13 Things You Need To Know Before You Buy a Residential Lot
13 Things You Need To Know Before You Buy a Residential Lot
#1: Don’t Build on Fill:
Your foundation needs to rest on solid, undisturbed ground. It can take hundreds of years for ground to settle. Sometimes, a steep ravine may have been filled in and/or the land may have previously been a dump.
If you cannot dig down far enough to rest the footings on solid and undisturbed ground, then you run the risk of having the ground settle after you home is built. This can cause severe wall cracks or structural failures.
A shifting foundation can also cause doors and windows to stick.
Avoid building on top of fill dirt. If you need to build on fill, use compacted gravel for fill rather than dirt. Compacted gravel will settle less than dirt.
It may be possible to build on soft ground if you take extra precautions such as grade beams to make sure your foundation footings are supported by solid ground. If you fail to do this then you may experience major problems that will be very expensive to correct.
Foundation problems may not show up for several years (long after the builder’s warranty has expired).
#2: Don’t Build on Bedrock:
If the land has bedrock close to the surface of the soil it can be expensive to dig a hole for a basement. If this may be a concern, look at nearby foundations to determine how far down the bedrock is or ask neighbours who have already built if they had problems with stone.
You can also dig a few test holes to see if shallow bedrock will interfere with construction. Modern equipment has made it easier to dig through bedrock so this might not be as big of concern if the proper equipment is available in your area.
In some areas bedrock is not stable because of expansive soil. The term “heaving bedrock” means that the bedrock may shift and move and this type of soil is more difficult to build on.
#3: Avoid Clay:
The type of soil found on a site can also affect it’s suitability for construction. The soil will also affect how well you can grow trees and plants on the property. It’s best to avoid building on clay.
If you do build in clay, you may need stronger and larger footings to prevent foundation cracks. Clay soil can make it difficult to have a dry basement.
Also clay soil can make it harder to grow things. It’s a good idea to look at the street and surrounding buildings in the area you are thinking about building. If the street is cracking or sinking or other buildings have cracked walls then this could indicate the soil is unstable.
Some types of clay will shrink when dry and expand when it’s wet. This type of ground is called expansive soil. Expansive soil can be found in most parts of Canada. Extra care must be taken when building on expansive soil because there is greater risk to foundation damage.
#4: Make Sure You Ask For a Survey?
A survey will show you where the actual boundaries of your property are. A survey can also point out possible problems with the land (you encroaching on your neighbour’s property, or the other way around).
Land usually has stakes or markers showing where the property boundaries are. However these markers are sometimes incorrect because they were moved or improperly placed. A survey will give you an accurate idea of your property’s boundaries.
Before spending money on a survey, you may want to ask the landowner if they have a survey. If a certified surveyor has already done a survey then it may suit your needs. If they don’t have a survey it may be reasonable to request they pay for a survey. After all, how can you pay for a land to build your custom home, if you don’t know what you are buying?
#5: Make Sure You Have a Builder Look at the Lot Before You Buy…
Your builder can give you a good idea if the lot is suitable for the type of home you want. In particular, a builder can tell you if much fill dirt will be needed or if there may be drainage problems with the land. He will assist you with building your custom home.
#6: Perc Test – Why is it So Important?
A Percolation Test test involves digging a hole and filling it with water. This is done to determine how well water drains through the soil. If you need a septic tank, a perc test can tell you how suitable the soil is for this purpose.
If the ground isn’t suitable for a septic tank you may need to dig up the septic filed area and replace the ground. This will add thousands to building the septic system.
#7: What is Useable Area and How Much is Enough?
When evaluating a piece of land look at its’ useable area. If you have a 5-acre lot but it only has 1/2 an acre that is useable (due to drainage, topography, etc.) then the value of the lot may be similar to what a 1/2-acre lot sells for. Don’t overpay for a larger lot. Look at how useable the land is when determining a price.
#8 Developed Land vs Undeveloped…
When looking at land, also consider how much development is needed to make the land suitable to build on. Developed land usually costs more than undeveloped land.
A land developer typically adds things such as streets, city sewer, street sewers, city water, streetlights, phone lines, and electric lines. You may be able to buy undeveloped land at a lower cost, but after developing the land it may end up costing more than what it would have cost to buy land that was already developed.
#9: Watch Out For Water Tables…
It is common to have underground water. It’s a good idea to dig a test pit to see if the underground water will interfere with having a basement. The water table (the depth of underground water) varies during different times of the year and the water table is usually highest during the springtime. For this reason, it is best to do any testing of the water level in the spring.
The water table can determine the type of foundation you use. You might not be able to have a basement if your site has a high water table.
#10: Slope Is Only Good For Skiing…
If the land slopes, try to determine how big of a height difference occurs in the land from one side of the home to the other side. If the slope is right, the lot may be ideal for a walkout basement.
If the slope is too drastic, you may have to haul in a lot of fill and do extensive grading (which can get expensive). A slope can be deceiving – sometimes a gentle slope may actually be too much of a slope; especially if you have a wide house or want to build your home far away from the street.
You can use string, stakes, and a level to help you determine the elevation change of a slope. A more accurate way to measure slopes is to use an optical level and transit. The tools to use are tripods and viewfinders to measure slopes and you can usually rent them from a local rental shop.
It is best to have a spot to build on that is higher than surrounding parts of the lot. If you build on a lower spot then water is more likely to drain towards the home. If building on a slope you should make sure the ground is stable. If the ground is less stable additional work and expense may be needed to better anchor the home to the ground.
If the lot’s slope will affect your driveway then it may be more difficult to use the driveway when it has snow or ice on it. Also a driveway that has a quick change in its slope can cause the car bottom to drag on the pavement.
When building up slopes, use fill dirt rather than topsoil. Topsoil should only be the last level. Topsoil is more likely to erode or wash away than fill dirt.
#11: Wooded Lots – Does a Tree Make a Sound?
Wooded lots with nice trees can increase the value of your property. It will also increase the construction costs because you will need to clear away some trees before you start building. A lot with brush or unattractive trees may be worth less than a lot with no trees (because of the cost of removing the brush).
When looking at a wooded lot, try to visualize where the home, driveways, septic tank, pool, and anything else will be. If the lot slopes, determine where grading and fill dirt will be needed (you will probably lose trees in those areas). Some trees may need to be removed to allow large equipment to access your property when building the home.
#12: Utility Hookups – Surprise … Surprise…
If you are thinking about buying land before utilities have been run to the land, be sure you know where the utilities are going to be placed. If you don’t know this, you might be in for some surprises.
For example, a fire hydrant might be put in the place you were planning to run your driveway, or you might have an unattractive electric box or pole in front of your home. Utilities can also impact the grade of your lot.
The cost of your utility hook-ups is directly proportional to the length of your driveway.
#13: House Plans Suitable for Lot or Lot Suitable to House Plans?
Before buying a lot, you may want to see if you can find a house plan that is suitable for the lot. First determine the amount of buildable area you have on the lot. Keep in mind that setbacks and easements will reduce the amount of space that you can use when building a home.
Make sure the lot has the characteristics suitable to the type of home you want to build. For example if you want a side garage or L-shaped garage then you will probably need a wider lot or a corner lot.
Ranch style homes need a larger lot than a 2 story home. Try to make the house fit the lot rather than changing the lot to fit the house. It can be very expensive to modify a lot if it is not suitable for the type of home you want to build.