We often have come across someone who has recently purchased their lot and then ask us standard questions like "Where do you think I should build?" "What about my utilities?" "How big a house or footprint can I have?" and quite a few others that should be asked or considered prior to purchasing a lot.
Here are our 8 golden rules for buying land:
- Is it in city limits or in an unincorporated part of the county?
Often times when you are looking at property within city limits, the utilities including sewer are already in place, whereas outside of city limits, often times there is no cable, no power, no sewer, no water, and no driveway. Each one of these items needs to be addressed.
- You need to know if the land "percs" for an onsite septic system, what type of septic system will need to be installed, and how much it will cost.
If you are planning on building a 4-bedroom home and the property can only install a 2-bedroom septic system, the property is not worth much. You need to know this before closing on your purchase. Within days of making an offer, or prior to making an offer, you should ask the current homeowner if he has any documentation of a perc test and septic design and when that design expires. Often times you will need to hire someone to conduct a test and make your offer contingent upon this factor.
- Is there water available?
The biggest mistake you can do is find a great price on a property, find that it percs, but find out later that it will cost tens of thousands of dollars to drill 200 feet down to install a water well. Although you cannot be 100% sure without an actual drilling, an experienced local drilling company can provide you information of lots nearby and their drilling depths and associated costs. They usually have standardized bids with variables that include depth that can provide you a general price range of the associated costs. You also have to watch out for having enough pressure to install a sprinkler system inside your house. Many municipalities include this in the building code for rural areas where fire trucks may not have easy access.
In King County, Washington, and probably a few others, it is required that you have a "Critical Areas Designation" completed by the county. The county comes out and takes a look at your property and designates certain areas as wetlands and requires setbacks from this area for your building. This is a complex topic and we suggest that you spend a few hundred dollars before purchasing your property and hiring an expert in the field that will review your potential property and provide valuable feedback.
- Other Utilities (Power, Phone, Cable, and Internet)
Unless you are planning to go completely wireless with cell phone, satellites, and solar you need to contact the local utility companies and find out about access to your property and the associated costs. You'd be surprised at how much it can cost to bring power just a few hundred feet to your property or convert the lines to underground. It's often good to know if you have access to natural gas or if you will be using a service for propane tanks. This may also factor into your decision.
Every jurisdiction has their own set of rules for setbacks from property lines. If you are buying a large parcel it may not be as important, but a smaller parcel in the city can exclude you from using the house plan you want based on the setbacks and the foundation footprint you end up with. Often times, they also may have rules based on the ratio of impervious surface with the overall square footage of house or even the ratio of the square footage of the house with the total square footage of the lot. Be sure to check your local zoning office to verify you can build the house you want.
- The View
You see it all the time as you drive around: Houses are not taking advantage of their view and facing the wrong way simply because of the driveway access and location of the garage. You are selecting a lot on certain factors, but mostly location. Did you buy the house because of its amazing view of the mountains to the East, or maybe the water views to the West? Make sure that the house plan you select maximizes your view and you design the position of the house to take advantage of this, this would include reviewing your driveway access. If you are in a rural area, you may have to apply for driveway access in a certain location and the county will have to approve the location.
- Hire a Realtor
Hire a real estate agent with experience with the type of property you are looking for.
We hope this helps in making your lot purchasing process and you can avoid the many pitfalls people make buying land.