CityMelt Blog Data beyond just cities.

July 3, 2010

How to buy land to build your own home

Filed under: Home Buyers — steve @ 11:56 AM

My wife and I wanted to build a Victorian home on a few acres of land and spent several months reading about how to build using a general contractor.  We learned a lot about how a house is built and how to buy land.

Here is a checklist I created on how to buy land. I’m not an expert but hopefully you can find a few nuggets of information that will help you to build your own dream home.  Someday we hope to build when we have more time to dedicate to the project.


  • Ask attorney if open space can revert back to some other zoning someday
  • Ask current land owner for professional survey of property to determine boundary lines
  • Buy land contingent on ability to install septic for number of bedrooms needed
  • Does site have water rights and does it convey with land?
  • Should I get new boundary survey?
  • Get 90 day contingency to inspect land
  • Get title search to show easements & restrictive covenants
  • Study deed carefully


  • Research the property history at property records office
  • Drainage. Pooling of water from slope? Visit after heavy rain
  • Trees need to be removed to make way for house?
  • 8 degree slope should be limit to build due to expense
  • Be sure you buy site on public road not a private road unless you have easement
  • Can septic be installed so you can built house in best location and far enough from well?
  • Check light on site at different times of day
  • Do you need to power lot – cost to bring in polls – could be $10/foot
  • Easy to put well & septic in or is it costly?
  • Energy surcharges to ship building supplies to site?
  • High water table or bare rock is bad
  • How hard to excavate and how hard to put in basement?
  • Know what technically is required to place home correctly
  • Loamy soil is best (balance of clay, sand, organic matter that appears rich and dark in color)
  • Look for “future” utilities on your easements – big electrical towers, etc.
  • Are junky yards adjacent to yours or too many animals, etc.
  • Should have survey, especially if land is irregular – walk land to see property line problems
  • Site above 100 year flood plain?
  • Size is not always important – shape of property is important too
  • Trees, view, rectangular shape, gently slope or none, good location, streams are all good
  • Ask county or town time to clear snow with plow – ask neighbors
  • Ask neighbors about power fluctuations and road condition problems
  • Talk to neighbors about power fluctuations and road condition problems
  • Talk to neighbors around lot – what don’t they like about area?
  • Cable, electric, phone, cell phone
  • Fire department nearby? Do I need a pond for emergencies?
  • How far is hospital, police, ambulance, fire station
  • Trash pickup available?
  • Will propane service deliver and trench lines?


  • Negotiate land by pointing out negatives that really don’t matter to you
  • Get an appraisal – not much land is sold
  • How much land in excess of surplus – less value then what is required


  • Bare land can suffer from over erosion
  • Do I need an environmental audit? Rural trash pits used to be normal
  • Don’t want hard cracking ground when dry and sticky soil when wet – expansive soils
  • Farm land contain pesticides or leaking storage tanks?
  • Fill brought in for some reason?
  • Natural hazards or soil problems?
  • Noxious weeds / plant disease
  • Old buried oil and gas tanks? Past overgrazing problems?
  • Test soil for residual contamination and disease
  • U.S. Geological survey to learn about terrain & features of land


  • Does water taste sulfurous? Need filter system – cost?
  • Find out depth of water table to determine difficulty of digging
  • Find out average depth to water from county
  • Wells on neighboring properties can be good indicator of easily finding water
  • How deep does well need to be – affects drilling costs
  • Top of watershed is better so less chance of toxins, etc. in water
  • Ask local septic enforcement officer about type of septic needed
  • Check date of septic peculation test – may be too old


  • Deed restriction or town restriction on your home type
  • Frontage improvements needed – drainage, etc?
  • Maps of existing development, planned roads, utility extensions, locations of planned dumps
  • Trees can easily be removed or need special permission?
  • What could be built around your property? Also, where is local landfill, mine, etc.
  • Zoning of site? Open land or nature reserve could become a shopping mall someday
  • What is county long range plan? Garbage dump, prison, 6 lane freeway?


  • Ask new property owners for contractor references
  • Always buy land that is located as close to those amenities that an area is known for
  • Be very afraid of unrestricted land use. Restrictions sometimes are good
  • Be wary of odors and noise
  • Call owner if land has back taxes due – find info. From tax collector
  • Junked cars on land is in a way good – they don’t cause problems and can lower land value
  • Land should be 25% – 30% of total project cost
  • Narrow lot in populated area is less expensive and good for social
  • Many builders have land/build packages which can eliminate much research on land
  • May have to fence property to keep hunters and illegal dumpers out
  • Reselling a country home is harder than populated area

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