You’ve always dreamed of building a home to suit your family’s precise needs, and are hunting for the best place to put it. Or perhaps a rare empty parcel in an outstanding neighborhood has finally come up for sale, and you’re considering making an offer. Clients routinely approach us to evaluate land for new builds, and with careful planning, we work to ensure the type of home they’ve envisioned can be placed on the property. Below, 5 important items to examine before purchasing land.
An understanding that zoning dictates design is mission critical prior to a land purchase. Restrictions on lot coverage and structure height are both typical, and setbacks in front, behind, and at the sides of the future home are to be expected. A challenge may arise when a client would like to build outside the property’s building envelope, or cannot place the home they desired on the parcel they have purchased. In order to avoid such a situation, a deep dive into the municipality’s real estate laws is recommended. What one town or city may permit is often completely different than what another will allow, and for this reason, nothing should be assumed before purchase. In addition, sometimes there are multiple zoning overlay districts—historic and coastal for example—and laws may be interpretive. Consulting with an architect is strongly recommended.
2. Mother Nature
Categorically, there’s much to consider when it comes to nature. On the coast, be aware of flood zones, wetlands, and critical coastal setbacks, which likely add required conservation commission hearings in order approve a project. Be cognizant of any prevailing winds on the property, which may not seem like a big deal until you’re trying to enjoy your outdoor terrace. Overall, think about your future home’s orientation to the sun, with southern exposures offering all-day light, and western exposures granting the brightest afternoon sun.
At coastal properties and beyond, sometimes we encounter land on which the subsoil conditions are not suitable to support a proper foundation; typically these are found on sites that were at one point filled. The opposite challenge pertains to ledge, when rock would need to be chipped or blasted away in order to ready a site for a foundation. If either substandard soil conditions or significant ledge are suspected on-property, we recommend engaging a geotechnical engineer to do a proper exploration of the land before making an offer. Recompacting land and drilling ledge are not inexpensive, and whenever possible it is superior to understand the scale of a property’s needs in advance of ownership.
We practice The Greater Good theory, meaning that we respect the overall character and composition of a neighborhood when building anew within it. We feel the most successful builds are those that seamlessly blend into their context, taking cues from surrounding architectural themes when possible. We encourage our clients to strongly consider context when purchasing land. Should they desire a program with significant square footage in an area with smaller homes on larger parcels, we might break that scale into a main house with a series of outbuildings so their new build doesn’t seem out of place within the surrounding neighborhood. In this way, we recommend being respectful of context and responsive to the Greater Good, especially when land has been previously vacant.
Specifically when evaluating vacant land, be sure to assess the ability and cost to bring electricity and, where available, local sewer to the property. If the vacant land is within a municipality with homes on private septic, a perk test will be done to determine the ability of the land to absorb and process material from a septic system. Be aware that not all properties are suitable for perking; this must be carefully assessed prior to purchase.
5. Existing Structures
When a preexisting structure is present on property, be sure to check local ordinances regarding demolition delays and historic structures. At times, even when a structure is in poor condition, there may be stipulations regarding demolishing a house more than 50 years old. Knowing about these required waiting periods in advance of a purchase will help a homeowner plan and budget for potential carrying costs during the delay.
Buying land for a future home is an exciting and investigative endeavor, one that is incredibly process-driven with a cadre of factors to consider. If you’d like our thoughts on a prospective parcel, don’t hesitate to reach out for more information. In the interim, we invite you to find meaningful inspiration in our portfolio.