Things you must know
before buying land
(Determine these characteristics of property you are considering buying)
View: Views can have three levels — controlled, local and expansive. Controlled views look into a yard or prepared place on your property which you maintain. Local views look out onto nearby land you either don’t own or don’t attempt to maintain. Expansive views go out to infinity and include water, mountain and "big sky" views.
Soil: For strong foundations you
stable firm soil under the house,
preferably sand, gravel or a good loam. Soils with clay and hardpan can
water and expand when they freeze and slide when wet. Silt may not have
enough bearing capacity for normal foundations. Build on dry,
drained soil or anticipate problems. Have a soil test done or talk to
neighbors about issues.
Access: How do you get to the building site? Will the driveway or road be easy to build and maintain? (Determine slope with the inclinometer.) Will there be extra costs for services and utility lines? Access issues are often a tradeoff with privacy considerations. Make sure you have deeded access to the property, not just an understanding with a neighbor.
Sunlight: Will the site get good sunlight during the heating season? Are there trees or buildings that will interfere with future access to light? Can a building be designed to take advantage of both sunlight and views? Can you plant for summer shade? You may want to chart the sunpath of the site.
Weather protection: Which direction do storms come from and is the site fully exposed or does it get some protection from trees or land? How has the local vegetation fared? Some sites will also need to consider fire, flash flood, landslide and earthquake protection. (Trees can provide wind protection for 3x their height.)
Pollution: Is the site protected from noise, light, and smells? Can these be controlled by placement of plantings, fences or outbuildings? Could the water system be contaminated by nearby activity? What things are further away from you that may infringe on this property (check a detailed zoning map). Determine the seasonal wind direction and what it will bring to you.
Expandability: Is there enough room at this site for all the things you want to do? Consider all future buildings, gardens and landscaping. Picture the finished compound on this site.
Site Slope: The best site will allow air and water to drain away from the site naturally. Consider the path of smoke. Don't build in a hollow, cold dead air will collect there. Steep sites will have extra expenses for access.
Gardens, landscaping and crops: How is the site from the point of view of plants you wish to grow? Good soil for a house (quick draining with gravel and sand) is not ideal for a garden. You can bring in better soil for landscaping plants near the house, but if you will be doing extensive gardening or raising crops, you may want to place the house closer to better gardening soils.
Water and waste systems: Will this site be a problem for water lines, well placement, septic drainfield or sewer lines? Are additional costs involved? Check with local heath agencies for permit requirements and talk to installers for well and septic options. These can be deal breakers, don't buy land where these are unknown.
Future Development: Can you parcel off some of the land and sell it if you wanted to in the future? Are raising property values and taxes going to impact your plans?
Site Checklist [click HERE for a printer friendly version]
When considering different properties or building sites, print a checklist for each one.
Date _________ Location _________________________________
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