Our ten essentials on purchasing a plot and building a new house in the Highlands & Islands
We have acted for many clients in the purchase of house plots (both serviced and unserviced) throughout the Highlands and Islands. Every transaction provides its own set of unique challenges but the same issues can and do crop up time after time. That’s why we’ve put together our 10 top tips for purchasing a house site in the Highlands and Islands. We hope you find these useful….
Finding a plot
Consider where you want to live. It sounds obvious but you need to consider the things that are important to you especially if you are moving from a larger town or city. Are you looking for a coastal hideaway in a remote corner of Skye or a something closer to the facilities provided by the big lights of Inverness or Dingwall? Think about proximity to schools, shops, even a local pub! Access to high speed broadband is improving all the time in the Highlands. Check what’s available by contacting the estate agents in your preferred area(s). A good place to start is the Highlands Solicitors Property Centre – click on www.hspc.co.uk. Also, make sure you speak to locals in the area you are looking at. The people of the Highlands and Islands are renowned for their hospitality!
Make sure you know what size/type of development is likely to be permitted on your chosen site. Speak to the planning office in advance of making an offer and don’t let yourself in for a later disappointment. It would be prudent to seek quotes from a few builders at this stage. Some builders will provide an inclusive package (from design through to build). Make sure the builder has NHBC cover if you are not using an architect for the design and supervision of the project.
If you are considering the purchase of a plot on a croft then you must familiarise yourself in advance with the issues involved. Crofting is widespread throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and is still an important way of life for many rural communities. In most cases the owner of the plot will need to have the land formally removed from crofting control by way of a “de-crofting” application to the Crofting Commission. This can take up to 12-14 weeks in certain circumstances. Normally, outline planning consent will be a pre-requisite to de-crofting. We can advise you on all crofting law issues. The Crofting Commission has prepared some useful guidance leaflets – see www.crofting.scotland.gov.uk for more information.
When you have chosen a site, contact a solicitor who should be familiar with rural conveyancing and have him/her prepare an offer for the purchase. Your solicitor will discuss the issues involved and will provide you with an estimate of the legal costs. Your offer may need to be conditional on the availability of planning consent and de-crofting (if not already dealt with by the seller). Please also remember to check for connections to services – make sure you are aware of the availability of water, telephone and electricity for your plot BEFORE you commit to buying it – nothing is more important! Your solicitor is there to keep you right on these matters but you will need to make your investigations and satisfy yourself regarding the availability of services and connection costs. Likewise, you will need to consider the route of an access road to the site if vehicular access is not taken direct from the public road. Sometimes it may be necessary to lead services or take access to the site over land belonging to a third party. Your solicitor will deal with these issues as part of the conveyancing process.
Funding your project
Make absolutely sure you have access to all the funding you need before you commit to the land purchase. Most high street Bank and Building Societies will require you to own the land and have full planning consent and a building warrant in place before lending on a self-build mortgage. Your mortgage lender will also require the site to be professionally valued. Please remember to include architect’s fees (if applicable) when calculating the overall build costs of your house.
Always give yourself a contingency fund for unforeseen costs – your architect or builder should be able to advise you on this.
Building on Skye and the Highlands & Islands can be expensive – transport costs are generally higher than the rest of the UK.
Planning & Timescales
Do allow plenty of time for completion of the planning application process, de-crofting process, service connections and legal formalities, in your overall project plan. As a guideline you should expect the overall conveyancing process (from submission of planning to completion of the purchase) to take at least 12 months to complete. You then need to factor in lead-in times with your builder once the purchase of the site has been secured.
The winter (and even the summer) weather conditions in the Highlands and Islands can be extreme and do make certain types of construction impossible or at very best stop/start. “Four seasons in one day” are not uncommon– you should therefore expect everything to take longer than you planned for the build.
….. try to relax. Be realistic with your budget and timescales, be patient and try not to worry! Remember we’re here to help you through the process.