How to Build a House on Undeveloped Land

Build a House on Land 2

So you’ve purchased a land property and are ready to build the home of your dreams. Do you know what the next step is?


Buying land to build a house is the dream of many Americans. However, doing so is a big investment of both time and money. While constructing a house on undeveloped land is the best way to increase property value, there is a great deal of work to be done before building. “Starting from scratch can be exciting, but it’s also a lot more daunting (and expensive), as there are so many factors to take into account.” states Brian Thomas, Master Plumber of Ritz Plumbing.


Find the Right Location


Location is a key component of house building.  One should be certain to survey their land in order to find the best places to put a house, taking care to avoid view obstructions and marshy areas.  In fact, it is a good idea to visit city hall prior to purchasing land to obtain the property information.  It is also a sensible approach to consider one’s neighbors, as well as the area’s crime rate and population demographics before buying a land property. The Health Department is a useful resource for finding out sewer and water code information, while the Assessor’s Office and the City Planning Commission can help prospective landowners understand local zoning laws.


Accessibility is another chief concern of many homeowners. Areas where homes are located should be able to be reached, even during the winter months, and roads should be wide enough for vehicles to pass.  Grades, inclines, and utility availability should also be considered. Potential landowners will need to have a soil testing done prior to buying an property.



Obtain the Utilities Information


Certain undeveloped land locations are better suited to providing both electricity and running water than others.  Homeowners should check with the local authorities in order to get the best deals on both. Brian Thomas of Ritz Plumbing says utilities are important to consider, “For about half of the jobs that I take on, water and electricity need to be installed on the property.  Sometimes, however, there are existing pipes we can build from and connect to the new home…We occasionally have to drill a well. But more often, we deal with septic systems. Once in a while, they need to be built entirely, which can take a lot of time and manpower.”  Some locations come with pre-existing utility systems, due to the presence of earlier homes, and this can alleviate a great many of the expenses involved in starting from scratch.


Nashville architect, Ryan Thewes, relates his own story about constructing a building on undeveloped land. “One issue that was discovered during this process was that the sewer line didn’t extend all the way down to my client’s property… Whatever the resolution is, it will be costly and is an unexpected addition to our project’s budget.  So the lesson and advice here is to make sure you have your property surveyed and utilities marked prior to purchasing [it].”


Build a House on Land 3

Avoid Obstacles


Water is an obvious obstacle that can limit available land for construction, but hidden underground obstacles such as old wells, large rocks, or cemeteries can also pose difficulties to building a home on undeveloped land.  Landowners should also check to make sure their house is not being built on a flood plain, especially if their property contains areas with standing water.


Eric Bonetti, Licensed Realtor at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Virginia, had a cautionary tale about building on clay.  A local bank was donating land for a women’s shelter in a situation that seemed beneficial to both parties.  Yet, as he states, “The reality was far different. The land turned out to be a type of clay that is unstable, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in unplanned engineering and remediation costs.  The house eventually went up, but it nearly bankrupted the organization, and it would have been cheaper to just buy the land.”  Naturally, landowners should seek to avoid both obstacles and problematic property areas when deciding to build.



Learn Local Land Laws

Get a good grip on the tax laws that relate to your land property. Pablo Solomon warns, “you must know the law.”


“In our area if you buy a property with an agricultural exemption, you must show that you are raising livestock or crops for money for at least three years to maintain the exemption.  If you try to sell the land before the three years, you must payback taxes at the higher non agricultural rate.  Also, in Texas the people in counties in which there are oil facilities which are very valuable and pay high taxes, pay almost no local property taxes.  Those with no industries pay higher rates of property tax to finance their schools, roads, etc.


Pablo Solomon, experienced Artist and Designer, advises those purchasing land to try to acquire mineral rights. “In some states you can own the surface property without owning the minerals under the surface” and this can lead to later difficulties if ores are discovered on one’s land. Keep in mind however, that mineral rights are not always available, or would require extremely extensive research through decades of ownership. 


Set a Budget


Once the prospective homeowner has ensured the location they intend to build is accessible to roads, well suited for utilities, and free of all obstacles, they can then begin to construct their dream house.  However, one should know exactly how much they plan to spend before they start building.  Planning home construction projects that are a bit under budget is recommended, in case something goes amiss.


Pablo Solomon advises to make an extremely detailed architectural and landscaping plan. “This will allow you to collect materials on sale.  The more materials that you can buy at discounts, the more you save on construction costs.  The fewer changes that you make once construction starts, the more you save.  Also by having your heating and AC installed at a discount in an off season you will save a lot.”


Build a House on Land 3

Decide on a House Style and Contractor


While not for everyone, modular, manufactured, or mobile homes are quick and affordable to install. If prefabricated housing options are not to one’s taste, hiring a local contractor with good reviews and the expertise to build a custom house is another possibility.  A quality contractor should be able to explain what housing types would work best in any given area, as well as how to proceed from that point.  Homeowners should also decide if they would like to work with a custom home builder or a production home builder.  Before choosing to work with a contractor, find out what types of warranties they offer and if they have any type of service plan after the house is built.  It is a good idea to shop around to get the most for one’s money.


Be Realistic


While most everyone can paint walls or sand floorboards, constructing a home requires a great many specialized tasks prior to completion.  Homeowners should feel free to perform the tasks that meet their skill sets and leave the rest to professionals.  Building a house can take as many as six months and potential homeowners should keep a realistic time frame in mind when planning to construct their own house.


Have any other tips on how to buy land and build a house?  Let us know in the comments below or on our social channels!


Find your future home location on one of our beautiful properties for sale across the U.S.



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Photo Credit: Dave Price, Ryan G. Bilger, Jaksmata | Wikimedia Commons


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[…] & Associates, LLP, strongly recommends a land survey. “If the land or home buyer plans to erect any improvements (shed, fence, etc.) they will need to make sure they remain within their boundaries and they will […]

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I find it awesome that you reminded me to know that buying vacant land for agricultural purposes would require proof of raising livestock or crops for at least three years. My mother asked me for help to find her a farm so that she can retire there. With your tips, I will use them to find one that can fit her budget. Speaking of budget, any tips on how to purchase farm homes?

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