The Self Build Guide Part 1: Finding Land via Online Searches

Whenever you start looking at self-build as an option to create your ideal home, there are a number of steps you’ll need to take in the process. Self-building is an ambitious undertaking. However, it has some great positives and is a very rewarding way to construct a home you’ll love. Advantages include finding land exactly where you’d like to site your property, the size and layout (as long as it complies with Building Regs and planning) and, to a certain extent, setting your own timescales on how long you’d like the project to take.

Finding land via online search

Whenever you start looking at self-build as an option to create your ideal home, there are a number of steps you’ll need to take in the process. Self-building is an ambitious undertaking. However, it has some great positives and is a very rewarding way to construct a home you’ll love. Advantages include finding land exactly where you’d like to site your property, the size and layout (as long as it complies with Building Regs and planning) and, to a certain extent, setting your own timescales on how long you’d like the project to take.

Finding land – landing your perfect plot

Unless you already own a plot of land, the first stage of your project will be finding and purchasing land to build on. Over the next few weeks, we are going to be looking at the process of finding a plot of land and making sure it ticks the box requirements that will see your project completed.

Where do I really want to live?

Firstly, you need to decide on the geographical location. Would you like to live in the country, or would the suburbs and urban living suit you more?

In order to make a detailed, effective search, you need to pinpoint the area you want to live in. This will help create much more detailed search parameters – not too small, so that you are restricted, but not so large that you cannot refine your search further.

It’s useful to make a wishlist of what you need from your ideal location. Don’t forget key factors that will influence your decisions. These include being close to good infrastructure links, such as motorway access, other major roads, bus routes and railways. If you are searching for a rural idyll, you may not have to compromise on this as even villages and smaller towns can still be well connected if they have a railway station. If your work takes you abroad, having an airport nearby might be a positive rather than a negative.

As well as the essentials for many, such as good schools and reliable shops, think about your hobbies and what you do in your spare time. Do you love the idea of a local pub to relax in or are you a real foodie who would like to be able to walk to a great restaurant? Are there good dog walks close by? If you are into fitness, are there some good running routes or a gym in easy reach?

Online search for land

Once you have established your ideal location, perhaps the simplest way to seek out available land is to use an online land search. There are a variety of online plot-finding websites that are free to access and can be easily navigated. You can search by region or postcode, and hone the search according to your budget. You may need to create an account and log in to do this. Your search parameters will filter out inappropriate options and provide you with a short or longlist of likely sites.

If the online ‘plot finder’ sites don’t highlight any likely options, auction sites can also be useful too. You’ll be able to check things like acreage, infrastructure and services in the locality, but there’s really no substitute for going out and getting a ‘feel’ for the land and its surroundings in person.

Some of the principal UK land and auction websites include:  

www.rightmove.co.uk

www.plotfinder.net/

www.plotbrowser.com

www.onthemarket.com/farms-land/

www.ukauctionlist.com/land-auction

www.perfectplot.co.uk/

Other websites that are not land-specific are also useful starting points for land searches. These can include auction, marketplace and selling sites, such as:

Gumtree https://www.gumtree.com/

eBay https://www.ebay.co.uk/

Trovit https://www.trovit.co.uk

Craigslist https://geo.craigslist.org

With plot finding sites and auctioneer listings, you may find it’s worth signing up to their small subscription fee, in order to receive weekly or monthly updates of land available. In this way, you’ll keep up-to-date with what’s available and see what’s selling, what isn’t and where the hotspots are when it comes to development land.

Gaining insight

Another useful online tool is online land software. The two main ones are Nimbus Maps and LandInsight. These are specialised land finding software that are used by many developers and land agents, but are available to the public for a fee. If you are serious about finding that perfect plot, it may be worth the investment. These can be helpful but you will need some background knowledge of planning policy. We’ll be providing more detail on how to negotiate your way through the planning policy minefield in future blogs. Watch this space!

Dreaming of a house in the country?

As well as our renowned self-build service, we design and build beautiful property developments too. We have just one plot still available at our latest new build project, Sawyers Meadow, which is located in the picturesque village of Bunbury, nestled in the heart of the Cheshire countryside.

Plot 7, The Aspen, will be a stunning four bedroom residence with plenty of space, making it truly versatile. The spacious downstairs living area benefits from a good-sized family room, opening into the rear garden, as well as a private study, large lounge and dining area. The four bedrooms include a magnificent master bedroom and there are two en-suites. The double garage will be particularly useful, offering secure parking and further storage space.

