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Custom Home Land Buying Considerations

Buying the right land for your dream home is just as important as the design and function of your home. So how do you know if a piece of property is a worthwhile building site? This checklist will provide you with a general overview so that you can gather all the information you need to make a more informed decision.

1. Are Utilities Present? 

It’s very important to understand that not all home sites will have utilities located on them and sometimes utilities taps may even be located at excessive distances from the site. Be sure to ensure that the property you are considering buying is actually served by utilities and determine where those utilities are located in relation to the desired location of your new home. Here are some considerations. 

2. The Dirt, It Matters 

The soil and subsoil conditions are extremely impactful on the structural elements of your home and can dramatically affect your building costs especially where we are located on the coast of Florida. You will want to have a geotechnical engineer perform a soil boring test before you purchase the land so that you can wrap your mind around what type of foundation your new home will require. This report will give insight into the condition of the soil, ground water, bedrock, and so on. We recommend that you have your builders engineer review the soil report so they can advise on cost and building implications prior to closing on the land. Investing a few thousand dollars in a soil test can save you tens-of-thousands-of-dollars down the road. If you’re lucky perhaps you can reach out to some of the adjoining property owners and see if they have any reference soil reports. Before pulling the trigger on the dirt, we always recommend a report. 

3. The Property Taxes

Not all developments or municipalities have the same property tax structure. One development or municipality might have low taxes, and the one directly across the street might have much higher taxes. This is usually the result of the developer using bonds to finance the development costs, which are then passed on to the property owner through ongoing property taxes and can also be the product of school districts changing from one side of the street to the other. This can make a difference of several hundred dollars per month (indefinitely) to the end project owner which is potentially you, so it’s ideal that you understand the property taxes and developmental assessments before you purchase land.

4. HomeOwners Associations (HOA’s)

Many developments and communities have a homeowners association (HOA) or at least some community regulations or covenants in place that are legally binding and enforceable to all property owners within the community. Many times these governing documents have architectural design requirements that dictate minimum or maximum square footage, exterior material requirements or restrictions, landscaping requirements, and ongoing HOA dues or fees. It is important to confirm that the size and style of home you want to build is allowed in the community you are considering. Additionally, you’ll want to know what the community guidelines state about other interests you may have, such as having backyard chickens, horses, even a food garden, or, for example, whether you can park your RV and boat on your property. Some people like their complete freedom to exist and an HOA can be quite imposing while other people like some level of framework or community order which an HOA can most definitely help establish with the proper leadership. 

5. Building Envelope, Setbacks, Pervious vs Impervious, and Easements

You’ll want to fully understand the buildable area on the land you are buying. Almost all lots will have setbacks and utility easements that dictate where you can and cannot build. Some lots may even have a predefined “building envelope” that the developer has established for the community where the home must be built. It’s important to note that the size of the building envelope available needs to accommodate the footprint of the home you envision to build. Most local permitting departments will be able to provide you with this information through a quick phone call.

Here’s some questions you should ask for the lot you are considering.

  1. What are the side setbacks? 
  2. What is the front setback? 
  3. What is the rear setback? 
  4. Are there any height restrictions? 
  5. Is "Turtle Glass" required? (coastal homes)
  6. What is the impervious square footage allowed? 
  7. What is the pervious square footage allowed?  
  8. Are there any utilities easements recorded? 
  9. Is there a set building envelope? 
  10. Are there any county or neighborhood design restrictions?
  11. What is the variance process? (If needed)   
  12. Is there a neighborhood specific architectural requirements specifications package?

6. Topography

This may go without saying, but the physical attributes of the land you buy will affect the style, aesthetics, and developmental costs of the home build on the land. For example, if you want a walkout basement, you’ll want to find land that naturally allows for the lower level of the home to walk out. And, just know that building on a hillside is going to cost more than building on a gently sloping or flat lot. If you want oceanside consider the pilings you’ll have to drive and if you want mountain side consider the rock you’ll be building on and attaching the foundation too. 

7. Future Development

You’ll want to ask the right questions about any plans for future development in the vicinity of where you’ll be building. Is there a future road planned in the open space behind you? Is there a commercial center zoned adjacent to you? Will there be a high rise going up right in front of you blocking the views that you designed your home for? Does the developer have future phases of the community that will affect your views and living conditions? When will these phases be built, what is their timeline and are they guaranteed to be built or are they dependent on past phase sales and earnings? Sometimes developments start and they do not get completed to the extent that they were planned and this could leave you hanging in a less desired development or even worse, a development that's under construction for a decade or two. Remember, unless you own the land around you, you have very little input on what happens with it in the future. Make sure to ask the right questions—to the right people—to better understand the possible changes that could happen around you in the future. There’s nothing worse than bringing your vision into reality only to have a neighbor drown out your home and its views with trailer parking. 


8. Zoning

You’ll want to confirm with the local city or county that the zoning of the property allows you to use and live on the property the way that you intend to use and live on the property. For example, do you intend to have an accessory dwelling unit or a guesthouse on the property? Maybe if it’s a larger parcel have one or two VRBO rental units? Do you want the ability to use your home itself as a short-term rental? Do you have a small business that you want to run from an outbuilding on your property? Do you want the opportunity to subdivide your land in the future? Do you have a dream of using your beautiful land as an outdoor wedding venue or for horticulture? Or maybe you just want some chickens, goats, ducks, and the ability to grow a small garden so that you can live off of your land. The zoning of the property will have very specific allowed and prohibited uses. Make sure you look into this before you close on the land to avoid future disappointments.

9. Public Services

There are the obvious considerations such as which school district your kids will go to and how close the nearest grocery store is, but you’d also be well served to take into consideration, for example, the following factors: How close is the nearest hospital? Where is the nearest fire department? How long will it take law enforcement or first responders to respond to your location if you had an emergency? Who is responsible for maintaining the roads, and do they provide snow removal or street sweeping?

Of course, purchasing land is not a one-size-fits-all transaction. You’ll have your own reasons for selecting the land you want to build your dream home on. Use this checklist as an overview and you’ll have lots of great information to help you make a more informed land-buying decision.

If you need help with buying land for your new custom home in the St. Petersburg or Tampa, Florida areas, we have recommended real estate agents that we work with directly who would love to help you purchase the land for your new custom home. Contact us today and we’ll get you linked up.

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