10 best practices for sourcing the right off-market sites

Unlock the top 10 strategies for finding the best off-market sites in the UK.

In the ever-evolving landscape of property development in the UK, off-market sites have become the hidden gems that can significantly boost your portfolio. These are properties that are not publicly listed, and securing them often involves a mix of strategy, research, and networking. In this blog, we’ve listed 10 best practices for sourcing the right off-market sites.

Start with a plan, what’s your end goal?

The journey begins with a clear understanding of your objectives. Are you envisioning a small-scale development or a large-scale project? Are you looking at residential or commercial? What's your budget? 

Defining your scope and goals is necessary before embarking on the search for off-market sites. Once that is established, you’re ready to source sites!

Select the right tool to source your sites:

Choosing a site sourcing platform is crucial for efficiently finding off-market sites. Various online platforms and databases are available, offering access to exclusive listings and valuable data. We strongly recommend Searchland, which offers the most up to date an comprehensive property data across the UK, helping you source and assess development off-market sites at scale.


Aprao and SearchLand helping you find development sites
The Searchland platform: sourcing sites at scale


Where are you planning to build: Brownfield or Greenfield?

Brownfield sites are previously developed land, while greenfield sites are untouched by construction. It's important to note that not all built-up sites qualify as brownfield. Generally, brownfield sites are more likely to receive planning permission. Councils often prioritise brownfield for development, so consider this when planning your search.
With Searchland’s Sourcing Tool, you can filter these types of sites when you source sites.

Settlement boundaries and planning policies:

Settlement boundaries define where urban areas end and countryside begins. Sites within settlement boundaries have more chance of receiving planning permission. If your site falls outside these boundaries, stricter criteria apply, making it more challenging to secure planning approval. Evaluate your options carefully, including logical extensions, infills, and rounding-off opportunities.

Take advantage of Call for Sites:

Many councils initiate a Call For Sites (CFS) process, inviting landowners and developers to propose potential development sites. Participating in CFS can provide a unique opportunity to have your site assessed for inclusion in future planned developments. It's a win-win, as you contribute to the local authority's obligations while also promoting your interests as a developer.

Harness the power of SHLAA:

The Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) is an exercise undertaken by local authorities to evaluate available land for housing targets. Sites listed in the SHLAA database have been assessed for their development potential. Look for positively assessed sites in your preferred planning authority area and nearby areas with similar features.


To take it a step further, you can use Searchland’s Strategic Land data, combining SHLAA sites, site allocations, settlement boundaries and more local plan datasets to enhance your sourcing efforts, get a higher change of obtaining planning permission AND save you hours of work. 

Aprao and SearchLand helping you find development sites
Using Searchland’s Strategic Land data to find opportunities

Consider planning constraints and opportunities:

Ensure you assess the planning constraints and opportunities associated with potential off-market sites. Factors like flood zones, conservation areas, and greenbelt areas can significantly affect your project's feasibility. Carrying out site assessments on a platform like Searchland will help you align your development plans with local planning policies.

Understand local policy:

It’s important to stay on top of Local Council policies and their future plans, to scope the likelihood of getting planning approval, and see how your sites may later be affected. 

Scanning through adopted and emerging local plans can be a lenghty tasks, so using Searchland’s AI-powered tool to quickly access specific information about local council plan documents in seconds is essential to stay ahead of the game.

Utilise historic planning data:

With access to 25 years of UK planning history, Searchland offer valuable planning insights. Compare historic trends within local authorities and even down to individual street levels. This helps you understand the likelihood of approval in your chosen area. You can also analyse the duration between submission and decision which can help in project planning and cash flow management.
Top tip: focus on planning applications that were refused permission to learn from past mistakes.


Aprao and SearchLand helping you find development sites
Searchland data: South East approval ratings 2018-23

Contact landowners efficiently:

Once you've identified the perfect off-market sites, youll need to contact landowners for a site acquisition. Letter sending campaigns should be planned with a strategy in mind to get the highest response rates. Watch a recent webinar on this topic here. Searchland's direct-to-vendor feature enable you to send highly personalised letters directly to landowners in order to acquire sites.


Aprao and SearchLand helping you find development sites
Searchland’s letter sending tool

Bonus tip: Stay persistent and patient!

Sourcing off-market sites can be a time-consuming process. It's important to remain persistent and patient throughout your search. Rushing into deals without thorough evaluation can lead to costly mistakes, so take your time when sourcing the best site and ensure you’ve done your due diligence before moving forward.

By following these best practices and leveraging technology and data sources, you can increase your chances of identifying and securing off-market opportunities that align with your real estate investment goals. Remember that each off-market site is a unique opportunity, and diligence in the sourcing process is key to success in this competitive market.

To hear more about how Searchland can help you source sites at scale, book a one to one demo with their team here.

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