Land with development value

  • May 9, 2020

I have been approached by developer who wants to buy my land; what should I do?

Often the first contact in matters concerning  potential development land is from a ‘land scout’, an individual or practice that specialises in identifying possible development sites.  They may be acting for a specific developer client or as a speculative  activity. You should always try to ascertain what the status of the enquirer is.

As a practice,  we specialise in representing landowners  and do not  in general act for developers.

Because land with development prospects customarily has a value enormously greater than the  existing use  value, some unsatisfactory practices have grown up and  we have on numerous occasions found that owners of  land have been literally cheated out of huge sums of money.

Early independent professional advice is needed  where development land is concerned; do not simply turn to the nearest estate agent or family solicitor. Dealing with the practical,  legal  and financial aspects of development  land involves complex and a specialist areas with many potential pitfalls.

A development is planned for next door; what precautions should I take?

Firstly check  the condition and location of   your common boundaries and boundary features. If necessary get them surveyed especially  if the development seems likely to disturb them;

Secondly Check for  the existence and route of any underground services near to or shared with the development site.

Check  the local authority planning portal for details of the development in order to understand the  scale of the project.

Investigate your title documents to ascertain if the development would infringe a restrictive covenant or adversely affect any other easement  or right you enjoy. If the development relies on part of your land (for access, drainage  or for visibility slays for a new highway access for instance) obtain professional advice immediately from a surveyor or similarly qualified person.

Check if the proposals would adversely affect your common law right of light, interfere with trees on your land  or divert surface water onto your property.

If you are in time to do so, make appropriate representations to the planning authority. Remember, not all development work is bad news. Don’t object unless there is a good reason and do object  where necessary on valid planning grounds. A spoilt view  isn’t a valid ground and potentially some degree of overlooking may be inevitable  in an urban environment. Environmental issues such as glare, daylight and sunlight, and development issues such as inappropriate scale and  so on may all be valid. If the proposal is against local plan policy, refer to that. Infringement of easements benefitting your property are generally not material to the planning process.

Don’t be afraid to get into a dialogue with the developer. A business like approach can sometimes get plans modified or procure other concessions.

A developer has approached me to buy my land; what should I do?

The basic advice is that you will need development advice (normally from a suitably experienced surveying practice) and a lawyer. Unless you are in the business and experienced, do not attempt to deal with it by yourself.

Keep your metaphorical distance from the developer and his agent, scout or other accessory to the matter. Make no commitments, concessions or promises.

Identify the whereabouts  of your title deeds (if a registered title, then the register entry and plan  can often be downloaded from the HM Land Registry ‘find a property’ for  £3 each  and scrutinise them.  Beware of expensive copycat websites.

Check the local development plan for information. Work out whether your land is part of a larger site assembly or have this investigated.

Will access to  the highway for the development be from your land or somewhere else?

All developments need adequate access to a highway, for utilities and underground  services such as drainage.

Developers often seek to secure land for future development by way of an option. Whilst the sums offered may be superficially attractive,  professional advice on setting these up is absolutely essential as they set the scene for what may happen thereafter.

Options allow the land to be purchased by the developer usually on the grant of planning consent.  Once granted the option gives a legal entitlement to purchase if the conditions are met. Conditional contracts are similar in that the contract is made final on the completion of some event, again usually the grant of planning consent. Usually options are exercised on the basis of a pre-specified value or a percentage of market value, often meaning  a 20% cut to reimburse the developer for the costs of obtaining planning  consent.

Some owners are able to obtain a planning consent themselves and then market the land with the benefit of that consent,  as a package. Usually this  only occurs with fairly small sites.

Promotion agreements are different in that the promoter seeks a viable planning consent and then markets the land and sells usually to a developer, taking a cut of the ale proceeds in the process.