Serviced plots can for many, make the dream of self building their perfect home a more achievable reality, as tracking down a viable plot has long been seen as one of the biggest challenges to creating a bespoke home. Indeed, it sits third in the list of potential self builders’ concerns, behind only arranging finance and gaining planning permission (in that order).
Plot finding, however, may no longer be the stumbling block it once was thanks to the introduction of serviced plots country-wide. Backed by government support such as the Right to Build, we are now seeing a big trend towards custom build models that aim to simplify the path to creating a bespoke home – and one route that’s really taking off is the provision of build-ready serviced plots.
So, how does this route work and what are the advantages to building on a serviced plot?
A serviced plot is pretty much what it says on the tin. They are plots of land where the key infrastructure, namely utility connections (gas, electricity, water etc) and access from the highway, are taken care of by an enabling developer. The enabler could be a landowner, council or specialist provider – such as a package home company.
Understanding the cost of utilities before you buy can be tricky for individual self builders (not to mention time-consuming to arrange), so the serviced plot route gives you more visibility and certainty over what you’ll ultimately pay.
The serviced plot or plots might be an individual self build site, part of a small cluster of houses or even on a larger estate of dozens or hundreds of home building opportunities. Crucially, outline or detailed planning consent will already be in the bag, too, so you know the land can definitely be developed.
All of that means you can be confident that you’re buying a viable, shovel-ready site – and one where you can see upfront whether it’s likely to be able to support the kind of home you really want. So, the serviced plot route takes a lot of the risk and headache out of finding land with genuine potential to accommodate your dream home.
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You will pay more up front for a serviced plot versus an equivalent blank site without utilities, access and planning pre-agreed – as you’re essentially paying the premium for someone to do these works for you. But while there might be a small extra to pay for the landowner or developer sorting those elements out, you gain a lot in terms of cost certainty.
Buying a serviced plot avoids the common risk of unexpected price hikes for completing these enabling works post-purchase. From there, ultimately the cost of your new home will come down to factors such as the project route, house design and quality of materials and finishes you want.
For example, will you choose an oak frame? Which type of exterior cladding material do you want to use, and how much of a priority will your landscaping design be?
Learn More: 10 Ways to Maximise Your Self Build Budget
While serviced plots do already have planning permission in place, you’re not always obliged to build out the existing plans. In many cases, you’re at liberty to apply for a completely new house design or go back to the planners to tweak the existing scheme. In others, the core design is fixed but you gain control over the internal layout, fit-out and, possibly, external finishes. So, there’s plenty of choice and flexibility, and you can absolutely achieve an individually-designed home with this route.
On many sites, a loose design code will have been agreed with the council. Pioneered by Graven Hill in Oxfordshire (the UK’s largest self and custom build opportunity), design codes are a great innovation as you know in advance what you have to play with in terms of the size and scale of the house, permitted materials and other key details.
This makes life much easier for you and your designer, as you don’t have to second guess what the planners will and won’t allow. It can also be used to protect the interests of the landowner, who might want a bit of say over how the site is developed.
You can find shovel-ready sites via any of the standard land-finding routes. These include dedicated resources such as Build It’s PlotBrowser.com (The UK’s best and 100% free building plot and property finder for self build and conversion projects), through estate agents and via word of mouth.
In addition, a number of local authorities are now taking a more proactive approach to self build, sharing serviced plots for sale on their websites. Graven Hill is probably the most well-known council-enabled scheme in the UK, and home to Build It’s very own real-life Self Build Education House.
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The Build It House can be found in Graven Hill, Oxfordshire, and is a pioneering real-life self build designed as an educational tool that will give you a unique insight into the process of creating your own bespoke home.
Designed by Lapd Architects and project managed by Build It’s Editor, Chris Bates, The Build It House is an educational hub that showcases the design options and practical choices available to self builders.
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More and more specialist companies are branching out into enabling and marketing this kind of site – typically as a plot and build package. So, it’s worth getting in touch to see if they’re working on any projects in your area.
Examples include Border Oak, Oakwrights, Potton and Quinn Estates. And Build It is pleased to see that the likes of Steenvlinder – whose experienced team has a track record of success with serviced plot and custom build developments in the Netherlands – are now starting to bring their know-how to the UK market.
This kind of serviced plot comes with a home building company already attached, who can offer a design and construction service alongside the purchase of your plot. So, you’ll work with their in-house team or one of their partner architects to finalise your individual home (according to the site-wide design parameters) and then contract them for some or all of the construction phase.
A plot and build package wraps up even more of the project in one easy-to-manage chunk, enabling a smooth and cost-certain journey. Most companies operating in this space focus on modest sites of around five to 20 detached houses, giving you the chance to become part of a small, like-minded community.
Larger dedicated sites of 100+ homes are expected to come online in the near future, too, and some serviced plot opportunities are offered as part of wider speculative developments.
Depending on the development, you might have freedom in terms of how you manage the follow-on elements of the work – but there’s typically only one choice of build partner for the house shell. So, you must be satisfied that they’re the right fit to deliver a design you like (it’s worth checking how much customisation is available) and achieve the performance and quality you want.
Routes such as self-finish (where you might have control over room layouts and finishes) and full turnkey delivery (where you agree a bespoke design, spec and price and let the specialist deliver it all for you) are also becoming more commonplace for plot and build packages.
See More: 11 of the Best Turnkey Self Build Homes