Finding The Right Building Lot For Your Dream Home

Does Your Plan Fit On The Lot: If you already have a plan, it’s important to find a lot that the plan will fit on. Each city will have required setbacks in the front, back and on both sides. Corner lot setbacks are larger than inner block setbacks. The area inside the setbacks is called the building envelope. The width and depth of your plan needs to fit inside the building envelope. If you don’t have a plan, you can choose one that will fit on the lot and customize it to your liking. Make sure you consider a driveway for a side entrance garage if that is on your must have list.

Utilities: Some listings say that utilities are available. Some say they are stubbed. There is a difference in cost when it comes to building. If they are stubbed, they are already within the lot. The builder will not have to do extra work to get to them. If they are available, it could mean that they are in the street in front of the lot, or just down the road and that you will have to bring them to the lot. Either way it will cost more for you, the buyer. If the street has to be cut to get to the utilities, you will have to pay to do that. You will also have to pay to put it back. When you are doing that, there are other considerations, like what time of year the work will be completed? Did you know that asphalt plants shut down when the weather is too cold? That could be a problem. Depending on the location and the city, you may also have to pay for street closure permits and signs.

Easements: If there is an easement for power, communications, irrigation, gas, railroads or anything else that has been recorded it may not be disclosed by the seller. You will need to review the preliminary title report or the county plat map to make sure you don’t get stuck with a small building envelope or an unbuildable area due to easements. If there is an easement, it’s worth looking at how old the easement is, and if it is still being used for the purpose intended. If not, you may be able to get a vacation of easement for the municipality involved. This will take extra time.

Overhead power lines: Depending on the location, they could determine the height of the house. At the very least, it could cost a little extra on the building end because it may be hard to get large material deliveries or equipment onsite. For instance, the pump truck for the footings and foundation, the lumber package and trusses or a crane to set the trusses.

Sidewalk/Curb & Gutter Condition: If the sidewalk is damaged, it doesn’t matter if it was damaged when you purchased the lot or not, the city will make you replace it before they will give you the certificate of occupancy on your home. This is an item that will need to be negotiated on the price of the lot. How many sections will need to be replaced. Is it just sidewalk, or is there damage to the curb and gutter? Are they poured as one continuous piece, or all separately. This all plays into how much it will cost to replace.

The Grade of the Lot: Some lots that look like they would be simple because they are flat end up costing a lot of extra money because they don’t have a place to lose the overburden from the excavation. Most cities will not give you a certificate of occupancy if you have a large pile of dirt in your backyard. It has to be hauled off. To haul it off, you are looking at truck time, equipment time to load the truck and miles to the location that it will be dumped. You may also end up with a dump fee depending on the dump location. Sometimes it’s less expensive to pay a dump fee than it is to pay for extra miles to drive to a place that will let you dump for free. You could also end up with the opposite problem where the lot will need a significant amount of fill. The truck and equipment time and miles may still be a factor in this case. The other question is, can you use just regular clean fill off a neighboring lot where they will be happy to bring it for free, or will you need very expensive structural fill. If you need structural fill, how much will you need? Will it need to be compacted because it’s under your footings and basement floor? If you are in need of extra fill, you may also need retaining walls. These are some serious factors that could make your dream house unaffordable.

Soil Condition: Always ask for a soils report on the due diligence conditions of your lot contract. If it’s a new subdivision, the city would have required a soils report with testing in multiple areas before the development. They should be able to supply that report. If it was someone’s farm land or field in the backyard, they may not have anything to offer. It is important because if the soil on your lot is collapsible or water sensitive it could cost extra during construction. It could also cause settling down the road. In certain areas there are problems like blue clay that cause the house to slide off the hill. On a lot that has collapsible soil or water sensitive soil, you can still build. You may be required to dig deeper and bring in structural fill. If that is the case, you may need to haul off some of the overburden from the excavation. The same issues that were listed above under grade of the lot would apply here. A soils engineer will determine how much you dig out and how much fill you have to bring in. Even if you follow the engineers instructions exactly, it could still settle down the road. That would not be the fault of the builder, the city that inspected the builders work, or the soils engineer who specified exactly what the builder needed to do. Your only recourse will be your homeowners insurance. If the costs of excavation get too high, it may be in your best interest to use piers instead. They can be expensive, but the pier companies will guarantee their work, so you won’t have to worry about settling down the road. Sometimes, the soils engineer will say it’s fine to build and use regular fill from the lot to backfill. You may only need to be careful about over watering your lawn and flower beds, or washing your car on the concrete where water can erode soil beneath the slabs. Never, even if you don’t have some kind of sensitive soil issue, run water down the foundation wall. Water should always be sprayed away from the foundation.

While all of these issues can be expensive or hard to work with. A good builder or real estate agent will be able to help you navigate these issues so you don’t end up with a surprise on the price of construction in the end.