So you bought your land, now what? What to do next can be a bit intimidating sometimes. Where do you start? Who should you talk to? Although the process varies State to State and even County to County within the same State, we have put together a quick reference guide based upon our own experience in Construction Management(very large projects) to hands-on residential and commercial construction that will get you moving in the right direction and get you asking the right people the right questions, helping you accomplish your goals and dreams. We don’t want to just sell you a nice piece of land, we want to see you get to the finish line!
So when you are first looking for a piece of land, you want to understand some basic things about the property. So let’s start with one of the most important things to consider right from the start and that is:
What is your goal or plan for the land?
– Check and see that the zoning allows for those uses.
Is the Property buildable?
-Check the minimum lot size requirements to build unless you are using it for a recreational type of property and that’s not a concern.
-If Septic is required make sure the property meets any Minimum lot size requirements.
-Another question to ask is was the lot was legally created, this could save you a big headache. Just because a lot was surveyed and recorded does not mean that it was processed and approved through the County.
Are there potential Wetlands?
-Not necessarily a deal-breaker, it is another approval process to go through. Check the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, mapper
https://www.fws.gov/wetlands/Data/Mapper.html or try your County’s Interactive map to indicate potential chances.
Is a Perc test necessary?
-If you are not connecting to a city\municipal sewer supply then you will need a septic system. A Perc test just makes sure there is
proper drainage in the soil.
What kind of Flood Zone are you in?
-Check out County interactive map or FEMA has a reference called the National Flood Hazard Layer (NFHL).
What type of utilities are available?
-It’s mportant if you want to build a home but not a big deal if you are looking for more of an “off the grid” property or solar alternative. If municipal water & sewer services are not available then you would need a Well and Septic system, likely the County\City Health Dept. would be issuing permits.
Understand how you access the property.
-Is there legal access or an easement\right of the way in place? What does Physical access look like?
Typically these questions can be answered\verified by the Planning & Zoning office in the County where the property is located or the City if it is in an Incorporated area, if not it might be the Building Dept. but a call to the County should clear up who you need to speak to.
As far as the Utilities the County\City most likely will know who the providers are and then you would have to contact them directly to get more information.
Are there any deeded restrictions, liens, other parties of interest on the title, how do I make sure I will be the guaranteed owner?
-This is why we close with you at either a third-party reputable, Licensed Title Company or Real Estate Closing Attorney. You have
guaranteed peace of mind land ownership!
So you have your land, you’re excited, ready to go but what’s next? This should help you to navigate and give clarity to the process.
You have a good idea of your property boundaries but here is where you want to know for sure and it will be necessary when you start the building process for you or your builder because this will establish the exact boundaries of your property for building setbacks, fences, knowing what trees and landscaping is yours and to settle any current or future concerns as to where your property is, etc. Unless you have a good referral, start by contacting three well-reviewed and respected companies in the area to give you an estimate and time frame and decide based on who you feel comfortable with, their cost, and when they can do it according to your needs.
Site Plan\Development Plan
Check what your County requires, give some thought to how you want the property designed, and then you can have a site plan drawn up to scale by a professional drafter specializing in them, they are just as good as the high-cost plans produced by engineering firms and this will be used by the County and give anyone working on the project a solid idea of what you are doing. Typically the location of a Well and Septic if applicable(be determined by an application and inspection by the County and\or Contractor) will be included as well as the size of the home’s footprint, driveway, building setbacks, deck, patio, etc.
You will want to check with the County or City and see if you need any type of land use permit, land clearing permit or if any kind of Impact fees are required, etc.
If it is Wetlands which you should know before you purchase, you will most certainly need approval, that process should start with a Wetlands survey which is then submitted to the proper office, likely a State Environmental Agency and possibly a Federal Agency(i.e. Army Corp of Engineers, EPA, etc.) Again, every place is different, just explain what you are doing and that should be enough.
Cleaning it up first will give you an accurate picture of what you are dealing with under all the trees and brush and make getting any estimates easier.
Hire a Builder\General Contractor? Or Do most of it yourself?
They bring a lot of experience to the project and getting them involved in the beginning can definitely save time and money, pointing out potential issues and workarounds. If you want to custom, find a builder\GC that is building the style home you’re looking for. The more they have built something, the easier, more efficient and on budget, you will be.
Starting with a plan the builder has used before or having them help you with the Design\build process may be your best bet starting out. They will also handle all the coordination of the different tradesmen and permits, inspections, and so on.
Managing or Doing it yourself:
This type of project can be done by someone but I would not recommend that unless you have been through the process before or have some real experience. There is a lot to consider, sometimes it looks less expensive but one or more good oversights on anyone’s part can have serious setbacks. Several different modular options are available that can make the process a lot easier with minimal things going wrong. If you do go at it yourself then think about using subcontractors to do specific jobs like Electrical, Plumbing, or any other specialty to make it quicker and easier on yourself.
