1. Get the estate agents particulars. These will provide an initial insight as to whether the plot is desirable. There should be a least one photograph (often more) which can reveal sufficient to either whet your appetite or have your resign this one to the bin
If the estate agent’s details don’t include an aerial photograph, take a look on Google Earth. Here you’ll be able to get an idea of the area – the location of roads, railways, open spaces etc that may not have been made clear from the estate agent’s details
Know what your budget for the plot itself if. You should also have an idea of the size and type of property that you intend to build and your estimated build costs.
Check out local house prices to see if the project stacks up. You should add on 20% contingency to your build costs and this figure (plus the plot value itself) should not exceed the final value. Talk to estate agents and visit websites such as Rightmove (rightmove.co.uk) to find comparable values.
On the way to the plot
Your plot visit should start as you approach the plot itself.
As you make your way to the plot, start looking for clues about the area and neighbourhood from at least ½ mile away – maybe further. What are the positives that you see such as a good range of local shops and amenities, schools and sports clubs etc. Does the area look up-together with a majority of well maintained properties. Look for negative signs too such as neglected buildings, properties in a poor state and any which show signs of structural damage.
Take some time to put your head into any local pubs or cafes etc. How do they feel inside and what are the clientele like?
Study the local architecture and make a note of consistent design features.
Look out for new homes. They give a clue as to the type of design the local planners favour. If there is a show home, call in and find out how sales are going.
Once you arrive at the plot, consider very carefully:
The actual approach. Even if it is a dream plot, if the approach in through a scruffy housing estate, it will directly affect the end value of your home.
While you're at the plot
Its worth taking a notepad or clipboard with you and have a list of all the things that you need to reccie, such as:
What does the next door neighbours property look like? If their gardens are untidy or the property poorly maintained, this will have an affect on the value of yours. How close is the neighbour’s property to the site and are there any windows overlooking. Listen for noise from the neighbours whilst you are there as well.
If the plot is in a right old state (it may even be so overgrown that you can’t clearly make out where the boundaries lie) try to look beyond initial appearances and instead imagine how it could be with your home built there.
If you can’t decipher the full dimensions of the plot you may have to gauge the proportions from the fence lines or hedges of neighbouring properties.
Look power lines or drains that cross the plot.
Listen out for road noise and count how many vehicles pass the site in an hour and how fast they are travelling.
If there are any unpleasant smells in the air, track down their source and ascertain whether this is a frequent nuisance or if it is intermittent. Check the source in relation to the plot and the prevailing wind.
Study the look and style of other properties in the immediate vicinity. Are they similar in design to what you are planning? Is it a pleasant scene and will what you’re proposing enhance it?
Go back on your original financial thinking and decide whether or not the final house values that you’d assumed are achievable. If there are any estate agents’ boards in the road or area, ring them and ask the prices of the homes that are for sale.
Try to ascertain the subsoil make-up. Natural vegetation may give a clue. Oak trees like clay. Beech trees like chalk. Alder and willow like a high water table. Soft rushes like badly drained ground. Otherwise look at recent excavations, such as for new fence posts, and study what was unearthed.
If you see any new building work going on in the area – go and speak to the people there. They may be able to tell what sort of foundations they had to employ and what the ground conditions were.
Study the plans that have already been passed. If they are detailed are they the right ones? Do they give you what you want? Have the previous applicants perhaps missed a trick and is there planning gain to be had?
Think about the access. This is crucial to getting plans approved.
Establish whether the site is likely to be in a Conservation Area or any other specially designated areas since this will have a big impact on what you are able to build.
Don’t get too hung up on the view. Whilst a pleasing aspect may be important, the lack of a view is not necessarily a fatal factor as clever design can overcome this problem.
Make a rough sketch of the plot and show the location of any trees. Do they interfere with the proposed siting of the home? You’ll need to find out if they are the subject of a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) - in which case they can’t be removed.
Take a camera with you and photograph the plot from as many angles as you can. This will help you envisage it when you are back at home.