Important Factors to Know When Buying a Block of Land

Important Factors to Know When Buying a Block of Land

So, you are planning on building your dream home. Well the first thing is to find the dream block. The land or site that you build on is one of the most critical factors to affect design and cost of construction.
For the purposes of this article we are focusing on Residential Home Sites. Sites that are being reviewed for potential development have another long list of criteria beyond this list and we will deal with those in other articles.

As you begin your search remember that no two pieces of land are identical. Even two blocks of land that have the same dimensions can and often are different for other reasons.

If you are in the market to buy a block of land and design and build your dream home then here are some good tips to help you get started.

1. Slope
While blocks on a slope can have distinct advantages with views etc, they can also present some challenges. As your home will be either cut into the slope, or built high out of the ground then there will be additional costs involved in construction for drainage, retaining walls, sub floor construction, etc. If you are considering a contract with a builder for a standard design (eg. from a display home) then you will find that most will simply refuse to build on a significantly sloping block. I have heard many stories of woe from people trying to achieve an effective design that takes into account a reasonable cost estimate.

The slope of the block can often affect the height of the roof. Council’s have restrictions on how high a residential home can be built to and how many designated floors. These rules are very technical and the degree of slope will affect the outcome.

2. Planning Controls, Overlays and Covenants
These issues have caught many people out who were planning to build their home. While you may think you have found the perfect block for your dream home, it is always possible that specific planning controls will mean that you may not be able to build the home you want.
It is wise to use the pre-design services of a Building Designer to determine these constraints before you commit to the purchase. Development Covenants can also restrict the type of building and building materials that are allowed. Covenants are generally shown on the title so be sure to check your purchase documents and get your conveyancer to confirm existence of any such covenants.

3. Soil Condition
Conducting a soil test as early as possible could be the best investment you make. Before buying your own block of land, ask your agent if the block or subdivision has had a soil test completed and if so ask for a copy or make the provision of one a condition of the sale. A soil test can determine if your foundation material will create additional building costs (eg: if they find rock, deep fill or highly reactive soil) and these costs can sometimes be significant, so best to be well prepared before you commit to purchase.

4. Effluent Tests
Effluent Tests are more relevant to rural properties that do not have access to a main sewer line. If you need a septic tank or some other Home Sewage Treatment Plan (HSTP) then it is worth knowing how effective your soil is for drainage as it can make a huge difference to the costs of installation.

Different councils have different rules and each block of land that requires a HSTP system has to have the soil condition assessed specifically as part of how the council will determine what system will be allowed for your site. It pays to do some research on any property that requires a HSTP.

5. Bushfire Controls
While many people love a bush setting, most councils have increasingly strict conditions placed on buildings constructed near potential fire risks. If you are in the maximum rating zone then it could add tens of thousands to your build costs. Again, it is wise to seek the advice of a qualified Private Certifier who has specific local knowledge in relation to these council bushfire control requirements. These requirements can and will affect design and costs.

If your block of land is affected by Bushfire it will have a BAL rating. The Building Code of Australia allows for specific building methods and materials to comply with each BAL rating area.

6. Easements
An easement is a section of your property that is clearly defined on your title plan and title documentation and you generally cannot build on or over an easement. It either pertains to access to other property, future road access or current or future services/utilities.

It is imperative to establish if there are any easements that exist on your block so that you can determine where your building can be placed. You must also determine exactly what the easements are for and the affect or constraints they have on your design and construct outcome.

The rules around easements are very technical and can be costly. Or they can be complete game breakers.

7. Utilities
Establish what utilities are available at the street for you to connect to. Confirm gas, telephone, power, water, sewer and stormwater. In rural blocks of land, this is crucial and the absence of one or more can add thousands to the cost of building and to the cost of living!

8. Roads
If your road is unmade then find out if the Council has plans to pave the road, because when they do, you will be paying for your share! Again, a very costly exercise, and one you will have no choice in. If you are buying off the plan find out all you can about the access roads to and around your future property.

9. Previous Use
If possible (and if you have any instinctive concerns) you might like to try and find out what the previous use of the land was. You might be surprised and such discoveries could raise health concerns, etc.
For example, I have had clients who have found a block of land for sale but previously it was used in an industry that was environmentally unstable. The soil testing found that there were high levels of contamination in the soil. So, this site would have to have a lot of work done to strip away all the contaminated soil and replace it and then get an approval from an environmental expert prior to construction. Suffice to say the clients did not proceed with the purchase.

10. Orientation and Driveway Access
The orientation of a block of land is its direct relationship to the sun. Where is North? Where will the westerly sun be at it’s harshest in the height of summer? Where is the driveway crossover? Is the driveway pre-determined or will you have the opportunity to determine the placement?

The design of your home and the cost to heat and cool your home is directly related to the aspect of the site. As sites get smaller and smaller it provides you with fewer design options so understanding the long-term impact of the aspect of the site is a good thing to know before you get started.

11. Demolition
Your dream block of land might already have a house on it. What then? Some really important issues before you consider buying a site and then demolishing the house:

a. Is the house protected by a Character Zoning Overlay? If so you may not be allowed to demolish.
b. Is there any evidence of asbestos? This is critical.
c. What are the foundations of the house?

Sometimes the right house on the right site has some value in that someone might pay you to lift the house and remove it. They will then re-sell it elsewhere.

If demolition is your course of action do some research before you buy. Make sure you can demolish and get an idea of the costs involved.

Want to know more? Need some help?

Call House Builders Brisbane and ask about our free consultation for prospective New Home Builders. We are happy to help in any way we can before, during and after you have purchased your block of land. Getting that right will set the scene for you being able to build your home in a stress-free and efficient manner.