This small, exclusive development will only have ten bespoke homes in total, all with gardens and parking, making Sawyers Meadow a perfect place to live for working couples, families and retirees.

Location is key

For anyone needing access to a larger town and centres of employment, Bunbury is a great location, just nine miles east of Chester and eight miles north west of Nantwich, with the larger village of Tarporley only four miles away. The village is also in easy commuting reach of Liverpool and Manchester and even London, with Crewe’s central rail hub just a short journey away.

Beautiful Bunbury

Bunbury is a delightful location and is a very pretty village with over 30 listed buildings, including a number of timber-framed houses, some of which date back to the 17th century. Other important listed buildings include the sandstone parish church of St Boniface, which is over 1,000 years old and is built on the highest point of the village.

As well as its historic landmarks, such as the church, Bunbury Mill and Bunbury Locks, there are loads of activities going on in the village, making it a great place to live. Three welcoming pubs, several shops, a variety of sports clubs and even a modern medical centre too means that there are plenty of local amenities.

If you’d like to visit Sawyers Meadow, please do get in touch with us. Call Helen on 07400 062349 or email her at sales@cbhomes.co.uk

Upside down and inside out home design

You have the ability to design your dream home. Don’t be constrained by conventional thinking – but make sure you have someone to sense-check your wilder ideas and flights of fancy. The raison d’être of a self-build project is to get the most out of your project, so design it around you. Incorporate the design aspects you want and think forward to imagine how the place and space will be to live in.

Practical considerations

There are several practical considerations when designing a home, but the more imaginative and innovative you can be within the ‘rules of the game’, the better – the rules in this case being the Building Regulations. The building needs to fulfil its function as a usable living space. If you’re including two bathrooms, you could put them next to each other, but it’s probably best to put one upstairs and one down. Kitchens in the vicinity of dining rooms is conventional thinking, but not set in stone, while merged spaces such as kitchen-diners and lounge-diners have become the norm, as multi-functional rooms. Televisions, often the focal point of family living spaces in the digital age, are getting bigger and wall-mounted, which frees-up floorspace but needs to be thought about at the home design stage in terms of positioning – where such items as doors and windows occur in the design. So too with fireplaces, so often the other focal point of lounge areas. These days with central heating they are often purely for show.

Home connectivity

Home connectivity is everything these days, so in modern houses it makes sense to include as many connectivity points as possible – Wi-Fi, streaming, the internet, gaming, telephones, you name it, all require power and access to wireless. Also give a great deal of thought to the positioning of plug points. All of the above require power and there’s no point in having the only plug in the room being in an area that is also the main thoroughfare.

Going green with home design

With the surge to prominence of ecological and sustainability issues, even construction hasn’t escaped scrutiny. We’re trying to make houses and their services as energy efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. Years ago, the idea of something like a green roof would have sounded like a flight of fancy, but nowadays they are appearing more and more. A ‘green roof’ or ‘living roof’ is the roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation, which is planted over a waterproof membrane. In our eco-friendly world, ideas such as these are becoming more commonplace – within reason.  Roof designs are a great way to make an impact and there is an array of ways to make your structure look unique.

Built-in courtyards create an ‘outside’ inside, while upside-down houses can make the most of views. This involves having the daily living spaces – kitchen, dining and living room – located upstairs, with sleeping accommodation on the ground floor. These are most popular by the coast, but could just as easily be built in rural, urban or suburban neighbourhoods.  

A design-and-build specialist such as CB Homes can help you evaluate the pros and cons of your design, however far-fetched. We can help you decide which will work for you and the practicality of carrying out your scheme to create your ideal home.

Small is beautiful too

Big isn’t necessarily better. When it comes to house layouts, resourceful design can mean small and perfectly formed too. Space is at a premium. Land prices are consistently high and designers and architects seek to get the most for their square footage. Whatever your floorspace and height, there are a variety of aspects of design that be used to make the most of the space available.

Space is fundamental

Space is one of the fundamental elements of design in architecture. The way space is used inside and outside defines a building’s functionality, appearance and success. One of the great aspects of house design is the way an architect can create effects that disorientate spatial perception. Rooms can appear elongated through the use of windows, oblongs and space. Openings and reveals can create a sense of depth and space, through glass-panelled interiors doors or temporary, extendable screens.

Open-plan design

Sometimes an entirely open-plan design, a multi-function space, can make a room seem much larger than it actually is.  Using an underfloor heating system, for example, can make interiors feel much more spacious. The need for wall-mounted radiators is eradicated and the interior floor and wall area are maximised. This creates the impression of space. In a multi-function room, zoning your open living spaces can create a sense of size too. The subdivisions use spatial trickery to make areas appear bigger. Lighting can be used imaginatively too. 

