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Lot Selection – 25 Tips- Part I

Twenty five Lot Selection Guidelines

The following is the first of a 3-part summary of what I think are some of the most important things you should look for when selecting a building lot. Many of these are important whether the lot is vacant or has an existing home built upon it. Remember, the land is a real asset. Buildings are temporary. The land is the basis of long term value.


Is the lot the right size for what you intend to build? Is there space for games/recreation? How about an outdoor pool or storage building? What about future expansion - will the lot support a room addition of reasonable size?


Most people are fooled by 'level' ground. What appears level may actually be a significant slope. If the ground is vacant, roughly stake out the house and driveway. Hire a builder/remodeler with a transit level or rent one. Take elevations. If your house has a basement and the lot falls more than 7 feet across the footprint of the house on the land, you WILL have problems! If it is a slab house, it better have no more than 18 inches of fall across the footprint.


Are utilities available? Natural gas, electric (overhead or underground?), city/county water or well, public sewers, telephone, etc. Without utilities, you enter a time warp and go back 100 years or more. Do you have to pay extra to tap into utilities OR has it been paid by the developer. Watch out, these tap-in fees can be astronomical if the developer tries to pass them on to you. Is the existing sewer REALLY public? You would be surprised how many miles of sanitary sewer are private here in Cincinnati!

Fire Protection

Did you ever look at your homeowner's policy? A huge portion of your bill is based on fire coverage. Your lot location is rated: distance to closest hydrant, size of water main feeding hydrant, certification level of local fire department, etc. The lower your rating in these areas, the higher your premium! You better get a quote from your insurance salesperson before signing a sales contract to buy the lot.

City/County Services

What kind, if any, of services are provided to you or your road frontage? Is the road plowed? How is garbage collected? Do you pay extra for garbage removal? Are there special property assessments for past or planned improvements?

Compass Direction

Are you building a passive solar house? Do you want to orient your deck a certain way? Do you want to bake under the hot afternoon sun on your deck? What about your swimming pool? Will it be in the shade in the afternoon or early evening? Are you on the north face of a hill in the Northern Hemisphere? If so, your ground surface may not see direct sunlight for two or more months! It will be frozen and damp all winter! Buy a $10 compass and keep it in your glove compartment.


Surface and subsoil drainage is one of the most important things you must consider. Vast amounts of water can move downslope through soil. If you plan a basement, the walls may act like dams. Heavy rainfall can cause water to run over land towards your lot. Is your lot on a moderate rise where water will flow around it? Is your new lot in a valley or a swale? Will this valley or swale have 5 or 8 feet of water flowing through it when the 100 year flood hits four years from now? This exact thing happened to a friend of mine in what appears to be a typical ordinary suburban neighborhood!


Soil is everything. There are countless different types, all with different strength, drainage, fertility, etc. characteristics. Some clay soils shrink and swell in response to moisture content. During droughts, the soil may fall beneath your foundation or slab and cause severe cracks! You can get free soil maps from your county agricultural extension office. It may take a few phone calls, but it will be well worth it.

Read on for Part II and 8 more tips for help in buying the land or lot you will call home!



2 Responses to Lot Selection – 25 Tips- Part I

  1. Another point: How much of the finished project value? You bring up another issue. "Remember, the land is a real asset. Buildings are temporary. The land is the basis of long term value, Did you ever look at your homeowner's policy? A huge portion of your bill is based on fire coverage"
    So, what is the land to home ratio? something that will be part of the homeowners' policy pricing.
    Sometimes you may be better off buying a "knockdown" that has all the utilities present and zoning compliance issues resolved.

  2. We are looking at a lot in Palmer Lake, CO. It is made up primarily of "degraded granite".
    It is on a sloping lot at road level that becomes gentler midway down the slope.
    Would you consider the degrading granite a stable enough soil type on which to build a ranch style home with a walkout basement?

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