As part of our site sourcing series we caught up with Matthew Firmston-Williams, Business Development Manager at LandInsight. Matthew’s background has always been in real estate and he is all too familiar with the laborious nature of land sourcing. Having used more traditional methods, Matthew is a true advocate around the power of LandInsight, a go-to web-based tool which condenses site sourcing into one efficient and effective hub.
For those of you that don’t know, LandInsight amalgamates all the data you’d need to conduct an accurate site selection anywhere across England and Wales. It cleverly reduces search time from a number of months into a matter of weeks and collates information from more data sources than one man alone could do.
LandInsight is a brilliant tool but once you’ve spotted your site, what do you do next? How do you make sure that can secure the land and have a long term successful outcome? Matthew answers some of the key questions around site selection and how to be prepared at the very start of your project.
How can you secure land that you’re certain will get planning?
A good place to start is identifying land where the owner has already submitted a planning application. If you aren’t using a tool like LandInsight it’s a good idea to focus on a small area and keep checking back in for updates. If you however do use LandInsight it sends you real time alerts when applications have been submitted. From experience, around half of people who submit applications have no intention of building themselves, it’s simply to determine the value of the land to take it to market. Get in touch with the owner via phone or letter and start negotiating as early as possible. You can contact an agent to do this for you if you aren’t comfortable to call up yourself.
What prior information do you need to put together before approaching a land owner?
Collating the data and doing your research is of the utmost important. A lot of people can make money through planning gains, spotting that an application has been rejected and identifying how it can be improved. A tool like LandInsight can identify what sorts of applications have been approved in the surrounding area or if you want to use more traditional methods, you can be extremely diligent and get to know an area really well. Having this sort of information is golden when you’re looking to approach a land owner. Coming in with the knowledge of what type of planning application will go through already positions you as the expert and helps build your credibility.
This is also a great example of where buying a site as an option works really well, if you’ve done your prior preparation, you’ll know exactly how to put an application together and get the planning through. A real-life example I have experienced is when the owner of a set of garages put forward planning for a block of flats which subsequently kept getting rejected. After doing a sweep of the local area, it became apparent that the council had not approved planning for any flats at all and instead, housing applications were being granted. The land was bought on an option basis and after the planning application was appropriately updated, the sale of the garages went through with planning for houses, netting this LandInsight user over £500k in profit.
What are the key factors which are commonly missed when assessing a land opportunity?
In my experience, SME developers don’t have much exposure to planning policy and this can be difficult when assessing an opportunity. For example, it can be challenging to identify greenbelt boundaries without having to refer and cross reference against multiple data sources (of course this is another instance where LandInsight can be efficient and cost effective). This is expensive, time consuming and can certainly become extremely frustrating. Things are however changing, and it can be possible to get planning on greenbelt land, but it is of course better to not take that risk!
How does land searching differ for early stage and experienced developers?
I think the beauty of tools like LandInsight are that they level out the playing field. It makes information so much more accessible and improves the efficiency of searches cutting down on time and cost. Prior to this, it was extremely challenging for those less experienced to compete. Without having the knowledge or the financial capital to ensure the right checks have been undertaken, it’s difficult to conduct your own thorough land search.