The Logistics of Buying Land
How to buy land in the UK for smallholders and rewilders.
In 2022, I bought 3.5 acres of land in Somerset to create my own nature reserve and permaculture food forest. It’s not easy, but also not impossible, especially if you own a property, as you can take cash out when you remortgage. Here’s how…
Please note, this article is not legal advice. Any financial or logistical decision on this scale comes with risks.
Should You Remortgage to Buy Land?
If your property has gone up in value over the lifespan of your mortgage, you can take that uplift out as cash. There is a risk to this strategy, as you could end up in negative equity if your property price falls.
How does this work?
- You bought a £100,000 home for a 10% deposit and the market went up by 20% over 5 years, while you paid off £1000/year.
- You now have a home worth £120,000, and you are £25,000 richer in equity (20% + (£1000 x 5 years)).
- Reward: You could remortgage at the same 10% deposit level (£12,000) and take out £13,000 in cash.
- Risk: But if the market falls back by 20%, after 5 years you will have a home worth £100,000 again. After deducting the £5,000 you paid off, you have negative equity of £15,000 – that means your home is worth £15K less than your mortgage. This may prevent you from moving home or cause financial issues.
Cost of UK Land
The price of land varies a lot in the UK, depending on a number of different factors – land with the following features will be more expensive (most to least impact):
- Existing home(s) on site
- Planning permission for self-build
- Existing farm buildings
- Small Plot size (higher cost per ha in smaller plots)
- Road access
- Electric supply
- Water supply
- Phone/internet connection
- High Productivity (Agricultural Land Classification – 1 is top)
- Level Terrain (gradient of slope)
- High proximity to town/city
- No public rights of way
- Good condition boundaries
- No invasive species
- Quality neighbours
Logistics of the Buying Process
You may want to use a surveyor to assess the land you’re buying. I didn’t, and saved some money this way, but I had to watch out for a number of hurdles along the way:
I manually checked the land for invasive plant species, which landowners are legally obliged to control. Much of these are aquatic species, and may already be widespread – the main terrestrial plants of concern are Giant Hogweed, Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed.
Some ‘injurious weed’ species should technically be controlled to avoid the risk of fines under the Weeds Act 1959. These include Common Ragwort, Spear Thistle, Broad-Leaved Dock, Curled Dock and Creeping Field Thistle – landowners may be aware of the legislation although it does not often appear to be enforced.
Lines and Pipes
Use Line Search BUD to identify any pipes and wires which underlie the property, and could pose a risk during excavations, cultivation or ecological intervention work. If your site lies directly between an airport (even a historic airfield) and a major port, you may have subterranean fuel lines running beneath the ground – LSBUD can alert you to their presence.
Your local planning office is likely to have an open access map (like this one), which is a useful resource. Pending planning applications could directly affect your property, access to your property, or your enjoyment of your property. Refused applications on your own land and neighbouring plots allow you to see what has not been permitted in the past, and how applications may have been modified to comply. Local neighbourhood planning can show you which zones are earmarked for future housing or industrial projects.
Babysitting Your Solicitor
A solicitor with expertise in land sales should know exactly what they’re doing, but it never hurts to check that they have verified a few key things in the lead up to exchange of contracts…
Crossing ‘Ransom Strips’
You should have a direct route from your land to a public road. If another piece of land is in the way, you will require an easement across this – the right for anyone to cross it, at any time, for any purpose, with any vehicle, for access to your land. These intermediate strips of land can otherwise be later used by their landowner as leverage to extract further payments or rent – ‘ransom strips’.
For example, if a surveyor needs to visit your site in a Landrover, you need to know they will be able to get there safely, without disputes. Having personally experienced issues with access (despite a legal easement), I cannot emphasise enough the importance of getting this paperwork signed off by a solicitor.
While you are unlikely to be required to pay council tax (unless there are building on your land), you may be liable for drainage rates. These are used to pay for the dredging and servicing of the local flood prevention infrastructure. Check that these are specified, who is responsible for paying and how much they cost per year, prior to exchange of contracts.
Properties in some parts of Britain have a chequered history, with some uncertainty about the legitimate owner. Two or more parties may claim ownership or nobody may legally own the land. It is worthwhile establishing that the vendor has the right to sell the property, before you buy it from them!
Some buildings present on the land you’re buying may not have planning permission. While this is OK for a field shelter, which is a moveable structure, it’s not OK for anything fixed in place. Check before buying that you aren’t paying for a building which needs to be torn down.
It's Worth It
While buying land may seem like a scary experience at first, it’s extremely worthwhile. Owning your own slice of Britain is a fantastic way to leave a positive legacy for the planet. If you’d like to find out more about how to manage your land, then take a look at our helpful web service for landowners – Life to Land.