How to Buy a Plot of Land for a House

Every story has a plot.

And your future home’s story includes a plot of land. Once you’ve narrowed down the region where you’re interested in living, you can start the process of acquiring vacant land that fits your needs and wants. 

Finding prospective land

As with many tasks, often a good place to start is with a web search. Searches for “vacant land” or “plot of land” along with your desired location will yield results for available land listings. 

Most results will include links to public online marketplaces, such as Land Watch or even Craigslist, where land buyers can connect with land sellers. Often realtors and brokers use these sites to advertise their available properties to the public. 

In an ideal world, these listings would be simple. A person finds a plot of land they like. Said person then contacts the realtor or seller about the land, and the rest is history. They negotiate, exchange money, shake hands, and land is sold. 

But, ah, the plot thickens. It’s an agent’s world. Given the legal hoops associated with selling land, many plot owners often work with a broker. This means that you, as a buyer, can greatly benefit from having a professional agent in your corner too. 

Go with a broker

Not only can they tap into the popular Multiple Listing Service (MLS) used by real estate agents, they can use their everyday professional network to find the available land options that align with your needs, desires and budget.

And when it comes to the negotiation process, they’ve been around the block, literally. They know land prices in your area and the landscape of the market. They’ll leverage this information and their experience to get you the best value for the land. 

Bring in the builder

I am a strong advocate for bringing in your builder or potential builder at this stage. An experienced builder has a thorough understanding of the nuanced relationship between a house and the land it is built upon. 

If you have a house design in mind, a builder can help you to evaluate how well your prospective land would complement your ideal home. For example, if you want a basement in your home, then a sloping lot would be more cost-effective than a flat piece of land. Moving flat earth to make room for a basement can quickly turn into a high-dollar digging job.

Additionally, a builder can advise you on other land factors that could affect building costs. For example, if rock is discovered during the foundation-digging stages of building your home, you may have to pay for blasting work to move forward. Your builder, from understanding the land, can help you determine the potential costs of making space for your home.

Ask questions

Lastly, we encourage you to ask both your broker and your builder questions to ensure that you’re ultimately buying a piece of land that fits your needs and wants. 

Will the site work for the type of house I want?

As mentioned, in an ideal world, you want your house plan and the land to complement each other. From a cost-standpoint a single-level home is generally easier to achieve on a flat site, and a basement plan is easier to realize when the existing land is already sloped.

You may want to think about aesthetics too. For example, if you’re envisioning large windows with a beautiful sunrise or sunset for your dream home, make sure you have the view you want too.

What are the zoning laws for the land?

Local governments establish regulations and restrictions for land to ensure that all development matches their vision for the area. The zoning dictates what you can do with the land you buy.

Depending on the area, the impact of zoning laws on an owner can range from negligible to cumbersome. Some areas will have few restrictions. The laws will allow you to build your desired house and use the land however you please. Other land areas may have restrictions that are tedious and frustrating. 

For example, some landowners may be required to share parts of their land with the public for services like roads, sidewalks and waterfront access. Subdivisions and planned neighborhoods may place strict requirements on house features such as: size, the type of exterior materials, exterior color and roof pitch (or steepness of roof). Additionally there may be restrictions on the number of pets or the landscaping.

If you’re looking at a lakefront property so that you can dock your boat in your backyard, just make sure there are no potential restrictions that could make this difficult for you.

Think about the future too. Do zoning laws mean that the neighbors at your countryside home could eventually be a large manufacturing facility or a gas station? Or maybe the backyard of your suburban home could be a shopping mall? These are examples of things you may want to consider.

Will local water and sewage services be available for the land?

Check if you need what’s called a “perk permit.” If your prospective land does not have access to a city sewer network it will need a septic unit, and a perk permit will be required to install it. 
If your property will be on a local sewer network, then no need to worry. If the land is not on a local sewer network, then you want to ensure that your land “perks” before buying. If the land doesn’t “perk,” you won’t be able to build a home.

Will the size of the property match my needs for the house, outdoor use and privacy?

The size of the property is important for the size of house you want. Remember to look on the site survey for setbacks, or areas in which you are not allowed to build. You are generally not allowed to build close to the edges of the property. Setbacks will vary depending on zoning restrictions and whether it’s the front, side or back of a lot. 

A setback of 25 feet is not uncommon for land, but there may be larger setbacks which may impact where on the lot that you can build your house.

Conclusion

Yes, there are many elements to consider when buying a plot of land, but don’t be discouraged from taking this step. Most land purchases are simple, and have little to no complications for the owner when they’re ready to build.

There are questions to ask, but many great brokers and builders will ask them for you to ensure that you buy land that meets your needs and desires. Empowered with the right knowledge and help, finding a site to build your dream home can be a land of opportunity. And it’s an opportunity worth seizing. After all, the land you live on is just as much your home as the house itself.