How to Choose Vacant Land for Building a House

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Before building your dream house, you’ll need to purchase a vacant lot. Some people select a lot for its location, and then have a house designed to fit the property. The features of the lot are extremely important; for example, if it is a hillside lot, this can significantly raise the construction costs and limit the house design. Another approach is to have a general idea what type of house you intend to build, and then find a suitable lot. If you’re working with a general contractor or architect, they can help you make the selection.

  • Observe the other houses in the neighborhood. Remember the old adage about not building a castle among cottages, as it is better to be the cottage among castles from an investment perspective.

  • Consider the slope of the lot. Even a lot with a seemingly mild slope can mean additional grading fees. Talk to a grader or your builder about the desired slope for the house you intend to build. If the lot needs retaining walls, this is a considerable additional expense.

  • Check the availability of utilities delivered to the lot. If the lot doesn’t have electrical, water or cable, services, check to see how much it will cost to bring in those services.

  • Determine the lot’s zoning codes and any specific building requirements. For example, in some neighborhoods a minimum square footage for the house may be a requirement. There are also height restrictions, which could determine if you can build a two-storied house. Check with the building department for the area.

  • Have a percolation test done, if the lot is not hooked up to sewer. This is to determine the feasibility of installing a septic tank. Companies that install septic tanks often provide this service.

  • Review the plat map (a map of the area showing streets, parcels of ownership, and other details) from the county or city. Check for setbacks and any easements or use restrictions on the property. Ask if the lot is in a flood zone. Find out how much of the lot can be built on, which will influence your final house plan.

  • Investigate how your building will impact the lot’s ecosystem as well as the surrounding area. For example, you may need to remove trees or divert a stream. Determine if this will be affordable, possible and legal.

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