5 Steps to Buying Land Ch 3 – Ready To Build A House
Step 3: Evaluating Land To Build A House
Once you find that piece of land that you’ve been dreaming of, it’s time to think about what it’s going to take to make it ready to build a house . You’re essentially getting ready to do what a land developer does for a residential subdivision, just on a smaller scale.
If you’re buying bare land to build a house, there may not be any utilities already on the land. Also, there may not even be utilities ran to neighboring land. However, the type of utilities needed and the distance between your land and existing utilities can greatly impact the cost of preparing your land to build.
Utilities factors you need to consider in evaulating the land.
Most important utility to build a house. Since, they also power other utilities like your well or septic system and heat pump. Because of this as you evaluate the land, locate the nearest power pole or power line and determine what electric company it belongs to.
This might require some research, although the easiest thing to do is ask anyone living nearby. First, call the electric company, tell them what you’re about to do, and ask for their procedure. They’ll probably assign a field engineer to meet with you onsite and talk about options.
Some electric providers will run power to your home site for free. However, some will charge you a fee if the distance is more than a certain amount. Likewise some will charge you for the whole installation.
Occasionally they will only run power from overhead and sometimes underground. Because of the possibility of overhead, you might have to clear some trees, and sometimes they’ll clear the trees.
Some companies won’t run the power line to your site until you pour the slab. Moreover, other will run it as soon as you tell them you’re ready. In other words, you won’t know what’s required to get electricity to your land until you ask the electric company.
Also pretty important. Is there city water available? If not, what’s the possibility of drilling a well? Don’t assume that you can drill a well anywhere and get good water or water that will come out of the ground fast enough to supply your house.
When you build a house in any rural area where homes exist, there are well drilling companies that know the peculiarities of the water table. They’ll be able to give you a good idea of whether adequate water is available and how deep they’ll have to drill to get to it. Because, the biggest variable in the cost of a well is depth. Ask the land owners in the area to find the leading well driller and give them a call.
Sewer is the utility that’s the least likely to be available in rural areas, only because it has to flow downhill, which limits the areas that can be served by existing treatment facilities. If no city sewer is available, you’ll need to install a septic system.
The type of system and the cost will largely be determined by soil type. However, the possibility of installing a system at all will be governed by the size of the property.
4. Natural Gas
I think of this one as being optional. Because you don’t really need it, although it is nice to have. Since you can easily do without it by installing a propane tank and propane heat, hot water, stove, and fireplace. Or you can go with electric heat, hot water, and appliances. Heat pumps (electric) are very efficient athese days. The only thing you can’t do is replace the gas loglighter or gas logs with electric.
5. Phone, Internet, and Cable
Phone is available pretty much everywhere now, and cell coverage has become nearly universal. I’ve been out to some rural sites recently where I was shocked at how good the cell signal was. However, there are still some outliers, though, so make sure you talk to the phone company about their coverage before you buy.
Also, if the phone company says they serve the area and you have doubts, ask for them to send someone out to meet you. I once had a client who was told by the phone company that they served a certain area, but when she called for installation, it turned out the office map the phone company used to determine service locations wasn’t detailed enough.
As for internet, there are rural wi-fi repeating stations now that you can subscribe to. Also, you can get satellite TV literally anywhere you can see the sky.
Flood Plain / Flood Way
It doesn’t matter what the land looks like, where the nearest creek is, or whether it’s on top of a hill: you must determine where the land lies in relation to the FEMA-mapped flood areas.
You could be planning to build on a pad that’s 50 feet above and 1,000 feet away from the 100-year flood plain, but if a little remote corner of that property touches the red shaded area that indicates the flood plain, you’re going to have to jump through hoops to build a house.
Here’s what you need to do: get the property’s legal description. Next call the engineering department of the city or county where the property is located. Since they can tell you whether the property is affected by flood plains or flood ways.
There are some cases where you can get past the flood plain issue, but it may take extra time and extra money. Furthermore as you’re evaluate a piece of land, you definitely want to check whether or not it’s in the flood plain and then decide potential next steps.
We don’t run into this very often, but zoning can be a show-stopper. Because as with flood plain, take the legal description to the city or county and make sure the zoning is compatible with building a house. Additionally, it will need to be either residential or agricultural zoning.
If it’s commercial, industrial, or anything else, you’ll have to apply and get approved for a variance with the planning commission, which is tough to do. However, the zoning was established for a reason, and asking to re-zone a particular piece of property is asking the city to rethink its plan for that area.
Survey For Build A House
Don’t take the current owner’s word for it when he tells you the land goes over to that fence, then down the hill to the creek, then over to that cow, then past the hay bale, 50 feet west of the old well, and back to the road.
Generally when you make an offer on the land, you also make a contract requirement that the seller provide a current survey.
Be careful here, as you need to specify a pin survey and not just a title survey. Because this means the surveyor comes to the property, physically measures and marks the boundaries, and provides a graphical and textual report of the property boundaries, easements, right-of-way, etc. Additionally, you want to see those official stakes out there so you can see the legal boundaries.
You’d be amazed at what land owners think they own but don’t. Likewise, I’ve even seen cases where all the adjacent owners agree on what they think is the boundary, but when the surveyor is done, they’re all surprised.
Site Preparation to Build a House
Assuming all the other stuff works out, you’ll want to know how much it’s going to cost to clear the land to build a house.
Correspondingly, How dense are the trees? What’s the slope? How far is it from the road? Where does all the rainwater go? Is the soil covered by three feet of organic stuff that will have to be removed? How do you even figure that out?
Although, these all are factors to consider, and while it seems daunting, it comes down to two things:
- Number of hours on a bulldozer (Bulldozer is cheap at $1000 per day.)
- Dump truck Hours?
If the land is fairly clear of trees and doesn’t slope more than 5 or 6 feet across the building pad, then the dozer can prepare the site in a day or two. However, if you have to clear more than 10 small trees, figure an additional day. Additionally, if you have to haul dirt in or out, the price starts to escalate dramatically.
Also remember to figure the cost of making (and maintaining) an access road from the main road to the house site. There will be heavy concrete and lumber delivery trucks coming in and out, and they get stuck pretty easily. The best way to estimate this cost is to find the local bulldozer guy and have him come out and give you an estimate of what it will cost. Believe it or not, a good way to find that guy is to drive around and look for an advertising sign on a utility pole located at intersections of the main roads. Or ask neighbors who they recommend.