As a firm, Gateley Plc acts for 18 of the top 20 UK housebuilders and as a result we come across a myriad of legal challenges in helping our clients buy and develop out their land.

Our clients are very good at what they do and it is rare that a difficult challenge proves insurmountable.  Our clients are equal parts commercial, skilful, crafty and hard-working.

Counter-intuitively, when our clients do encounter problems it is often because a simple issue has been overlooked.  This blog is a reminder of the importance of getting the basics right when buying land for residential development.

Some common pitfalls we encounter:

How will the land be serviced?

Unless you want to go through the costly and lengthy process of requisitioning your sewers, make sure that you buy the land (or at least obtain rights over the land) you require for any offsite sewers or other services.

Include any rights required in the heads of terms so that your lawyer can ensure the documents include the rights you need from the first draft.

Check where the existing adopted highway ends

Make sure it abuts the land you are buying.  Otherwise, the local highway authority are unlikely to adopt your estate road and you may even have a ‘ransom strip’ issue.

Will you definitely have enough time?

Most contracts contain a ‘long stop date’ – a date by which you need to have obtained planning permission and satisfied any other contract conditions.  We all have a habit of assuming matters will progress smoothly but think hard about whether 6 or 12 months is really enough time?  What if you unexpectedly need to appeal your planning application?  What if you can’t carry out an ecology survey because it is nesting season, etc?  If in doubt, plan for the worst and negotiate yourself extra time to satisfy contractual conditions.

Always be thinking about plot sales.

Housebuilders make their money by selling their plots.  There are often numerous steps that can be taken pre-completion that will make selling plots easier.  Insuring against a historic restrictive covenant.  Obtaining a written discharge from the planners for a pre-commencement condition.   A small outlay of time or money pre-contract will be re-paid in spades when your sales director is chasing to get year-end plots over the line.

While these are all obvious points in isolation, they are easy to overlook in the heat of a negotiation.   Getting them right from the off is an easy way to save time and avoid giving your lawyer a minor heart attack the day before exchange!

For further information contact John Kiff, senior associate, residential development on 0113 218 2493 or email 

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This blog is intended only as a synopsis of certain recent developments. If any matter referred to in this blog is sought to be relied upon, further advice should be obtained.