17 Apr 2012

Plotting for Success

Plotting for Success

Laura Considine, Conveyancing Partner, looks at the potential pitfalls when purchasing a plot of land.

Laura Considine, Conveyancing Partner, looks at the potential pitfalls when purchasing a plot of land.

For many people, buying a plot of land is an exciting prospect. The idea of choosing the perfect location and building according to a chosen specification can be a potential "dream come true". However, buying a plot of land can be extremely challenging and a potential buyer is well advised to seek legal advice and carry out detailed research before embarking on such a project.

Planning

From the very outset, a buyer should be aware that buying a plot of land is very different to buying a residential property within a housing development.  There are many issues to consider and perhaps the most important of these is planning.  A plot will normally be advertised for sale either with or without planning permission and it is important to ascertain at the outset which is the case.

With Planning Permission

Where a plot has the benefit of planning permission, a prospective buyer should always carefully examine the planning permission together with the relevant drawings and discuss these documents with their solicitor in order to ensure they cover the proposed specification. In most cases, full planning permission will have been issued but in some cases planning permission may have only been issued “in principal”. In the latter case, a buyer should be aware that detailed plans have not yet been submitted to the local authority for approval and this will therefore require to be done at a later stage.  

When examining the relevant planning permission, it goes without saying that this should be construed narrowly. For example, planning permission for a one and a half storey house will not cover the build of a two storey house and it should not be assumed that the local authority will authorise any such amendment.   In this scenario, a buyer should consider making any potential offer conditional on obtaining an amendment to the existing planning permission.

In addition, when checking the planning permission it is also vital to consider whether or not any of the planning conditions are unduly onerous.

Depending on the area, for example, it may be necessary to utilise a certain type of building material and this could be expensive.  A certain amount of research at this early stage in the build could save a buyer considerable expenditure at a later stage.

Without Planning Permission

In order to avoid trying to fit a specification to an existing planning permission, some buyers may opt to look for a site being sold without planning permission.  In this situation, a buyer will normally offer a lower price but make their offer subject to obtaining planning permission on acceptable terms.  A time period will usually be agreed, during which the buyer must apply for the necessary permission. If planning permission is not obtained in acceptable terms during this period, the offer will normally state that the contract is to come to an end. It goes without saying that anyone offering for a plot without either the benefit of planning permission or a condition in their offer providing this will be obtained takes a considerable risk. A buyer is well advised to seek guidance from the local authority prior to commencing a new build. However, to rely on assurance that "planning permission will probably be granted for what you propose" is dangerous.

As soon as the planning matters are resolved, a buyer must address the following considerations when buying a plot:

Extent of the Plot

Firstly, it is important to ascertain the extent of the plot.  The buyer’s solicitor will obtain a title plan showing the legal extent but it is vital to ensure this matches what is on the ground.  A buyer should check the measurements of each boundary and if not defined, it should be determined who will be responsible for erecting the boundaries and what type of boundary enclosure is to be used.

Access

After ascertaining the extent of the plot, the next significant challenge for a buyer is establishing access.  This should be straightforward where the plot is adjacent to a public road (unless the verge is owned by someone other that the local authority). However, where access requires to be taken over another owner’s land, matters can become difficult.  Either the purchaser will require a right of access of this area or alternatively some form of ownership of the land.  There may also be potential issues regarding maintenance of this area.  The buyer’s solicitor will examine the title deeds for the plot and advise as to the existing access rights and maintenance obligations.

Services

Besides access, there are also other services which should be considered when purchasing a plot. The right to lead telephone, electricity and gas pipes over an adjacent owner’s land is provided by statute but water and sewage can be more problematic.  Providing mains services are adjacent to the plot, it should not be too difficult to connect to them but if private services are required then detailed investigation may be necessary. Private water can be obtained from a well or bore hole but checks should be carried out to ensure the source is both plentiful and of the required EU standards for drinking.  Similarly, sewage can be disposed of via a septic tank or sewage treatment plant but this may depend on the quality of the ground.  In some cases, it may be necessary to obtain further rights from the seller.  For example, to allow sewage to soak away on to adjacent land.

Title Restrictions

The buyer’s solicitor will not only advise in relation to the rights required for the use of the plot but also on any possible restrictions contained within the title deeds.  For example, a farmer may require access over the plot in order to reach his fields.  Such restrictions can affect the use and enjoyment of a plot and are certainly more common in rural title deeds.

In summary, providing a buyer is aware of the potential pitfalls, carries out detailed research and takes legal advice at an early stage, they can still make that dream of owning their own tailor made house come true!

Laura Considine, Partner


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