The planning of the house building process...

Finding a buildable lot...

Everything starts with finding a lot, and more specifically finding a buildable lot. This will probably be the hardest task that you will encounter. Not only will price come into play, but also location will play the vital key. Are you looking for a lot in a neighborhood or looking for acreage in the country? Neither are greatly different from one another in term of building, but there are some issues. This site, though, is not dedicated to helping you decide where you want to build. You know better than anyone where you want to live. Whether or not the lot you want is appropriate is another matter. We need to make sure that it is a relative "buildable" lot.

What makes a lot buildable...

Let's assume you found a lot that you like and you want to determine the feasibility of building on the lot. The first thing that will know after talking with the seller for five minutes will be the size and dimensions of the lot. You will also probably have a rough idea of the size of house you want. If the lot is pie shaped and does not offer a way to even position the house on the lot, this is not the lot for you (yes, this issue has arisen in the past when a customer bought a pie shaped lot to be; there was absolutely no way to place the house on the lot even while discounting any setbacks and easements).

When you meet with the seller, there will need to be some specific questions to ask the seller. Also, in the Who to call section, we have outlined questions that should be asked throughout the building process of many entities. Please review them. Below are the bare minimum of questions to ask the seller:

1. Do you have a current copy of the survey that I can get a copy of?

If the seller does not have a copy of the survey or plot plan, there is no real reason to proceed unless he will get one for you. You need to know what you are buying.

2. Do you know where the property pins/stakes are?

This is nice to know, especially if you would like to string line the four corners prior to purchase, but if not known, you would need to know a general area of where the pins/stakes are.

3. Is this parcel in a flood zone?

Knowing this prior to purchase will allow you to adjust your offer price reasonably to counter act the increase in construction costs(if any), and will give you the knowledge to request an elevation survey for the lot from the seller.

4. Have you ever done a perc test on the lot?

A percolation test is a test to determine the absorption rate of soil for a septic drain field or "leech field". The results of a percolation test are required to properly design a septic system. If the lot already has a county sewer system connected to it, then is question is not necessary. However, If a perc test has not been done, do not submit an offer unless it is contingent upon receipt of a positive perc test. Although you can build on the lot without a favorable perc test, the costs needed to get the area where the leech field would go could be astronomical. Make sure you insist on a per test, if needed.

5. Is there a well on the lot? Have you ever applied for a well permit?

Knowing whether this is water available on the lot should probably be first and foremost in your decision making process. If well water is not available, then this lot is not buildable for habitation. You will not get a Certificate of Occupancy. Note, if county or municipal water is available, this is a moot point.

6. Are the mineral rights and water rights to this parcel of land included in the sale?

In some areas of the country, mineral and water rights may be owned by separate entities. If you need a well and someone else owns the water rights, you may be out of luck in getting a well sunk. Also, if the mineral right s of the parcel are owned by someone else, you may be stuck with a mining operation on you lot. Avoid it.


Next steps in the process...

Now that you have asked the bare minimum questions from the seller and wish to proceed, you should do the following BEFORE you purchase the lot:

1. Check for available water on site. Call the county or municipality utilities department to see if water and sewer is available and at what cost. If it is not available or is available at a prohibitive cost, go to the second step.

2. Call several well driller ask if they have drilled in that area and if contracted, would they be able to both pull the permit and provide a certification from the Health Department on the potability of the water once drilled. You will need water on the site to be able to build.

3. Get a copy of the survey or plot from the prospective seller; make sure house will fit on lot given setbacks and easements.

4.    If you do not have one in hand yet, you will need to have a perc test. You cannot proceed without one. Once you have one, you may proceed. If sewer is not available, photocopy your copy of the survey and  roughly draw an overhead view of the size house you want.  Make a notation of any adjacent septic systems and wells of the adjoining properties on the this site plan.   Do it to scale as accurately as possible.  Meet with a few septic contractors.  Give them the following information and ask them the following:

a. Give them the copy of the site plan you just drew.

b. Tell them the square footage under roof.

c. Tell them the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in the proposed house.

d. Ask them if they have ever installed a system in this area before. If yes, what type of system.

e. If yes, ask them the size and confirm that one will fit on your lot.

f. Ask them the approximate cost and if they had to do anything extraordinary in the installation

g. Ask them if needed, can they provide septic engineering

5. With step 2, you kind of have an idea whether or not potable water is available. No is time to act upon it.  I would not build without assurance of finding potable water if city or county water is not available. Call several well drillers and get hard estimates.  Work out an arrangement to get well drilled quickly to make sure potable water is a certainty, and that the water will meet minimum health requirements.

6. If power is not currently at the lot, call up local utility company, give them the address for the lot, and see if a price had been generated by them for bringing power to the lot (if the lot has been platted with the county, it there may be a price developed for it).  If not, make an appointment to meet with one of the sales representatives to get the price for running power to your lot.  I know this sounds odd (calling up your local utility company to set up an appointment with a sales rep, but that is how they do it, especially if you lot has not been platted).  Do not proceed unless you know power is pretty close by (2 or three streets over max or a mile down the road).  When you meet the sales rep, bring a copy of your site plan to show the location of your house (with garage) and maker sure pole/transformer is placed on the same side as the garage, to avoid having to run main feed lines through your attic.

Once everything satisfies you...Financing and Miscellaneous

Once you are comfortable with the building conditions, you can buy the lot. Although financing a lot and the housing are integral parts of building a house, we will not go over it extensively. Go to two or three of your local credit unions or banks. Financing for a lot will be quite easy and any bank or credit union will underwrite it. Financing a house, though, as an owner contractor will be a bit more difficult. If a banks tells you that they will not let you build as an owner contractor, go to another bank. You will find one eventually that will.You will be required to provide extensive documentation, especially if you want to act as your own contractor. Find out what there requirements are and give them the documents. This will include providing a set of plans for them to generate an appraisal for the finished house.

Since this is the planning stage, you should also think about getting the following items to help make everything run a bit more efficiently:

a. Fax Machine - Better than mailing everything or driving to drop things off

b. Copier - Can be integrated with you computer printer and fax machine. Indispensable. You will use it every day.

c. Computer - goes without saying

d. Optional - Adobe Acrobat and a tabloid printer - Being able to make 11" x 17' prints to give to subcontractors will save you a tremendous amount of money in the cost of generating prints, and save the time in picking up copies at a local print house. Using Acrobat to format your plans will make the universally readable. With that being said, also find a blueprint company that will be able to print 24" x 36" (2x3) prints for you, just in case. You should spend no more than $1.00 per page for a 2x3.

Once you have everything set up, you should be ready to proceed to the Designing stage. But before doing that, you should start calling around to secure an engineer for modifying you plans, drawing your plans, and/or sealing your plans (certifying with a raised seal that the plans meet your local building code and is structurally sound). They should be listed in your telephone book under "Professional Engineer, Construction Engineer, Civil Engineer", or something similar. Call up the local Building Department and ask them if sealed plans are required. Once you have an answer, call around for engineers and tell them what they are doing. The ALL have draftsmen either on staff or a local relationship, so you would look for a package to review the plans, add anything that needs to be added, make any changes that you have requested, and potentially seal the prints, providing you with at least 4 copies. The cost for this should be anywhere from $600 to $1200, depending on the scale. We will go over it in more detail in the next section.


Next to the Designing Stage