What to Consider When Buying Land for a Custom Home?

Buying a piece of land is a big commitment, and the process can be overwhelming at times.

What considerations should you make when deciding to buy a piece of land? Great views or access to a favorite recreation area are generally the primary reasons people purchase property. However, you still need to do your homework on the property to avoid unexpected costs later.

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While not every issue is foreseeable, educating yourself about a piece of property can save you time and money. The topics below are good starting points to minimize the unknown factors that could affect your custom home project.



What Should I Ask About the Land?


  • Do the aesthetics of the land meet your vision when combined with a log home? As an extreme example, you would not want purchase a prairie lot if your vision includes tall pine trees.
  • Is the land located near your other interests and activities? If you ski every chance you get, then purchasing a ski-in/ski-out lot may be worth the cost.
  • What is the future use of the land surrounding this piece of land? You want to understand the area’s zoning because that can impact your view and space whether it is a three-story home or a noisy roadway. Check with your builder, local building department, title companies, and neighbors to uncover factors not easily noticeable.
  • Is the lot buildable? It is well worth the money to have your lot surveyed to better understand its topography. Remember that retaining walls, roads and driveways, utilities, and special permits drive up the cost of the home’s construction.

Federal and State Lands


Pay close attention to regulations that may apply to the land on a state and federal level. Even if the land is privately owned, it may be subject to certain restrictions. For example, wildlife conservation rules may limit where you can build a road to your home or the use of overhead power lines.

Investigate federal and state land restrictions, then think about how they might impact your building site and your intended lifestyle. Some questions to consider include: Are you willing to design or modify your site and home design to comply? Do you need to expand your budget to meet regulations? Finally, does this greatly affect your vision of your custom home?

Transportation and Access


Selecting a remote location may give you more privacy, but building on remote land can dramatically increase the cost to build. For instance, you may be responsible for an access road. Or building crews may charge extra for accessing remote construction sites. Other questions to ask include:

  • How far is your site from major road access?
  • Is the road wide enough for trucks and a crane to get through?

Zoning and Building Codes


Today, a building lot may have a gorgeous view. However, a development could obstruct that view in the future. It is important to understand the plan for the land surrounding your building site.

Contact the local building department and research the zoning around your potential site. Talk with local contractors, title companies, and neighbors to understand any factors that are not readily apparent. If the area around the potential lot is zoned for a subdivision, does that change your decision to buy?

You should also understand easements, covenants, deed restrictions, and other legal issues associated with your potential property. Consult with a lawyer if there seems to be anything unusual. This is a good time to ask the building department about permit requirements on that specific lot.



Water, power, and sewer or septic systems can be very expensive to install. If you are considering building in a remote area or off the beaten path, check to see what utilities are available.

If the property requires connections, then get a good understanding of the costs associated with installation. Contact the local utilities to learn more about connection fees and the cost to extend their systems to your potential lot. Alternatively, experienced local contractors may be able to estimate set up costs and timelines.

Once you have the information, you can decide if you want to increase your budget for these added costs, sacrifice other aspects of your project for the location, or find a new site.

What Should I Know About Utilities?


  • Are utilities and/or amenities available? Developed lots may be more expensive because utilities are already there, whereas undeveloped lots require you to install utilities at your expense driving up construction costs. Developed lots in a subdivision may come with a community clubhouse, swimming pool, or other amenities. Please consult with a professional before buying an undeveloped lot. It is tricky, costly, and sometimes, not even feasible to install utilities.
  • Does the lot have water? If you cannot get city or municipal water, or drill a well, then lack of water is a deal breaker.
  • Is the soil appropriate for a septic drain field? If the lot does not have sewer access, then it will require a septic tank and drain field. Have a perc (percolation) test done to assess the soil condition and if it is appropriate for a septic drain field.
  • What other knowledge of the land should you have? Ensure you are fully informed of easements, access, setbacks, zoning, and other legal considerations. If anything is unusual, please consult a lawyer as the ability to get title insurance is critical.



Your design is married to your location. M-T-N Design will use tools, such as topography maps, to fit your home perfectly into its environment. However, your potential site may limit what an architectural designer can do. It is sometimes a good idea to involve an architectural designer on the front end of your project to help evaluate if your vision will work on the potential site you are considering.

These are just a few land buying considerations to have on your radar when looking at a piece of property to help avoid costly surprises later. As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details,” and that definitely holds true for land purchases.

When Should I Walk Away?


  • Soggy soil or underground water. Understand how the dry and wet seasons affect the lot.
  • If the developer does not fulfill promises, be wary. Have a plan in the event that the developer defaults.
  • The title, easements, access requirements, or local building codes are not clear.
  • You cannot get full disclosure on the land.
  • When you cannot get clear information on the development of the surrounding land.

Even if you plan to keep your home indefinitely, resale value is important. Follow these guidelines to ensure you make a sound investment in your land. Learn how M-T-N Design designs your home to match the contours of your land while meeting jurisdictional requirements and regulatory codes.

Read about local covenants and design review boards.

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