The phone rings. I answer. The person on the other side says: “I’d like some information about building a custom home and where to begin, can you help me?” My answer is always in the affirmative. Then I ask, “Do you already have a lot?” This is where it begins. The homesite, the lot, the dirt, it can make or break your vision of your dream home.
Sometimes, the client already has the lot, and they would need to design their home according to the size, shape and view it offers. Sometimes, they have not purchased their lot yet, and this is where we can explore their vision and get some answers. There are several initial considerations like area of town to live in, developed community with a homeowners association or out in a rural non-planned community, city views or not, price range, etc.
The next part of the discussion is a bit more personal, pertaining to the vision — like size of home, how many rooms and garages, single story or two story, and style. These thoughts help with finding the right-sized lot. There’s nothing worse than having a vision of your dream home than finding out your lot isn’t big enough to handle that much house.
Once we have some basic information in place, we can begin to get more detailed. I like to give educational information and pull from experiences.
First and foremost, I interject my opinion that the client should have a real estate professional who knows about dirt represent him or her. An agent will save the client a lot of time and headaches in the search and purchase.
When looking in rural areas, there are lower-priced lots that may seem appealing, but then it’s discovered that there is much groundwork and utilities needing to be brought in, so that low price is now much higher than expected. Public water or well, gas or propane, sewer or septic, these are huge factors to consider that can determine scope of work and placement on the lot. If rural is the route the client chooses, I always suggest at least a 30- to 45-day due diligence period in the offer so the client can do homework like a soils report and check in with the local jurisdiction to see if there are any easements or drainage concerns.
There was a client who had purchased a 4-acre parcel, and years later when he was ready to build, he discovered there was a water easement that went at a diagonal straight through the center of his property, so he could only build his home on a portion of his property. That was frustrating and could’ve been avoided in the due diligence period of the purchase.
If the client is looking within a planned community, generally the utilities are already brought to the property and a soil report for the community as a whole has been conducted, but I still suggest a 30- to 45-day due diligence period in the offer to conduct a soil report for that lot so he or she can be informed of soil conditions, caliche or drainage concerns.
Other factors to consider are the size of the home and if the utilities linked to the lot will be substantial enough to support the size of the home. A large home with a large power draw may need to an upgrade to the power meter, or larger homes may need to an upgraded water meter or a separate water line for fire sprinkler system. The due diligence period is the time to examine the utilities to get informed of what is offered.
In both rural and planned communities, there are flat lots and hillside lots. The hillside lot has a few more considerations than the flat lot. The hillside choice can make for an impressive main level with walk-out basement but will take more excavation, retaining walls and stairs, so make sure to add that to your cost calculations. Flat lots are highly sought-after, may easily build a single-story but can be higher priced than the hillside lots.
No matter of flat or hillside lot, homeowners will always need their property line walls. If they have common walls with an adjoining property, the cost should be shared with the neighbor. Once the client feels comfortable about what he or she is going to tackle in choosing a lot, we can get into the design process. But that is a topic for another day. In the meantime get out there and stake your claim!
Patty Martinez is the director of sales and marketing for Sun West Custom Homes and the broker for Sun West Luxury Realty,firstname.lastname@example.org.