plot: How to Assess Its Potential

Illustration of house on self build plot
(Image credit: Getty)

When it comes to finding the perfect building plot on which to build your own house, there is a lot to consider, from planning potential and access issues through to ground conditions, the physical characteristics of the site and the practicality and expense of bringing services to site.

This is where thorough assessment of the building plot and its potential is essential. Follow this in-depth checklist to ensure you know all you need to know about the plot before you buy.

Never purchase a development site without first satisfying yourself that you can get planning permission to build the house that you intend.

Bear in mind that existing consents do not prevent you from making further applications for alternative schemes. 

For a professional assessment of planning potential, approach a local house designer or a planning consultant.

  • Does the plot have outline planning or detailed/full permission? 
  • When does the existing consent expire?
  • Was planning permission gained at appeal? 
  • If so, was it because of local opposition or planning department opposition?
  • Has this since died down?
  • If the land has no planning, what are the realistic chances of securing planning approval?
  • Is this the view of the planning officer?
  • Are there any planning conditions attached to the building plot (other than the standard)?
  • Have these been satisfied?
  • If not, what still needs to be done?
  • Are Permitted Development rights restricted or removed?
  • Are there any planning consents on the neighbouring land?
  • Are there things in the offing that could affect local values (e.g. new roads/motorways/industry moving in or out)?
  • Is the site in a Conservation Area, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or National Park?
  • Is the plot within the curtilage of a Listed Building?
  • Is the site in the setting of a Listed Building?
  • Is it a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or higher?
  • Is it in an area of archaeological interest?
  • Is an archaeological survey required?
  • Are special foundations designed to facilitate future digs required?
  • Is a watching brief required?
How to Find a Plot

In search of your perfect building plot, then read our complete guide.

Are There Trees on the Site?

Trees in close proximity to your proposed development will need to be taken into account as they will affect the design and cost when it comes to building foundations. In some cases, tree preservation orders (TPOs) can preclude development altogether.

  • Are there any significant trees on site?
  • Are there any on adjoining land?
  • Have tree locations been plotted?
  • What are the tree species and sizes?
  • Are there any TPOs in force?
  • If so, on which trees?
  • Are there signs of trees having been removed lately?

What are the Ground Conditions?

The type of ground and subsoil on a site will influence the design of the foundations and therefore the development costs. The ground conditions will also influence the way in which surface water can be disposed of and, if any is required, the type of off mains drainage system that is appropriate.

If possible, before purchasing a site, arrange for trial holes to be dug and an engineer to prepare a report. 

(MOREFoundation Systems and Soil Types)

  • What is the natural vegetation?
  • Are there any signs of sedge or rush?
  • Is there ground water or signs of a high water table?
  • In the flowerbeds or disturbed ground is there an indication of subsoil?
  • If yes, what do you see?
  • Have any trial pits been dug?
  • If so, what are the findings/recommendations?
  • Is there any rock?
  • Are there any streams/watercourses?
  • Heavy clay?
  • With trees?
  • Any sign of local buildings employing special foundations?
  • If so, what type?
  • Have locals been consulted?
  • If so, what are the findings?
  • Can you see evidence of filled ground?
  • Can you see any signs of any contamination?
  • Are there any existing foundations?
  • Does the Building Inspector have any comments/recommendations?

Site Access

Before purchase, always ensure that it is possible to fulfill the Highway Department requirements for vehicular access, turning circles and parking etc.

Work to the highways can only be undertaken by a contractor that is licensed by the local authority and it is not cheap – make sure you get quotes early on.

(MOREDoes your plot have access issues?)

Public Highway/private access

  • Is there a right of access?
  • If not, what arrangements have to be made?
  • Is there any sign of a ransom strip?
  • Does the driveway need making up?
  • Is it suitable for construction traffic?
  • If not, is there alternative/temporary site access?
  • Visibility splays required?
  • Is access obtainable within the site curtilage?
  • If not, are the necessary easements in place?
  • Will you need Highways consent for such an access?
  • Are the ground levels right for gates/bellmouth?
  • Is the crossover/drop kerb in place?
  • Is there a pavement?
  • Is there a grass verge?
  • Is the verge part of the highway?

Parking space requirements

  • Do you need to consider turning circles/the need to enter and leave in forward gear?

Bringing Services to Site

Before purchasing your plot, always get an estimate for the cost of bringing essential services, such as water, electricity and sewage disposal to site. Where mains gas is not available, consider oil, bulk gas (lpg), electric heating or solid fuel.

Where the cost of connecting to the mains is prohibitive, consider the alternative of providing your own supply (e.g. a bore hole and/or generator).

Your lawyer will need to conduct searches to ensure that any necessary easements are in place for service connections. Conduct any necessary negotiations with neighbours over easements, shared service connections etc. before you purchase the site.

