I take for granted that my husband is a professional engineer and develops properties for a living so I sat him down this evening for an interview so I could put “pen to paper” on what the basic items people need to look at before buying land. It’s important to note that this list only covers the “ability to build” and not the “should I build” which for me is: proximity to items people want (good schools, roads, cities, etc.), other homes that are already in the area (should you really buy a nice plot of land and put your super nice home on it only to find that your neighbor is rockin’ a junk yard), and my number one…road noise! So below is the list from Mr. Nick…I tried to get him to be my guest blogger but he wasn’t having it. If you have questions let me know and I’ll “schedule” an appointment with him to follow up!
- How does the property get water, is it city water or well water? You can find this out by calling up the county that your land is in. You can also look at other building sites nearby…if you have pavement you can look out in the street for mini valve covers. The best way though is to call the city, usually the Public Works Department. Costs: There are connection fees to hook up to city water which vary depending on where you live. The costs to drill a well and install a water system on your property depend on many factors: depth of water table, chemicals in the natural well water, distance from existing man-made structures, price materials (which are a commodity).
- How will the property dispose of sewage from toilets, showers, sinks, etc.? You either have city sewer (if you see manholes in the street) or your property will be served by septic. Before you purchase land you’ll want to know if your lot has septic approval from the local department of health…if it doesn’t you’ll want to contact the septic system designer or a licensed civil engineer specializing in land development. Costs: There are connections fees to hook up to city sewer which vary as well. If you go with the septic system you’ll have to take into consideration a few factors: types of soil, elevation and lot layout can all vary the cost from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.
- Are gas and power available/nearby? If power is not nearby you’ll have to take into account what it will take to get power, which you can find out by contacting the local power company. There really aren’t any other “practical” options if there is no accessible power. If gas is not available it’s fairly simple to install bottled gas (either natural or propane) which you can find out more about by contacting your local power company.
Once you have answers to the first three questions you’ll want to look at the features of your site and most important what is around your site that may affect what you can do with your property. Here in the Pacific Northwest the most common issue is proximity to wetlands, endangered species, protected tree areas, and groundwater sensitive areas. The best way to find out answers for your area is to contact your city or county planning department. You’ll also want to find out the zoning to make sure that your desired use meshes with what the city/county also wants (building a house in an area that is zoned commercial is probably not going to happen).
The bottom line is, you can’t go wrong by calling up the city or the county as all this information is public information and these departments are here to help you. If the land is a considerable investment it may be worth your time to hire a local civil engineer to help you navigate the process…unless of course you happened to marry one like I did!
Photo Credit: Here I am standing in front of our property map in the entrance to our development...after Mr. Nick did all the hard work to decide whether or not we should buy it!