The Building department typically will let you do most or all of this part, approve your plans and permits as long as you build to code but be aware of the time allowed on your permit and what you need to do to get more time if need be.
Following is a general outline of the major steps in the process, even if you’re hiring a builder, it’s good to have an idea of how this generally works.
UTILITIES(identified in the beginning and allow the estimated time for proper hookups like power to get started if need be)
If you have not gotten a survey yet, then this will generally be your first step followed by an assigned address and permit to excavate\rough cut the driveway which is used as your main entry point accessing the property from here on out.
1). Power: If not using generators or alternate sources, have the power company verify your temporary power set-up needed during the construction phase. They will review your land\site plan and usually send someone out to the job site to figure out the best placement.
2). Sewer\Septic: Permits required and Inspected. Depending on what is available(which you would have identified early on in the buying process) you probably will be required to have this setup and in place prior to starting the foundation and structure of the home. The location should be identified in your previously approved land\site plan. Excavation and Installation start and needs to be inspected and approved.
3). Water\Well: Permits required and Inspected. This is the next thing to get in place. If connecting to a municipal water supply then they would probably connect and stub off the main supply, ready to run lines to the house or hookup a meter with a stubbed line, they will make that determination. If a Well is necessary then a Well drilling company should know the area well enough to let you know how far down they will drill and get you hooked up ready to be run into the house by your plumber when ready.
4). Foundation\Basement Walls: Permit required and inspected. It is best to have this excavated along with the Septic\sewer and water systems to take advantage of doing these areas at the same time so your Contractor is not having to keep making trips and bringing equipment on and off the property. This is definitely preferred if allowed. Concrete forms are set and Cement poured setting the stage for the actual framing and construction to happen next.
5). Framing: Permit required & Inspected. The floors, walls, and roof framing are constructed to stabilize the structure. Typically as the walls(wood) are built on the ground before they are stood up, they are sheeted with plywood,wrapped\weatherproofed unless of course, you are using cement block construction for your exterior walls.
6). Sealing the Roof: Shingles or other roofing materials are installed sealing and waterproofing the top of the structure.
7). Windows & Doors: This is your last step to completely seal and weatherproof the home. Electrical, Plumbing, Heating & Cooling: Permits required & Inspected
8). Now that the home is completely watertight, it’s time to start the above-mentioned. If you are in a colder area you can usually have heat temporarily installed while work is being done. All the Electrical, Plumbing, and HVAC will be roughed in then inspected, then a final inspection when the finishes are in place. If you are managing this part yourself then coordinate or even have these contractors meet at the job so that they can have a planning discussion identifying any workarounds ahead of time.
9). Finishes: This is started after your rough Electric, Plumbing, and HVAC are approved. You can start insulating, boarding up the interior walls, drywall finishing, painting, flooring, cabinets & trim, electrical plate covers, etc. everything needed to produce the final product. If you are working with a builder, they should have a complete walk-through at this point with you when all the finishes are completed making sure everything is what you agreed to and paid for.
10). A final approval typically called your Certificate of Occupancy completes the process officially making the house ready to move in and considered livable.
Consider Energy awareness and solar possibilities when determining which direction your home will face. Knowing the seasonal positions of the sun in your area can help you take advantage of summer light and winter warmth.
North-South Facing Lot: The widest sides of the house should face North and South. To maximize and capture the sun’s light and warmth you may want more windows on the South side as opposed to the North. If you are in excessively hotter climates you may want to expand the windows on the North side instead to get more indirect light.
East-West Facing Lot: From an energy conservation standpoint a home should have the longest side facing South if possible.
Building larger overhangs can help keep the sun out in the summertime when it’s higher in the sky but also allowing you to capture the warmth and light of the sun as it’s positioned lower in the winter sky.
Porches on the East and West sides of the house will give you a shaded area to enjoy and help with the interior cooling as well.
Shading the west-facing walls with bushes or trees to keep the sun off the house helps.
If living spaces or areas facing Northeast or North will let the winter sun in and allow for summer breezes.
If your area experiences colder climates then you should consider starting in the springtime or early summer after the cold weather breaks so you can get the foundation done, the walls and roof framed in and the structure sealed up before the weather starts to change.
When building or designing a home it is best to work with even numbers rounding up or down in two-foot increments to get the most efficient use of the building material and create less waste.
Houses that are rectangular or box shape cost less and are faster to build. The more unique the shapes are the longer and more custom it becomes.
So as you continue down your path to land and homeownership, we hope that you were able to gain some insight and clarity if you were unsure as to where you should start. Best wishes on your endeavors and may you have a prosperous and rewarding experience!