Drainage Connection

  • Are there drains on site already?
  • If not, are foul drains in road?
  • Has there location been plotted? (contact local water board)
  • Is the drain public or private?
  • Is there a legal right to connect?
  • Are easements in place if necessary?
  • What is the sewer connection charge?
  • If there are no mains drains available, what system is acceptable/workable? E.g. cesspit, septic tank, sewage treatment plant?
  • Has the Environment Agency been consulted and approvals given?
  • Is there space on site for these works or do you need to negotiate for it?
  • Are there surface water drains nearby?
  • Has there location been plotted? (contact local water board)
  • If no surface water drains are available, what system is acceptable/workable? E.g. standard soakaway, sophisticated soakaway, aquifier, stream or ditch
  • Are there any sterile zones?
  • If yes, are they plotted?

Water Connection

  • Is mains water available?
  • What is the water connection charge?
  • If mains water is not available, is a borehole possible?
  • What is the installation cost?

Power Connection

  • Is mains electricity available?
  • Overhead or underground?
  • What is the connection charge?

(MOREBringing electricity to site)

Gas Connection

  • Is gas available?
  • Connection charge
  • If not available, will you want to install an LPG system?
  • If so, is there space for the tank or can it go underground?
  • Or will you want oil?
  • If so, is there space for the tank?
  • What is the installation charge?

Telephone Connection

  • Telephone available?
  • Who are the service providers?
  • What is the connection charge?

Assessing the Setting


  • Did the neighbours object to the granting of planning?
  • Is there a legacy of hostility or has it calmed down?
  • Will neighbours be able to construct site works?
  • Is there anything you can do to resolve the situation?

Adjoining sites/surrounding land

  • What kind of buildings are in the street scene?
  • Are there any new dwellings in the area that give an indication of the planners likes and dislikes?
  • Is there a building line?
  • What are the general characteristics of local architecture/design
  • What are the general architectural features on nearby buildings: e.g. size, shape, form, walling materials, roof covering, roof pitch, roof shape, architectural details
  • Is there any sign of structural damage to adjoining buildings?
  • Is there any pollution/noise/smell/light from neighbouring properties?

(MOREBuilding a vernacular style home)

Physical Characteristics

Estimate your build costs

Estimate the costs of building your new home by using our free Build Cost Calculator.

When assessing a building plot ensure that there are no physical barriers that will prevent development or have a significant influence on development costs.

A planning consent does not imply that a development is practically possible, so always satisfy yourself by checking the details on the ground.

A surveyor will be able to check dimensions and gradient as part of a site survey. The ownership of boundaries should be confirmed by your lawyer. To assess the cost of moving telegraph poles/pylons/substations and so on, contact the individual utilities. Take into account any conditions of the sale, such as the erection of boundary fences or walls.

  • Level site/slight slope/severe slope?
  • Levels survey available?
  • Datum point?
  • Exposure: none/moderate/severe
  • Overhead cables/power lines
  • If significant, are they moveable?

Key dimensions

  • Measure the width at building line (front)
  • Measure the width at building line (back)
  • Have you made triangulation measurements
  • Has sun/shade been noted?

Ownership of boundaries

  • North
  • South
  • East
  • West

Always opt for all of the relevant searches and make sure you use an experienced lawyer or licensed conveyancer who regularly deals with this kind of work

  • Rights of way established to plot’s benefit?
  • Rights of way to benefit others?
  • Covenants and easements to plots benefit?
  • Covenants and easements to others’ benefit?
  • Footpaths?
  • Any sign of adverse possession?
  • If so, how long has it been established?
  • Does any loss of land through adverse possession question the viability of the plot
  • Land being sold with full title?
  • All or any part of the land being sold subject to defective/incomplete/possessory title?
  • What is the history of the site, if any?
  • What implications might this have on your proposals e.g. existing footings, cost of removing buildings, contamination etc.?
  • Any protected wildlife fauna or flora on site?

How Much Should You Pay for Your Building Plot?

The cost of your plot plus your build costs and a 20-30% margin should equal the end value of your finished development, so an accurate estimate of your build costs is essential to determine how much you should pay for a plot.

You should also research ceiling values in the area to avoid spending money you cannot recoup.

(MOREHow to value a building plot)

Michael Holmes

Michael is Homebuilding & Renovating's Director of Content, Vice Chair of the self build industry body, the National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA), presenter of multiple property TV shows and author of Renovating for Profit (Ebury). He also runs an architectural and interior design practice, offering design and project management services. He is one of the country's leading property experts and has undertaken over 30 building projects including two self-builds and the renovation of a Grade-II listed farmhouse. 

Michael has presented over 150 property shows for BBC, ITV1, Channel 5, UK TV Style, and Discovery RealTime, including I Own Britain's Best Home; Don't Move Improve; Trading Up; Good Bid, Good Buy; Build, Buy or Restore?; How to Build A House; and Hard Sell.

Michael is also a regular expert at the Homebuilding & Renovating Shows. He has written for leading British newspapers, including The Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times, Daily Express and The Independent and has appeared on news programmes such as BBC Breakfast.