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When I first began diving into real estate, I had no idea how many different variables went into determining the “build-ability” of land. When it comes down to it, there isn’t a concrete answer or exact formula to know figure it out. For me, that was frustrating, because the land’s build-ability directly affects its value. Fortunately, there are a handful of definitive signs that can shed light on whether your land is build-able or not.
When I’m looking at a property, the first and foremost thing I look at is the zoning. Zoning plays a very important role in what can or cannot be built on a property. Zoning is usually determined by the county planning department. Depending on the county, there can be hundreds of different zoning codes, which can make things confusing. One of the easiest ways to look it up is to go onto the county assessor’s website. Then find the zoning code related to your parcel number (APN) and call the assessor’s office and ask them what that code means. Alternatively, you can look up the definitions of each code on their website, which would be significantly more time consuming.
The second aspect that I will typically look at is the topography of the property. If a property is located on a steep slope, ravine, river bed, cliff, or unstable soil, this can make many properties unbuildable, and sometimes virtually useless. If you are unable to visit the property, one quick and easy way to check the topography is to use Google Earth. Google Earth will allow you to view all the valleys, cliffs, hills, and rivers next to the property, to see if the land is buildable.
A third question that I ask to see if the land is build-able is: Are there any available utilities?
In other words, does it have water, gas, electricity, or sewer?If a property doesn’t have access to a common water supply, will it be difficulty to transport the water in, or build a water tower?If the property is located in a cold climate, both gas and electricity can be crucial for heating any new building. Also, if the soil on property doesn’t percolate, putting in a septic tank can be almost impossible. The absence of these things could create a need to sell your land fast.
The 4th aspect that I look to see if land is build-able, is the ability to obtain for both city and county permits. Depending on the county that the land is located in, obtaining permits can either be a breeze, or a nightmare. Again, this sort of thing can be explored by calling the county directly, or visiting their website.
Lastly, I will look up the history of building permits for the land. This can be a great indicator as to what types of future permits will be accepted or rejected, and the time frame that it took for the response. It would be a huge red flag if you want to apply for a permit, and all previous permits have been denied. They could have been denied for a number of reasons, but at the end of the day, it might just be easier to find a buyer for the land, and build on a completely different property.
These 5 things will generally lead you in the right direction if you are evaluating your property, however, they shouldn’t be used for concrete decision purposes. To truly find out if your land is build-able, it would be best to contact a local builder, and get a professional’s legal opinion.