Buying Land And New Construction

Beware of Fat Clay

When building a home, you should have the soil on the construction site tested for plasticity to determine how it will change under different moisture conditions. This is important because some soil is so "plastic" that (if the condition is not corrected) it can actually break concrete floors, crack the walls and destroy the foundation of your home. Highly plastic soil is sometimes referred to as "fat clay" that swells excessively and loses stability when it becomes wet. Fine-grained soils that contain a high percentage of clay are greatly affected by water, turning to mud when it rains and undergoing large volume changes-sometimes up to 40 or 50 percent, as the soil dries. Not only do clays swell and lose stability when they become wet, but they also retard the drainage of water. If plastic soil is found on your building site, the ground must be over-excavated and replaced with clean gravel. Homebuilders often choose not to include a basement, or to protect the basement walls from excess moisture by surrounding them with a layer of gravel. A fine-grained clay-filled soil with a high plasticity index may require considerable treatment, especially if used in a moist location.

Building and Designing

If you are planning to build a new home, you should take full advantage of the opportunity to design a custom-built home that meets your needs and includes all the amenities you want. Create a professional-quality kitchen for the "gourmet cook" in the family, include space for a home office, and place the master suite at the opposite end of the house from the kids. Enjoy designing your dream home!

This may be the biggest project of your lifetime. Be certain to select a team of highly qualified professionals to work with you. Your home team should consist of a real estate salesperson, an architect, a builder, and a lender. Your "Dream Team" will assure that all the legal requirements are met as your dream home is being built. Interview each member of your team and ask for references, in order to be confident you are hiring the best people for the job. You will be working closely with these professionals for many months, so choose your team carefully.

Building Considerations

Are you planning to build your dream home? Once you are pre-approved for a loan and have found a professional real estate agent you trust, you are ready to start looking for the perfect lot.

Compare the qualities of several target neighborhoods by looking at schools, shopping, recreation and zoning. Make sure that the zoning regulations allow you to build the size and height of the home you want. Find out if there are use restrictions that would prevent you from developing your property as you intend. A visit to the local planning department will clarify your options for building.

Consider what type of home would best suit your lifestyle. Create a checklist to itemize the "must-have" interior and exterior features of a house that you feel are absolute requirements. Make notations about yard size, paint, roof and window conditions for the exterior, and floor plan, room quality and condition of the appliances for the interior. Bring your lists to your real estate agent. Together you can look over the currently available properties that correspond to your needs.

Building With Help From Brokers

Did you know that, for no additional cost, you can be represented by a real estate broker in conjunction with purchasing a home from a builder? Homebuilders are accustomed to working with real estate brokers and often their commission is already covered in their marketing and promotion costs. A broker can provide objectivity and guidance in designing your home and help you select amenities that will lead to a more advantageous resale. He or she can help coordinate the sale of your present home and the closing of the new one. Many brokers offer guaranteed home sale programs so that when your new home is finished, the real estate company will buy your previous home at a pre-agreed price to prevent you from owning two homes at one time; and can usually arrange the occupancy agreeable to all parties. Take advantage of using your real estate broker in conjunction with building your new home at no additional cost.

Buying New Or Adding On

Homeowners should consider several questions before making the choice between adding on to an existing home or moving up in the market to a bigger house. How much money do you have available for remodeling your current house? How much additional space do you require? Is there room to expand on the ground level or will the foundation of your present home support a second floor? What will the local zoning and building ordinances permit? How much equity do you have in the property? Are there affordable properties for sale that would satisfy your housing needs?

Consider your neighborhood--it makes more sense to add on to a smaller house than to over-improve the largest home in the area. Your decision should ultimately be based on your individual needs, the extent of the work involved and which features will add the most value. According to industry experts, buyers are always excited by state-of-the art kitchens and bathrooms.

Buying New or Buying Old

New homes typically have a higher sales price than comparable existing homes, and buyers are usually willing to spend more on a new home because of lower maintenance costs. Builders' warranties on new homes, when combined with a new roof, appliances, and major systems, usually make major repairs unnecessary and help to counter a slower initial rate of appreciation.

Census Bureau Housing Surveys suggests that operating costs are lowest for brand new homes and slightly higher for relatively new existing homes. Operating costs per square foot of living space are consistently higher for progressively older existing homes. Utility costs represent the largest factor in operating costs. Energy consumption per square foot depends on the size of the home, the insulation and quality of the windows, air leakage and the efficiency of the furnace.

New homes require fewer expenditures for routine maintenance. The cost of maintenance first increases with age, then declines, so you will generally spend less maintaining a home built before 1960 than for a home built between 1970 and 1975.

Buying Property to Build

The ideal piece of land cannot be purchased without due diligence. Say you notice a lot for sale in a suburban area that looks like a perfect place to build your dream home. Buying undeveloped land can provide an opportunity to build a house that will meet your needs, but you will need certain information before you sign on the dotted line.

Most suburban areas have zoning regulations which govern the type of structure that can be erected, the dimensions, and even the material used on the exterior. Historic preservation groups work with builders in many areas to ensure that any new construction fits in with the existing buildings. If you want to build out of the city limits, check the availability of public utility services and the cost of bringing those services to the site. Local planning and zoning boards can provide you with information about proposed development that could change your quiet country lane into a busy street.

It is a good idea to consult an architect and a zoning expert to confirm that your vision will work on the property you have selected.

