Finding a piece of land for a new home (more than you ever wanted to know about buying a lot)

I mentioned our long process of finding a lot in my last post. This is a crucial decision and one that should be carefully considered because so many factors are involved. Over time, after looking at lots, we consolidated our “wish list” to help narrow our search, rather than considering every crazy piece of land that popped up on the MLS. Having said that, we agreed that getting every item on the list would be unlikely, so we had to be prepared for making concessions.

Here are the things we had to consider:

  • Price – what could we afford to pay for land considering the cost building of the floor plan we wanted? If you’re looking to build and are flexible about your floor plan and the size of your house, you may be willing to spend more on the land and sacrifice some square footage for it. Since we had our hearts set on a certain floor plan, we didn’t have a lot of wiggle room with our land budget.

  • Location – we have learned how hard it is for our lifestyle when we have a long distance to drive for everything. We knew we wanted to be within a short distance of the kids’ school, and in the direction of Chad’s work. Not only that, but we wanted to be within the district boundaries of the high school that we want Luke and Maggie to attend, as that will be an issue a few years from now and we don’t want to move again any time soon! Also consider: traffic, proximity of shopping, hospital, doctors, etc.

  • Size – many, many houses in Tucson are built very close together. Again, this is a lifestyle thing, but for us, especially coming from back east, we knew we wanted some elbow room – preferably around an acre or more with room for a pool and backyard entertaining. On the other end of the spectrum, maybe you’re looking for a low-maintenance lot and a small yard would be perfect for you so that you’re not tied down to a lot of yard work and upkeep.

  • Neighborhood – having said we want a large lot, I also like being in an actual neighborhood. These two factors are often at odds with each other, as many large lots stand alone and aren’t in a neighborhood. I just love for my kids to make friends and to be able to ride their bikes or walk to hang out with other kids. Plus, I feel safer with some neighbors nearby. However, the downside of a “subdivision” is having to deal with CC&Rs. These guidelines and rules are put in place to keep the neighborhood nice and maintain property value - but they also mean you don’t have free reign to do whatever you want with the design of your home. And if you have Sanford and Son tendencies like my Georgia farm-raised husband, you’ll have to hide your junk from the street view. And they’ll yell at you if you’re lazy and leave your trash cans out. Guilty.

  • Schools – in addition to the neighborhood factor, you need to consider where you want your children to go to school, and whether the lot is within the boundaries for that district. Open enrollment, where you can enroll your children in a school outside of their district, is an option in Tucson. However, that is a conditional thing and can be unavailable if your school is too full – I didn’t want to count on being able to open enroll and then panic if the high school didn’t have availability when it comes time for ninth grade. And whether or not you have kids, you will want to consider the quality of the school district for resale value for your home.

  • Orientation – I never paid as much attention to this until we got to Tucson, but here, view is everything. I really wanted an eastern-facing backyard with a view of the Catalina Mountains from the back of the house. In addition to nice views, the morning sun is a lot more tolerable, and the afternoon shade is a huge perk during our 6-month long summer. In our current house, we get a lot more afternoon and evening sun than I realized, and it is brutal during much of the year, making afternoon entertaining pretty uncomfortable at times. Also, mountain views are a boost to property value in Tucson. All of that considered, we had to think about how our house would face on any lot we considered.

  • Cost of development – the cost of land isn’t necessarily what it seems. This is an area where Chad’s experience helped save us, because I sure wouldn’t have known better with a few of the lots we looked at that seemed like a good deal. Some lots are seemingly affordable, but in order to place a house on them, they may require tens of thousands of dollars of land work - moving dirt, raising the pad, etc. Also, there can be environmental restrictions; for example, there was a 1-acre lot we liked, but you could only actually disturb such a small percentage of the lot due to restrictions that we couldn’t have fit the house and yard we wanted. Not only that, but there can be requirements that you re-plant certain plants if they’re moved during construction (saguaro cactus, anyone?), and that should be factored into the budget. In addition, you have to see if water, electric, gas, and sewer are available, or you’ll need to be prepared to account for the cost of bringing those utilities in, which isn’t cheap.

Overwhelmed yet? Even just writing this, I’ve been going back and adding more as things occur to me. And this is just the LOT – we haven’t even gotten to the house yet. Clearly there are times early in this process where we’ve already been questioning what we’re getting ourselves into. But the benefit is us working together as a family with a lot of patience and a lot of effort to create something we’ve been dreaming of for years. And how are you supposed to know all of this about the lot? A reputable builder will help you through the process, and a good realtor will know how to find you the right lot. I’m happy to know some of the best - contact me for recommendations!

Did we get everything on our wish list? Nope. What did we end up with? Stay tuned. I’ll tell you about the lot we chose in our next post!