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The TrustedLand Knowledge Bank provides advice pieces, interviews and videos that address key questions and steps around the process of buying and selling Land for residential property development in the UK.

Anonymous interview: Selling with planning permission

...this is the balancing act I’m doing at the moment– to see how much more am I going to get... 
— Anonymous land seller

We ask an anonymous land seller about his experience with trying to sell land with planning permission.


When was the first time you thought about selling your land?

This was about five years ago when I was approached a landowner at the back whose land is completely locked. The only way he can develop his land is to buy me out and that means I don’t do any developing; he just buys me out straight and he develops into whatever he wanted to do, and then he went for planning permission.


Has anyone else approached you since then or has it always been with this particular developer?

What happened then after a long haul actually with two rejections and one appeal rejection and then eventually the third application, the owner of the land managed to get planning permission, but by that time the prices had gone up and my contract agreement obviously wouldn’t make any sense because I would literally give away my property. 


So luckily for me the contract had expired, so I said we have to renegotiate the price. He was reluctant but he started doing it and I said I’m not doing it myself; I’ll have to appoint an agent to help so they did. We agreed a price in the end but then came the Brexit issue so he went a bit cold on that one; so this is where we are. 


So you’ve been dealing with the same developer for the last five years?

No. Two years ago, I decided that I’m not going anywhere with this guy so I started looking privately, individually to find out if we could find other buyers and the agents were trying to help us as well so that is one option. 


The other option is to develop it myself as I was advised by various architects, apply for planning permission and then sell it because I’ll get a better price and that’s how we are currently directing our minds to.


After two discussions with two separate developers, you’ve decided to now apply for planning permission yourself?

It was more than two actually; it was about three or four of these.


And what happened each time?

Each time, obviously, the newcomers want to buy but they are not giving the price that we want and that we are being advised by agents all over. 


What has been the most frustrating thing for you with the developers? 

The developers obviously want to maximise their profit and I don’t blame them for that. But equally the other option namely me spending thirty, forty, probably fifty thousand pounds to get planning permission and then have four years to sell with the benefit of it, I reckon I’ll recoup that but I’ll have a much better price offer. 


Who helped you understand about the planning permission and the feasibility and all of that? Did you have to learn about that yourself or has an agent been guiding you?

The agents are telling us as well and the latest one, a couple of people have come and a similar sort of blueprint existing at the moment which is under development now; they have got similar sort of land and they managed to get planning permission and it’s now being developed right now physically and we thought we could do the same thing. 


Just coming back to the first developer that approached you, how long did it take for you to realise that this was going nowhere?

It started five years ago with two rejections and one appeal. Since Brexit started, the guy who was going to buy, the price was agreed with the agent and so on, he started getting cold feet and the agent was telling me he still wants to buy, he’s trying to put money together because some of his completed units were not selling and he was hoping to find the liquid cash to pay me from the sale of these other units so things had come to a stop a bit and this is the reason why.


Now, his planning permission will expire shortly. So he might still come back if he can go and find some money somewhere but I’m not waiting for him; I’m looking at all other opportunities.


So, it’s taken you five years to reach this point now where you’re still not sure if he’s going to buy it or not - is that frustrating?

It is. But in a way when I signed the contract it was a contract with a kind of dubious entry to contract and I didn’t take very much advice about it. It was based on the sale of his property and giving me twenty percent of the property, of the development and I signed that but luckily for me, the time when the properties started shooting up in prices, lucky for me, the third application which became successful, my contract had expired with him.


What do you are your biggest challenges in this whole process?

The biggest challenge is I have to weight up the pros and cons about selling it as it is now. I got two offers at the moment but I’m not keen to sell it at those prices. I’ve been told that certainly if you get to planning permission, but that means getting, coughing up something like thirty thousand, thirty five probably, a little more on planning permission; once I’ve got that then I can sell it with a much higher price. 


Now, how high will that be? I don’t know at the moment, this is the balancing act I’m doing at the moment to see how much more am I going to get? 


How do you feel now about doing this planning process yourself? Are you feeling confident, do you feel you need more advice?

I’m scared. My wife and I, we are going to search information and so on but it’s not something we’ve done in the past to have a bit of confidence in. It’s just something that we have to go and start feeling a little bit what’s going to happen, how we’re going to answer the council and so on. Unless we engage another professional to do it for us but that’s an additional cost isn’t it?


So you’re not as motivated now to sell it as you were five years ago?

No I’m not pushed as hard as I was desperate at the beginning so we can relax and enjoy life. The only thing I have to fear is inheritance tax now.


What do you think agents could do better for you?

If you like they can find people who are prepared to fund our front expenditure like thirty, forty thousand pounds to get us the planning permission on the basis that they will get the fee or they can get part of the profit margin for their effort which might be attractive because then I don’t have to fork out this type of money upfront.