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Buying Land to Build On; What to Look For

Buying Land to Build On

When looking for land to build a house on, all lots are not the same. Sometimes the lower cost lot could be the most expensive to build on. Or worse, you may not be able to build the home you want on the lot you bought. When looking at vacant lots, you need to be prepared to ask all the right questions, so you don’t have to settle for less house than you want.


Plat Plan

Ask about the availability of municipal water and sewer. Lots in towns and cities often have these utilities at the street. But lots off the beaten path may not have access to utilities. The cost to drill a well and build a septic system can be very high. Septic system design depends .on the ability of the soil on the lot to absorb water. Systems for areas that have low absorbency rates can cost upwards of $20,000. Wells are priced by the foot for the depth you need. Be sure to ask how deep neighbors’ wells are to estimate the cost. Keep in mind the geology on one lot can be drastically different than the lot next to it. Make sure you can include any cost of water and sewer in your building plans.


Are there parts of the lot you can’t build on? Two kinds of limitations can create areas on the land where you can’t build. The most common is called “Set Back.” Set back is found in the zoning regulations for the jurisdiction where the land is located. This is the distance from your lot lines for front, back and sides that must be kept clear of any structures. These distances vary widely by town or city. Front setback is typically about 35 feet, but can be as little as 7 feet or as much as 50 feet. On the sides we have seen a range from 7 feet to as much as 50 feet.


Another limitation on building are easements. An easement is a portion of the property designated for utility lines. The conditions of an easement vary and a legal easement can limit building even if the utility company that owns the easement hasn’t used it. This is part of a title search that will be apparent at closing, but you should ask about any easements to be sure you can build the house you want on the lot.


Impact fees must also be a consideration. These are fees charged by the local government to ensure that you are paying for a new home’s impact on that government. These impact fees can be thousands of dollars and include fees for schools, libraries, road maintenance, fire services, and police. Lots may be less expensive where impact fees are the greatest, so it is a good idea to ask about these fees when evaluating a lot for purchase.


In private communities the factors above still apply, but there may also additional requirements that can limit what you want to do with the lot. Communities may have architectural guidelines that dictate what your home can look like. There may also be fees paid to the community association for plan reviews. In addition, there may be approved hours for work on a new home by contractors, neighborhood entry fees for vehicles, and even fines when a vehicle damages any grassy areas or trees. These somewhat little inconveniences can add cost to bids you get for new construction.


Before making an offer on a lot, you should consult with a professional who can make sure you ask all the right questions. Morgan Davonn is uniquely experienced in both real estate and construction and can help you evaluate any land to make sure you know any costs and limitations for a new home.

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