Interesting ways to use small spaces

There are many inspired ways to use space in interesting and inventive ways. Simple designs include the use of open or spiral staircases, so that the stair area does not need to be enclosed and become a divisive aspect of a room. Decorative aspects can make an impact too. In terms of interior decoration, wrong choices such as dark colour schemes or busy floor patterns can cramp spaces and make them appear smaller. It’s what you put into your home too that makes it feel smaller. Maximise the use of wall space and use shelves and especially built-in wardrobes, and other storage such as under-eave storage, or attic spaces to their full potential.   

Make every bit of space count

Whatever the size of your property, you want to make every bit of space count. Incorporating ceiling rooflights can capture natural light, while the use of glass wall panels or patio doors – rather than windows – can blur the lines between indoors and outdoors. This is particularly effective in rural or coastal locations, where views are everything, or in urban areas where living spaces open out into gardens. Whatever space you have available, either as an architect, a designer or a self-builder, make the most of it with imaginative solutions. 

Hitting the deck. Your garden as outdoor living space.

Anyone who has a garden, however small or large, knows what a difference outdoor living makes to your wellbeing when you can use it. During the winter months, the garden is simply a view through the window, but come spring, it can become an extra and ever-changing room, a part of your living space.    

Creative use of outdoor space

Making the most use out of outdoor living and landscaping has long been the subject of debate (and hours of cheap TV programming). But it’s important to look at what you’ve got in the way of external space and how you can use it positive ways. It doesn’t matter what size your garden is, you should always have an area – either a flagged patio or wooden decking – that is a place for you to sit and relax. Dwarf walls or low hedges can also be used imaginatively, to break up spaces and create perspective, as can pathways, lattices and planting beds. Borders can be used for bedding plants, or as plain edges, filled with bark or gravel. Think creatively about the use of space. Make the most out of planting trees for shade, for example, but not at the expense of taking up all your seating area, and keep them to a manageable height.

Whatever the weather

Country, suburban and urban spaces can become really great places to spend time – providing we get the weather. If sometimes spring opens with promise, the Great British Summer often fails to deliver. Once summer has passed, we can get decent spells into October – so-called Indian Summers – and it’s only the shortening days and cooler evenings that drive us back indoors. Even if the weather isn’t up to much, there’s a range of permanent or semi-permanent pergolas, gazebos, summer houses and other structures that can enhance the enjoyment of your outside space and provide shelter. The addition of water features or a pond can attract a range of wildlife and birds, while plants can tempt an array of insects – even in urban and suburban areas, which can be surprisingly rich in wildlife.

Your garden is an important part of your property that is often the most ignored and taken for granted in a ‘just-passing-through’ sort of way. Create a place that you’re comfortable spending time in, a secluded haven where you can leave the world behind. Approach it in exactly the same way you’d think about how you’d decorate and furnish a room in your house. The more thought you put into it, the more pleasure and relaxation you’ll get out of it.

Top of the crops – becoming self-sufficient

An ideal for many people is to become self-sufficient. Living ‘the good life’, with an environmentally-friendly ‘grow-your-own’ food mentality, is now perhaps more relevant today than ever before. The idea that people can use their outdoor space to sustain their own produce is appealing, as many of us have gardens or other external areas that can be put to good use in interesting, cost-efficient and productive ways.

Self-sufficient – growing your own fruit and veg

Perhaps the most enjoyable and rewarding garden activity – aside from reclining on a sun lounger – is growing your own food. As we approach autumn, traditionally associated with gathering the crops and harvesting, it’s a good time to think about how next year you could be growing something yourself in your own garden. We’re not a Mediterranean country and our climate may be a bit too northern for many of the more exotic fruit and veg we’ve become used to seeing all year around on supermarket shelves, but there’s still an extensive range of options when it comes to UK growers who want to be a little self-sufficient.

Big ideas for small spaces

The extent to which you can embark on being self-sufficient by growing in your garden is obviously dependent on available space. Some new-build properties maximise the use of land on interiors and keep the outdoor areas to the minimum for low maintenance purposes. However, even in a relatively confined enclosure, just about anything can be grown on some scale – for example, in pots, tubs or in borders – as long as it gets some sunshine. Some plants obviously need more room to grow than others. Potatoes, with their bushy leaves and clusters of underground spuds, require space for each plant, while runner beans may not require much in land area, but can grow up canes vertically over six feet high.

