Evaluating land to build your dream home on can be a confusing and risky task but we're here to walk you through how to do it step-by-step.
There's two elements to elevating your plot - first you should evaluate the land-use/zoning code and second you should evaluate the lot for actual constructability.
Land Use & Zoning Codes:
These codes are administered at the local level. You will need to search online to determine your prospective lot's zoning jurisdiction. Once you've identified that you should be able to identify the locality's Zoning Map and Zoning Ordinance. These documents can often be found on your town government's website but sometimes will require that you contact the town directly. Once you have those documents you can proceed with the steps below.
First use the Zoning Map to identify the parcel's zone. This will correspond to a set of rules regarding land use in these lots.
Note on the Zoning Map if there are any overlay districts that may affect the parcel. Some examples may be flood overlays, historic districts or conservation districts.
In the Zoning Ordinance, there should be a section dedicated to the specific zone that your parcel is located in. Read through this section and identify the following characteristics
- Bulk Dimensional Requirements:
- Minimum Lot Size
- Minimum Front Yard Setback
- Minimum Side Yard Setback
- Minimum Rear Yard Setback
- Maximum Building Height
- Maximum Impervious Coverage, or Open Space Requirements
- Wetland or Floodplain Setbacks
- Screening (Landscape) Requirements
- Permitted Uses. Ideally the zone accommodates use as a single-family residences by right. If you are looking to build a multi-family, ADU or have some kind of occupational use then make sure to pay close attention to this section to ensure that your proposed use is 'by-right' and will not require a condition or variance.
**Most Zoning Ordinances have a chapter of definitions for terms used in the ordinance. For instance, the definition of 'Building Height' varies widely between jurisdictions.
***We strongly recommend that you read through the entire code in order to make sure that you don't miss any pertinent information.
Once you've evaluated the zoning code and determined that the house you want to build can be built on your prospective lot, the next step is to evaluate constructability and land development costs.
Most towns adopt the International Residential Code (IRC). We design all of our plans to meet this but some towns have local supplements or different codes entirely.
It's important to note that different parts of the country will have different structural design criteria as a result of flooding, snow loads, seismic loads and wind loads. If you are building in one of these areas then it's important to involve a structural engineer. We are happy to work with them to maintain the integrity of the home plan.
Sanitary Sewer - Contact the town to determine if there is a Sanitary Sewer along the property. If so, they should be able to quote you a tap fee. If there is no sewer, then you will need to install some kind of septic system. This can be one of the most challenging regulatory hold ups in building your house so pay close attention when evaluating your lot. Contact the town for local regulations. They will likely require that you dig a pit with a backhoe to perform a soil percolation test. They may only allow this to be performed at certain times of the year. Depending on the output of the test, the lot may be unbuildable or require a very expensive and unsightly septic system. Your town code will likely restrict how close a septic system can be located to existing potable wells and groundwater. You will have to survey the location of neighboring wells and groundwater and ensure that your septic tank and leach field can be located in a suitable location.
Electricity - Unless you're planning on going off the grid, this will be one of the most important and variable costs. Some lots have electric at the site already and only cost a few thousand to connect, while other sites can require the construction or new transmission lines and significant underground conduit which could cost up to $100k. Contact the local electric supply company for a specific quote.
Internet - Check out the National Broadband Map
Natural Gas - For some people this is a must have. Contact the local utility for a quote. In absence, you can install a propane tank. Check with the local building department for related codes and requirements.
Driveways:Determine the jurisdiction of the roadway that serves your lot. It may be private, town maintained or state highway.
Contact that authority and determine if they have any regulations regarding curb cuts. Some may have corner restrictions, line-of-sight restrictions or limitations that will impact your driveway placement.
Land Clearing:Assuming that your Zoning review did not unearth any restrictions on land clearing, you will have to remove any existing trees or brush in the proposed building envelope and yard.
Grading & Drainage:
Home Owner's Associations (HOA):
Note that this guide is not meant to be an exhaustive legal process for evaluating land. Please contact a professional Architect or Engineer for a comprehensive review of land use before making an offer to purchase land.