Real estate buyers usually purchase land with the intent of developing it by building it into a profitable or livable space. It is wise to find our pre-purchase if the land you want to purchase is buildable or not. Central and local governments provide guidelines on what kind of activities can happen on a portion of land. One of them is whether or not you can build on the land. This is done for practical reasons like protecting the environment, enhancing the security and safety of surrounding developments. For example, if you own a nonresidential lot you are not allowed to build mechanical equipment less than five feet from adjacent residential lots. That protects the residential occupants from accidental mechanical faults. Another example that shows the importance of building codes is the placement of utilities like fire hydrants, electric and communication poles, and gas. Without proper rules about fire hydrants, manageable fire incidents could easily turn into major disasters.   

Determining the buildable status of a lot

Inquire from the Building and Planning Department or Real Estate Company

The simplest way to determine if a lot is buildable is simply to ask. You may get this information from a real estate company that is well versed in the restrictions that apply in that area. You can also inquire from the local Building and Planning department as to what restrictions apply. Even if you are allowed to build, there are be zoning laws that apply to the lot which the building department will let you know about.

Visual Survey

Before purchasing a lot, observe the adjacent lots for designs of the requirements of the local building. Look out for such signs as:

● The common kind of buildings already in existence. This will tell you if you are in an industrial or residential area and the most likely zoning allocation for the lot.

● Natural resources in the area. Rivers, forests, lakes, animal conservation areas, and swamps are examples of natural resources that would severely restrict any kind of building under environmental laws.

● Size of the lot – the building department has issued regulations on the living space per person allowed on any lot. If your requirements exceed the size of the lot, it becomes unbuildable for your specific case, though the lot is itself allocated as buildable.

Title Search

 A title search will help you determine the buildable status of the land through information regarding its previous use, and any rules and rights that apply to the development of the land. If the previous owner had challenges developing the lot in any way, it will be carried forward to the new owner as property rights succeed property owners.

Inquire from adjacent lot owners

A good way to know the buildable status of a lot is to ask the neighboring lot owners. They may have stayed in the area for long and witnessed many barriers to lot development that lot owners face. Additionally, they may be well versed in the zoning laws of the region, hence providing valuable information on restrictions that apply and benefits that accrue.

  • Ask the previous owner

If in contact with the previous owner, ask about restrictions that apply to the building on it. The previous owner may provide information regarding long-term agreements regarding land use that affect current building status. A previous owner could also let you know long-term agreements made between the local government and the original residents, that determine the type of building that is carried out on a lot.

  • A builder

A building contractor wants his portfolio to glow, and one of the things that add to his success is the number of complete and standing buildings in an area. With that knowledge in mind, you can confidently ask your building contractor to identify if a lot is buildable. Being conversant with general building standards, he is more likely to create a checkoff list that will help you find the most suitable lot for the kind of building you want.

  • Access to property

It is important to ensure you have a right of way to the lot before purchasing. The lot may be in an area that does not have developed access roads or is blocked off temporarily such as by a crop field. Ensure the cost of getting access to the lot does not become a burden that will make the lot unbuildable. You may consult the building department to know the approved access road and thereafter engage any property owners who may have any influence on your right of way.

  • Right of use and Hindrances

Find out the rights other lot owners already have over the land to avoid interfering with their use or occupation of the lot. Such rights are usually protected by law and passage of ownership of the lot does not terminate them. For example, the existence of utility infrastructure, such as overhead cables, on a given lot may make it unbuildable owing to an enduring right of use by an adjacent lot owner. The building department will let you know of such situations and the best way to handle them if at all. It is important to remember that the rights of the property are treated separately from the rights of people who own or occupy the land. A lawyer can help you determine what you want to deal with before you ink the deal. It might also reduce the cost of acquisition of the land because rights of use are considered during the valuation of the land.

  • Property Law

Property law or ordinances govern land use and ownership regardless of who owns a title to the land. Zoning laws fall under property laws. General knowledge of property laws will enable you to identify what kind of development you can carry out on the lot before you engage an expert. Armed with such knowledge you will spend less in hiring experts on property law to help you determine if a lot is buildable.

Lot acquisition is a long-term endeavor, so it is best to take the time to carry out due diligence before purchasing a lot and to confirm it is buildable.


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