Good candidates for borders or fences are bushy fruits, such as blackberries or gooseberries, while there are many smaller veg plants – peas, carrots or sprouts – that can be used to fill-out border areas, or sunny corners. Salad vegetables such as lettuce, onions, shallots, radish and tomatoes are ideal accompaniments to mealtimes and relatively easy to grow in your garden. And a greenhouse can offer improved growing conditions and a better climate, if you’ve got enough room to put one up.    

Another option is orchard crops. Apple, pear and plum trees are all easily cultivated in the UK and depending on their size (and the weather next year) can bear quite a crop of fruit. Gone are the days of a herb garden or cress being the limit to which urban gardeners can aspire, with a range of imaginative planters available at garden centres or DIY shops.

Plant your garden imaginatively, to make it a space that you can still enjoy, while watching parts of it flourish into your next salad.  Country or urban, it doesn’t matter, as long as you have space of some kind and the patience that it takes to grow your own and enjoy your own ‘good life’.

Home ownership. Living the dream

It’s been a rite of passage for many people of many generations, but in Britain in the 21st century, home ownership is becoming more difficult to make a reality. In spite of adverse conditions in the housing market, including a shortage of suitable properties, rising prices and unfavourable mortgage terms, why do young Britons still aspire to home ownership?

There are many barriers to home ownership for young adults. In the last two decades, there has been a major fall in home ownership in this demographic. In 1997 55% of 25-to-34-year-olds were homeowners, but by 2017 that percentage had fallen to 35%, with the biggest fall among middle-income young people. During the same period, the average property price in England has risen by 173% (after adjustment for inflation) and by 253% in London.

The rise in house prices has been seen to advantage the older generations, while stalling youngsters’ ambitions to get on the housing ladder. With the added burden of tuition fees, for example, if potential buyers have attended university, then the gulf between earnings and house prices is a cause for concern.

Putting down a deposit

Deposits on buying houses has become a problem too. The percentage of youngsters who would need to spend more than six months’ income on a 10% deposit for an average property in their area has increased from 33% to 78% in the last 20 years. The biggest jump in house prices happened in the decade between 1996 and 2006. It has peaked and fallen outside London, the South East and East of England.  There are ways of buying however and the once-vibrant rental market seems to have stagnated too, as savers prefer to try and live at home to accrue funds. In this way, young savers are finding ways to buy, either with help from the parents, or as help-to-buy schemes or shared ownership arrangements. Mortgage companies have found ways to encourage and help young buyers to be able to secure loans and mortgages that means they can now have a place of their own.        

Even a deposit of 10% can be problematic in terms of what’s available. In 1996, for 93% of young adults, borrowing 4.5 times their salary (a usual mortgage ratio of lending) would have been enough to cover the cost of one of the cheapest properties in their area. This is providing they had a 10% deposit. By 2016, this figure had fallen to 61% across England as a whole and 35% in London. The UK government is trying to address this. Potential house buyers are also potential voters and if they feel they are being discriminated against, young savers could migrate to parties with more radical housing policies.

Planning restrictions

Planning restrictions have too long constrained the construction market for visionary builders.

The simple fact is still that we don’t build enough affordable homes. The NIMBY attitude to planning has led to a stagnation of the housing market. The demand is there, but supply is not. We can’t afford to be too precious about our land any longer – we need a new age of building, with vision and flair married to quality and affordability, to ensure young people can realise their dreams of owning a home of their own.

Converted to new-build

Pros and cons of self-build v conversion

It’s an age-old argument as to whether it’s better to start from scratch, or buy to renovate or extend. As to be expected, the answer depends on what you hope to get out of your home and how much money you have available for your project.

Many areas of the north west of England and Cheshire are expensive for land prices, so sometimes buying a property purely to secure the land is a viable option.  In cities land is scarce, so replacement dwelling or brownfield development is often the best option. Brownfield sites, where building has occurred before, but the properties have fallen into disuse and disrepair, are sometimes easier to develop than undeveloped greenfield areas.  

Surveying your options

Your options also depend on the extent to which you want to change the property structurally and aesthetically. Renovation and alteration costs can vary widely. If you’re going to make major structural changes to a building, it may make more sense to knock it down and start again, while with a conversion or extension to an existing property, you have a starting point that you can use as the canvas to create your ideal home.

There are some obvious advantages of newly-built homes compared to old houses. To begin with, new homes are usually more energy-efficient than older houses. They have been built to newer building specifications, using more modern building methods and materials, and have energy saving and conserving tech built into them. They’ll have better insulation, for example, incorporated from the outset – rather than older properties that may have had cavity and loft insulation added at a later date but may not be effectively insulated to the same extend as modern properties, and so not be as energy efficient to run.

