Draw a Plot Plan:
- Ask your realtor, title company, or assessor’s office for copies of the tax maps for any home building lots you are considering buying. This is not as detailed or accurate as a survey, so use a survey if there is one.
- Draw in the required front, side and rear setbacks (from the zoning regulations for the particular zone).
- Add lines to show any legal restrictions (from the title report).
- If there is a geological report, draw in lines to show any restrictions from that source.
- If there is a septic approval, draw in the area which must be used for the septic tank and drain field as well as the set-back required between the septic system and the house, well, property lines, etc.
- If there are trees you want to preserve, draw them in, allowing for their root spread (approximately the same diameter as the crown).
- Block out areas that are not buildable because of too steep a slope, unstable soil or other geological conditions.
Building Envelope: What you have left is your “building envelope.” Measure this to find out how many square feet you have available for your ground floor. How many additional stories you can build depends on the zoning regulations regarding maximum height. (See Part I of this article). Is the total square footage going to be enough for the house you have in mind? Remember a house does not have to have an even rectangular footprint. (A footprint is the outline of the foundation on the ground). A designer can work around restrictions and create a beautiful home design even with a very oddly-shaped footprint or building envelope.
Budget: Costs to build a new home may include:
- Land cost
- Real estate fees
- Legal fees
- Survey costs
- Geologist and/or engineering fees
- Government required permits and fees
- Homeowners association dues
- Utility costs
- Design costs
- Site development, including grading and roads
- Construction building costs
- Deck costs
- Property taxes
- Bank loan costs
If you buy the land without considering the costs, you may find yourself short and needing to reduce the size or quality of the house or even to delay building.
Design: It is usually not practical to settle on a house design without having a specific piece of land in mind, since a house is best designed to fit the lot. This is the problem with stock plans. The house should fit the contours of the land and be oriented correctly to the sun, wind and views. What you can do is to consult a home designer. With knowledge of the site, the restrictions, your own needs and desires, and your budget, a residential designer can tell you what size and quality house would be within your means on that particular lot.
Sometimes the situation and view of the land is more important than the size of the house. If this is the case, and the lot won’t accommodate the size you wanted within the building envelope, a designer can help you down-size your house to fit the lot, keeping your most important needs and wants, and letting go of the ones that are less important.
However, if you absolutely need a bigger house, you might consider looking for another piece of land or even making a lower offer for the one you like. You never can tell what a buyer might accept!