The custom homebuilding process can be a long journey. Each step presents its own unique challenges and new decisions that have to be made, and choosing where to put your house is no exception. The property you choose will have a major impact on the rest of your build, from budget to timing to design, so here’s how to find that perfect lot.
Location and Neighborhood
The first (and most obvious) thing to consider is location. What area of town do you want to be in, how good are the schools, how far are you willing to commute? All of these questions will help you narrow it down.
Also think about what kind of neighborhood you want to be in. Do you want a developed community with amenities and other families close by for your kids to play with? Or do you want acreage and no other homes in sight?
If you do go for an established development, be sure to find one with houses similar to what you want to build in size and style. Being the oddball on the street can hurt your resale value, and might upset some of your more particular neighbors. Also check into any HOA rules that could hinder your options.
Restrictions and Limitations
Either you thrive within rules or you’re a free spirit, either way there are several other different kinds of restrictions you’ll want to look out for. Historic districts, environmental regulations, and restrictive covenants can all limit your design freedom. Get the plot and see what the setbacks are, so you can make sure the build area will accommodate the kind of home you want.
Be sure to identify any easements on the lot, and understand the conditions around them. One of my family members recently had problems with a blanket easement on her property, something she didn’t fully consider or anticipate when purchasing the land. Avoid that headache if possible. (You can read more about that here).
Infrastructure and Utilities
Research any potential obstacles or hidden fees that could occur when setting up utilities, like water and sewage. This is more of a concern in rural areas, but even in a master-planned community you can face delays getting phone and internet if your home is in a newer section of the neighborhood. And let’s be real, nobody wants to spend more time on hold with the phone company than absolutely necessary.
Another thing to consider in a newer area is the potential future development around it. The last thing you want is to finally finish construction on your new home, right about the same time they announce a new landfill or sewage treatment plant is going in down the road.
Reach out to your local zoning and planning departments for the scoop on permits, land designations and upcoming development meetings. Commercial space across the street will certainly provide new and convenient shopping options, but could also increase traffic. Or, more homes could lead to a new school nearby, which means better facilities, but may drive up the taxes to pay for it.
Whatever the situation is, it’s better to know beforehand what you could be getting into. Your home is not a short-term plan or investment, so the more information you can get about the years to come, the better.
Who Can Help
An experienced realtor can help find a homesite that fits your criteria, and also guide you on the right amount to offer in both money and terms. It can be tricky to walk the line between protecting your own interests, and avoiding giving an offer that’s too low or too demanding. Find a realtor that knows the area well and has worked with land clients before, and they can help you navigate a good deal.
You may also want to get your builder or architect involved, once you find a piece of property you are seriously considering. They might be able to identify obstacles to the design or build that you had not previously considered or realized, or offer solutions to apparent issues with the lot.
If budget is a constraint factor for you (which, unless you’re Beyonce, it probably is), then your perfect lot might actually be one that is unperfect. Maybe it’s odd-shaped or narrow, but hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And if it let’s you hold on to more cash or be in the area you really want, then that lot is probably way prettier than at first glance.
This is also where hiring the right people can come into play. Having a builder and/or architect on your side with creative thinking and problem solving skills can make all the difference in turning a not-so-great lot into the best lot for you. Sort of like an ugly duckling situation.
This is a big one. There are more costs associated with a piece of land than just the purchase price, and the last thing you want is to be caught of guard with unexpected expenses. Getting a lot ready to build on requires site prep, and various things can cause the price to rise.
Look for the different obstacles or irregularities that will need to be taken care of, like tree or boulder removal, or the need for extra grading due to ditches and mounds. You wouldn’t believe how expensive it can be to tear out a tree, which is just another great reason why you should save as many as possible!
Also make sure you are scheduling the appropriate amount of time to take care of the site prep. An unrealistic timeline or extra, unplanned prep can cause major construction delays, which will quickly add up the cost.
Taxes and Insurance
Speaking of costs… Don’t forget to compare property tax rates in the different areas you’re considering, and do some digging for any planned increases or assessments. Look into insurance rates, too. Different risk factors like fault lines, flood plains and proximity to a fire hydrant can affect your rates, even from lot to lot on the same street.
Of course you wouldn’t buy a homesite without seeing it in person first, but you’ll want to check it out online too. Use the Google Maps satellite view to see what else is around the lot, you may find something surprising from above. Just stalk it like your brother’s new girlfriend on Facebook.
It’s also important to prioritize your wants and needs before you get too far into the search. Every property will have it’s pros and cons, and it’s good to know what you’re willing to compromise on and what you’re not, especially before the stress or weariness from the search starts to creep in. And have your spouse or partner do the same! Finding the perfect piece of land will be much easier if you both have the same definition of “perfect”.
Order of Operations
Home owners building custom for the first time often ask me, “Do I start with the lot, or the house plan?” And really, the answer is that it depends. It depends on which one you fall in love with first, or which is more important to you. It depends on how hard property is to find in your area, and which one is going to put the most pressure on your budget.
But that is one of the best things about Perch Plans; We can modify our designs to fit with any setback limitations, HOA guidelines, or personal preferences that may come with your homesite, and it’s much more affordable than hiring a custom architect.
It may take a little patience, creativity or help from the right people, but somewhere out there is a lot for you. With the appropriate questions and expectations, finding that homesite will be so much easier. Just remember, it may not be perfect, but it could be perfect for your home.