How to choose land for your new home
1. Which comes first? Selecting the house or the land?
Of course, if you already own land — or have a location picked out — the landscape will dictate the design of the house. But, keep in mind: A home can usually be designed to take advantage of the landscape, but it may not be economically feasible to alter the landscape to accommodate a predetermined plan.
If you don’t have land, what you need to do is first establish your priority list for your new home: Is it lifestyle, views or design of the home, or something else? Consult with your significant other/family in this step. This list will save you time, effort and added expense, and help you select the appropriate site for your new home.
2. What are the general characteristics of the land through the seasons?
With your checklist in hand, walk the land you are considering purchasing. Spend some time on it, and imagine how it will look and feel throughout the seasons.
Consider these questions: Will falling leaves increase desirable views or reduce the level of privacy? Where does the sun rise and set through the year? What direction is the predominant wind exposure? Are there seasonal streams or flooding? What do you hear? Pay particular attention to road noise, airport traffic, nearby businesses (sawmill?) and recreation (shooting range? snowmobile trail?).
Find out what sorts of activities take place over the course of a year on the land, in the neighborhood or nearby.
Can this land meet your list of requirements? If not, what challenges are there?
If you’re building a seasonal vacation home, visit the land in the season you expect to be in the home to ensure there are no unpleasant surprises.
3. How will the site views and exposure support your quality of life through the years?
- In what direction do the most desirable views lie?
- Will you want to see your children play or pets romp from inside?
- What would you like to see from the various rooms where you will spend time during the day?
- Would a multi-level house be necessary to capture views that are important to you? Is a single-story home a requirement for your family, now or in the future? (See One Story or Two )
If you’re in a northern climate, will you want a southern-facing house to help save on heating costs? Conversely, if you’re in a southern climate, will you want a northern-facing house to save on cooling costs? Balancing views with energy efficiency is a calculation that will deserve some thought.
4. How does topography and siting impact the cost of developing the lot?
If the land you are considering is in a lot with zoned setbacks, or within a Homeowners Association (HOA), there may be little choice where you can site the home. However, even large, rural lots may have siting challenges. Beyond any local zoning which is addressed separately below, distance from the home to the road directly impacts the costs of developing the lot. Topography also directly impacts the cost of developing the site of your new home. Examine the landscape and consider the following important questions. (As a rule of thumb, a flat, open site with few rocks and well-draining soils will be the least expensive to develop.)
- Is the site flat or hilly?
- Rocky or on ledge?
- Wooded or open?
- Are there wetlands, streams or other indications of how the land drains?
5. What is the property access for vehicles and utilities?
- Is there an access road? Alternately, is the property landlocked, requiring an easement through a neighboring property to access?
- Where would the driveway go and will its length, grade and drainage be manageable in terms of initial cost, upkeep and plowing (if you are in the North)?
- How much parking space for family and guests, as well as turnaround space for delivery trucks, will you need by the house?
- Is it economically feasible to bring electrical and cable service to the house?
- Will there be a municipal water/sewer connection to make, or a well and septic field to install?
6. What site work and landscaping will be required?
- Will large trees and boulders have to be removed to create a driveway?
- Will foundation excavation require blasting?
- Will you desire or require significant landscaping such as terracing or regrading?
- Will retaining walls be required?
- Will you preserve much of the natural landscaping or plant many trees and shrubs?
- Keep in mind that extensive site work can be a major expense.
7. Are there potential site issues?
- What conditions exist with respect to soil analysis, perk testing, land stability and drainage?
- If you must install a well and septic field, you can hire a soil expert to do perc testing for septic fields, as well as water table studies.
- Is the property in a flood zone, or a hurricane zone? If so, investigate what insurance may be required or desired, as well as special building codes.
8. What are the architectural characteristics of the area?
- What is the predominant architectural style in the area? Will your preferred style complement the local vernacular?
- Will your home be visible to the neighbors or from the road?
- Will the size of the home be contextually proportionate to the size of the land? An architect can advise you if you are unsure how your plans will fit the neighborhood.
9. What are the local zoning, building code, and easement considerations?
A real estate agent and/or builder can put you in touch with an Accredited Land Consultant (ACS) with the legal and scientific expertise to offer both land and building advice. Your consultants will investigate the characteristics of the land and explore zoning, building codes, easements and other factors. These are major factors to consider:
- Are there height restrictions to buildings?
- What are the setbacks?
- Are there easements on the property?
- Is the lot within an HOA with specific restrictions?
- Is there adjoining land that, if developed, would change the characteristics that currently attract you to the area?
10. What’s the bottom line when buying land?
In general, it’s best not to settle for a “problem” lot that has major issues you need to address. The cost of extensively altering a building lot can be far more than purchasing land that naturally complements your goals. Likewise, a lot that doesn’t meet your privacy or noise expectations may lead you to purchase more land as a buffer than you would prefer to maintain, adding to the expense.
The ability to build a home on land of your own choosing gives you the opportunity to create a sanctuary that supports and enhances your family’s lifestyle. Thoughtful consideration can help you make a great choice for your new home. Professionals are available to assist and guide you in evaluating your options and avoiding pitfalls. Ultimately, building a home on land that truly speaks to you is a gift you will wake up to every day.