If you’ve spent any time at all on our blog, you’ll be well aware that buying a house is rarely straight-forward. But, you might ask, surely buying land is a different kettle of fish?! After all, buying a field is just buying a field, right? Well, here we go again, Newport Land and Law, raining on parades since 2017. We’re sorry to tell you that buying land can actually be more complicated than buying a house or a flat.
First of all, you’ve got to find the plot (or part of plot) that you want to purchase. The kind of plot that’s right for you will depend on what you want it for: whether you’re hoping to build a house, stop someone else building one, start a business, keep animals or simply just for the joy of frolicking in it.
Though some land for sale is put on the market in much the same way as other types of property, it often isn’t. Rather, the whole thing can have an ‘off to see a man about a dog’ sort of vibe to it. Land agents sometimes help with this bit, other times you’ll have to rely on word of mouth and hope your neighbour’s cousin’s friend’s hairdresser comes up with the goods.
Once you’ve navigated this first hurdle and found something that looks abut right, you may find yourself in a bit of a chicken and egg situation. There are a lot of questions you’ll need to ask before you commit yourself to buying the land… but you may not be keen on spending money to find out the answers before you’re committed. Tricky, no? But trust us when we say you’re going to want to have these questions answered.
Will you need a land surveyor?
This happens to be a question we can answer for you very easily: yes.
It might seem a waste of money to bring in a professional to assess an empty field, but we assure you it will be anything but. Land surveyors can flag up potential red flags for both greenfield (land that’s never been built on) and brownfield (land that’s previously been built on but is ripe for redevelopment). We’re talking everything here from flood risks to animal habitation to restrictive covenants: so, it really is well worth making this investment early on in the process.
Where does the land actually begin and end?
This is another thing to add to the ‘should be obvious, isn’t always’ list. You’ll need to find out whether there are any fences, hedges and boundary walls in place and – crucially – if there are, whether they actually mark the exact boundaries of the plot. This is something that needs to be checked, double checked and triple checked before things go any further, as boundary lines is one of the things most likely to rear up and cause problems later on.
We’d recommend being extra cautious over the boundary lines around the access to the plot, as ‘ransom strips’ have become notorious in land sales. Unfortunately, these are exactly what they sound like: an extra strip of land retained by the seller to stop you from accessing the land you’ve bought unless you pay an additional premium. Who says conveyancers don’t have enough excitement in their lives?!
Are there any rights of way?
You’ll also need to investigate whether there are any rights of way crossing the plot, both formal and informal. Something as simple as the former owner of the land not discouraging dog walkers cutting through can equate to a right of way being established over time. This might not be too much of an issue if you’re buying the land to develop a nature reserve, but it would be a pretty big problem if you plan to build your new kitchen over the dog walking path.
Dare we ask about planning permission?
So here we are, pulling out the big guns. If you’re buying land with the intention of building on it, planning permission will be a big consideration. Some land will be sold with planning permission already in place. This will usually be at a fairly speculative stage and will still involve a fair amount of back and forth with the local authority before you get your preferred plans approved.
Land without any type of planning permission is often a lot cheaper to buy, but homework will be required to ensure there’s not a reason for this. For example, have planning permission applications been refused in the past? Are there restrictive covenants or rights of way in place that would prevent development? In these situations, it’s almost always wise to have a pre-application meeting with the local authority to get an idea of what may or may not be possible before you commit to buying.
Surviving the process
Unfortunately, there’s no avoiding the fact that the process of buying land can be a headache. Just like buying property, there are a whole host of gloriously annoying pitfalls that may or may not become a problem.
Along with all the possible red flags we’ve mentioned above, during the process you may also have to contend with:
- Connecting your plot to the nearest road.
- Addressing the drainage situation.
- Linking up with power grids.
- Registering the land with the Land Registry (particularly likely to be a problem if the land hasn’t changed hands in the last thirty years).
If all these possible legal hiccups aren’t enough of a cautionary tale, we’ll also point out that the negotiation stage can be protracted, especially if you’re buying part of a plot and/or you’ve approached a landowner about a portion of land they hadn’t previously advertised.
You may decide that it will all be worth it in the end – especially if this is the first stage in realising your dream home or business – but unfortunately that probably won’t make the messy middle any easier to navigate.
If you’re facing your own land purchase, we recommend making sure you engage experienced professionals you think you could stomach working alongside for many more months than would be ideal. (No, seriously, we can almost guarantee you’ll be stuck with your conveyancing team for much longer than you’d like)
If you think you could put up with us for that long, please do get in touch to find out how we could support you through your land purchase.