When it comes to designing and building a home, some people may already have readily available land. But a majority of the time, people have yet to acquire it. For those who already have land, and those adding on or renovating, you can jump to the next Pre-Design section. But for the rest of you, keep reading…
In this section, we’ll walk you through the process of learning what to look for in new land, how to look for it, and then actually buying that perfect property for your home.
Purchasing land can occur at various points throughout the planning and design process. Other resources and professionals have varying opinions on the best time to purchase land. We’ve chosen to discuss it at this part in the process for two reasons:
- It’s best to have a general idea of what you want to build first, meaning it’s best to have already gone through the exercise of creating a Project Brief (We covered this in the previous Brainstorm section).
- Before you start to seriously focus on designing your home, it’s best to have a specific lot selected so that you and your design team can properly site and orient your home to the lay of the land, taking into consideration the topography, sun paths, climate conditions, and any other site related site features that could affect the design. (We cover this in the next Pre-design section.)
(The exercise of finding land will most likely occur simultaneously with the Pre-Design and the Design phase. But for the sake of clarity, we decided to give ‘Acquire Land’ its own section because it’s an important step in the process.)
WHAT TO KNOW WHEN LOOKING FOR LAND
It’s important to keep in mind your project requirements when shopping for land. Much of this information comes from the Project Brief that you created in the previous Brainstorm section. (The hard work you already put into making an awesome Project Brief will shine through as you start to explore different land opportunities.)
Your Project Brief should give you a framework and starting point in looking for land. It should tell you how big you need or want your house and approximately how much you can spend on the project so you can factor in the price of land into your budget. It should also tell you whether you should look for land in a specific city, neighborhood, or geographical area, and if there are any defining characteristics of the land or environment that will help meet your goals.
As we mentioned in the section introduction, looking for and purchasing land often occurs concurrently with a few tasks in the Pre-Design and Design phases. An early pre-design analysis on potential lots prior to buying is great. That way, it helps to ensure the lot is capable of meeting all your goals and objectives – and to make sure you don’t encounter any unpleasant surprises. (You’d hate to buy a lot only to find out it is zoned commercial or that you can only build on half of it because of setbacks or an easement.)
When evaluating potential sites, check zoning restrictions, owner history, tax information, deed restrictions, and site-specific conditions that might pose issues such as inadequate utility access, irregularly shaped sites, and soil conditions that can all have significant budgetary or design impacts. And let’s not forget potential nuisances such as neighborhood noise levels, smells, unsightly views, volatile neighbors, and aggressive neighborhood pets. Understanding these site and neighborhood conditions are crucial to selecting the best land for your project.
If you plan to work with an architect or designer, this is a good time to engage with them. An architect has expertise in zoning and code related issues and can advise you on your options. If you are conflicted between a few different sites, an architect can perform a feasibility study and test fit options to see which site would best meet your goals and objectives. This activity is invaluable at this early stage.
Finding a lot to build your house on is a big challenge to many aspiring homeowners. Not every piece of land is suitable for your particular project needs or is within your budget. Plan to spend a good deal of time – many months – looking for the right lot. You can also ask your realtor for market conditions to understand the supply and demand for land in your area as well as how long the process usually takes.
Here are some ways to find available property:
- Use internet resources such as Realtor.com, www.land.net, www.lotfinders.com.
- Utilize the assistance of a real estate agent.
- Do some sleuthing yourself by driving around looking for For Sale signs or empty lots. Don’t be afraid to find out who the owner is of an empty lot you’re interested in and ask if they are interested in selling. Public records are usually available at the courthouse to find out who owns properties in question. You can also check newspaper ads, local magazine ads, or grocery store bulletin boards.
- Use your network of friends, family, and acquaintances. Talk about your new project and tell them you’re looking for property. They may know someone willing to sell you land.
After you’ve selected the property you want, you’ll either purchase it in cash or finance it.
Understanding the purchase process:
- Determine your offering terms and price – perform a cost analysis on the property: review property selling price, house construction cost with potential site work costs included, local market comparables with finished house, etc.
- Present the offer to the seller and negotiate – Complete an offer form and present it with a good faith check (1-3% purchase price) to the seller. The money is deposited into an escow account upon acceptance of the offer until closing is complete. You and the seller can then negotiate the deal through subsequent counter-offers. Also, if you have any upfront concerns, you may want to add contingencies to the offer that allow you to walk away from the offer if your findings are unfavorable.
- Make an application with your lender – Complete your loan application with your chosen lender. The lender orders an appraisal (You pay the cost of the appraisal upfront.) The appraisal accompanies the loan application and your credit documentation. Pending approval of the loan, the lender gives you a good faith estimate which includes your loan amount with all the closing costs, which usually ranges from 3-6% of the purchase price.
- Starting the closing process – Visit an escow company or title insurance company, hand over the deposit money, and give details about the transaction.
- Do your due diligence – Because you might not have time to research the property thoroughly before putting in an offer (in a hot market), now is your chance to complete any additional research on the land to make sure it’s still a favorable transaction.
- Loan approval and execution of the paperwork – As soon as your loan is approved, bring your money (or wire transfer it) to the escow company or title insurance company and sign all the loan documents.
- Finalize the closing – The escow or title company provides you with the deed to the land and a policy insuring you own it. The company then pays the seller the money due and records the transaction.
Unlike mortgages and construction loans, the length of lot/land loans is usually less than 5 years. The lot loan needs to be in place until the construction loan goes into effect (absorbing the remaining cost of the land into it). How long it takes to start the building phase of your project may vary. The amount of time spent in the design phase, in the planning approvals process, and how busy the construction market is are all factors that play into how long you think it will take to start construction. After talking to your architect/designer/contractor team, figure out how long you think it will take and then add on an additional year just to be safe when setting the loan length for land purchase.
Buying land in cash
If you intend to buy land using your own cash, the shopping and selection process is the same. The only difference is you won’t have to go through a lender to purchase the property. You’ll work directly with the lot owner to settle the terms of the purchase.
Can’t get a bank loan?
Hard money refers to money from private investors who specialize in making real estate loans. Hard money lenders aren’t concerned with credit or income. So, if a bank won’t give you a loan, hard money lenders may be better than not buying the lot at all. The downside of hard money lending is that interest rates are higher.
- Determine your requirements for the property.
- Select property.
- Purchase or acquire property.
Need more help? Here are additional resources related to this section.
All downloadable resources can be found in our Resource Library. Sign up to gain exclusive access.
- Checklist: Land Purchase Guide
- Checklist: Property Evaluation Guide
- Worksheet: Finding the Right Land For Your Project
Over To You…
Now that you’re more familiar with what to look for in your search for land and how to go about finding land, your adventure begins in finding that perfect place for your future home. In following these steps, you will find the right property to fit your project and understand the steps necessary to purchase the land.
Purchasing land is the first BIG step in realizing your dream project. It’s the first decision that results in a physical ownership of something. With land ownership now comes the fun part of understanding the land, the geography, the climate, and other physical attributes that might affect your home design. We discuss this in the next Pre-Design section.