From the Ground Up

Buying land is different from buying a home, because you must resolve issues relative to land use restrictions, utilities, access and easements before building. When you locate land that seems right for your house, visit the local planning department before making an offer.

Ask whether city sewer, water and electricity are available. If not, you will need to calculate the expenses of installing a well and testing the soil for a septic system. The land will be zoned for residential, business, or agricultural purposes. Does the zoning permit you to build the house you want? Are there easements on the lot that will limit where you can build or how you can access the property? Ask about the long-range plans for use of the surrounding land. The land will be more attractive if the city intends to build a park or new school nearby. But if a six-lane highway or a waste treatment facility are in the city's future plans, you may decide to look elsewhere for a place to build your dream home.

How Easements Affect Your Land

It is extremely important to discover whether there are easements on undeveloped land you are thinking about buying. An easement is the legal right to use another person's land for a specific, acknowledged purpose. Easements can significantly affect your development and use of the property.

A typical easement might permit the use of a dirt fire road that cuts through both the neighbor's property and your land. The road provides access to both properties, and your neighbor has to drive through yours to get to his. The house you build has to be situated ten to fifteen feet away from this access road. If the road cuts through the middle of the lot, you might have difficulty finding room for the house you want to build.

Consult with your real estate agent, an attorney or a title researcher for accurate information about the easements. When making an offer on undeveloped land with an easement issue, be sure to include a contingency that you must approve of any existing easements, or the offer is null and void.

Lot Location

If you are buying land on which to build, you may be eager to get started. But before you leap into buying land, remember that location is the one essential element you won't be able to change. You will never regret taking the time to fully consider the setting for your home.

Make a list of the must-have features that will exist on your ideal piece of land. Do you require a lakefront property or a spectacular view? If privacy is high on your list, you may want to look for land that is heavily wooded, or purchase secluded acreage in a rural setting. Decide on the minimum size lot that will work for the setting of your home. Are you willing to build on a slope or a hillside? Knowing your requirements will help your real estate agent save you time by eliminating unsuitable properties.

Select two or three of your favorite neighborhoods and ask your agent to concentrate the search for land in those places. If you are building in an area you are not familiar with, drive or take walks around the neighborhood and talk to people who live there.

New Homes

Buying a house that is under construction gives you the opportunity to customize your new home by adding special features to the basic home. When deciding on additional features, consider how they will affect the re-sale value of the home and whether these additions will over-improve your home.

Money spent to improve and modernize kitchens and bathrooms is almost always a good investment. Granite and corian counter tops, side-by-side refrigerators, tile flooring and whirlpool tubs are popular upgrades. If the builder's standard flooring for the living room, dining room or foyer is linoleum, changing to hardwood or tile will increase the resale value of the home. And even if you don't enjoy sitting around a roaring fireplace, the next owner may want one. If you plan to finish the basement later, you may want to "rough-in" the plumbing for a bath during the original construction. You should consider your own enjoyment--and what will increase the value of your home when you sell.

Testing the Soil

Are you building a custom-designed home on hand picked acreage? An essential step is testing the soil, which will determine the composition of the ground that must provide a stable foundation for your new home.

The soil could have a combination of various conditions and characteristics. It might be fine, silt-laden soil that collapses when it absorbs excessive water, or soil with a high clay content that sucks up water and then expands under a building, causing it to buckle or shift. Such soil is easy to excavate but unstable to build on. It must be replaced in compacted layers until it achieves suitable density to provide a stable foundation for the house.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, your land might sit on a layer of hard rock, which is wonderfully stable, but extremely hard to penetrate. Excavation costs will be higher if your builder has to bring in heavy equipment to dig out the rock. A professional soil report will help your builder determine the best approach to engineering your site.

The Zoning Variance

When you are selecting land on which to build your new home, be certain to investigate the zoning for that particular area. You might fall in love with rural acreage that just happens to be zoned for agricultural or recreational purposes. Since zoning uses are not interchangeable, you would need to apply for a variance in order to build a single-family residential dwelling on the land. This can be a challenging process!

Getting approval to have the zoning changed on property requires that you first give public notice, and then request approval for a variance from the government agencies that supervise enforcement of the zoning plan. You might encounter resistance from neighbors or various local interest groups who oppose the zoning changes that would allow you to build your dream home. Your local planning department can tell you how a particular property is zoned and explain what you need to do to get a variance. Your real estate agent may be able to refer you to a local land use attorney who can guide you through the process.

What About the Water

If you are considering buying acreage, your real estate agent will probably supply you with basic information about the soil quality, zoning and property boundaries. Whether you intend to build a vacation home or a working horse ranch, you'll also need to know about the water quality and quantity.

If the land is not in an area where water is supplied and tested by a municipal water system, you will need to drill a well for drinking water even if the land has surface sources that provide water for irrigation. Instead of paying monthly water bills, you'll be investing a substantial sum to drill the well and maintain it over time. Contact the county water department to determine how many gallons per minute you and your family (or agricultural business) will require. Talk to the neighbors to find out how long it actually takes to obtain permits to drill for water in that area, and get estimates from local companies on drilling costs.

With a little detective work and help from your agent you can discover any local problems with contamination of the water supply due to toxic substances. Surface waters such as streams, ponds or lakes may be considered public property, and may require you to obtain a water use permit from the state in order to dam a creek or pump water from a supply that sits on your land. 

Shirl A Thornton
Shirl A Thornton
Real Estate Professional