Getting connected

New-builds will also have better digital telecommunication and state-of-the-art technology from the outset, such as internet plug-in points or electric car charging points. One day perhaps they will be installed in all new-build properties.

Newer properties, particularly if you’re working with construction experts like our designers at CB Homes, can incorporate the style and elegance of older properties, with the cutting-edge tech of modern-day living. Whichever option you are leaning towards, our specialists at CB Homes can use their years of experience to advise you on how to make the most of your property investment – be it new or renewed.

Your best laid plans for a new-build

What do Building Regulations mean you can and can’t do when you are building a house?

Building Regulations in the United Kingdom are an essential part of any construction development. What is deemed permissible and what is not has a huge impact on the extent to which properties can be altered. It also covers new-build properties with the most up-to-date legislation. 

Building Regulations, or Building Regs, are amended every few years, as new technologies and regulations come into play. They cover almost every aspect of a building, its design and its construction components. They range from glazing safety, structure and sound transfer to ventilation, sanitation, hygiene and water efficiency. One notable exception is gas supplies to properties, which is dealt with under separate legislation.  

Digital communications

In 2017 a section was introduced to cover ‘High Speed Broadband Infrastructure’, which acknowledged the rise in prominence of digital telecommunications at home and at work. From 2005 ‘building work’ now includes any work on household electrics. Many changes have been made in the last two decades on how energy loss from properties impacts on the environment. This shows how construction experts, scientists and engineers have become more aware of how energy can be conserved (more efficient methods of heating within properties) and retained (with better insulation included in the building fabric).    

Getting planning permission

For planning permissions to be granted, plans will have to be submitted to the local council’s planning portal and building control, to be assessed and either passed or refused. During the work being carried out, a building control officer or building inspector will visit the work at various stages of completion. This is to ensure the workmanship and materials meet the quality and standard required. For example, foundations or footings will be checked. This is to make sure they comply with the depth and strength required for the base of the building and that the ground quality is strong enough to support the building load.

What’s exempt from Building Regulations?

There are some exemptions from Building Regulations. These include buildings not frequented by people. Other exceptions to the rules include buildings that are dealt with by other legislation (i.e. building used for the manufacture of explosives, or related to nuclear power), greenhouses and other agricultural buildings, small detached buildings (such as garages and garden sheds, that are less than 30 square metres and don’t include sleeping accommodation), temporary buildings erected for less than 28 days. Even some extensions may be exempt, such as conservatories and porches less than 30 square metres in floor area.

Approaching any building project is best done with the collaboration and advice of experts. Whatever the size of your project, CB Homes will be able to steer you in the right direction. The team will tell you who to contact, when, and help to define what is and what’s not allowed.

Starting from the ground up

When you’re choosing the location to build your ideal home, there are a variety of factors to consider.

What do you need to consider when choosing the location of your new home?

When you’re choosing the location to build your ideal home, there are a variety of factors to consider. Obviously budget is key. The extent to which your finances will stretch sets the boundaries to your ambitions. The best way to avoid any disappointment is to be realistic. Talking to design and build specialists early on in the thought and planning process can set achievable, manageable goals from the outset.  

Land can be less expensive in urban areas, but has far superior basic infrastructure in place – bus and rail links, internet and Wi-Fi, shops. The gulf between town and country has never been so wide, in terms of amenities and services. But country living offers its own appeals too – the healthy rural environment, a lack of noise and air pollution, a safer environment to bring up children and a more relaxed, sedate pace of life to the hustle and bustle of the city.  Or perhaps the suburbs are where you’d be happiest, with easy access to the city, but a stone’s throw from the countryside.    

Location, location, location

When you are looking at locations, particularly for new build, beware of any Conservation Area restraints on the neighbourhood, as this may restrict your ambitions should you want to build, alter or extend the property. If you’re looking at land to build on, basics like topography and the logistics of access – for builders and suppliers – can be major deciding factors in which site you choose. Lots of trees with preservation orders, for example, can be costly, as can resident wildlife such as bats and newts.

If you already know the local area well, you’ll be fully aware of where is value for money, where is overpriced, up-and-coming, or best avoided. But if you’re new to the area, do your research thoroughly. This is another area where companies such as ours can help clients find the area that is ideal for them. Add up the various factors – location, value-for-money, scope, personal preference – and make a judgement that will stand you in good stead in the future.