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How Owner Builders Should Find Land to Build On - The Right Way

Jul 9, 2008
Are you considering building a new home? If so, you'll need to find the right piece of land. But, you probably don't buy land every day.

Whether you're hiring a builder, or being an owner builder, finding land is the first step of what may be the biggest purchase of your life. There are many things to consider including cost, location, shape, topography, and how to find it.


First, you must decide on your price range. This should be done prior to looking at specific lots in order to avoid shopping out of your price range. By pre-qualifying with the right construction loan professional, you can determine the right price range to begin your search.

If you are doing an owner builder construction project, don't just speak with any lender, not even any general construction lender. You'll need someone who understands the qualification requirements of an owner builder construction loan.

Here are two useful "rules of thumb" many experts use:

Expect to spend no more than an amount equal to two-thirds of your combined annual income to purchase the land. And, try not to budget more than a quarter of your total budget on the land. Remember, all "rules of thumb" can have exceptions, but these are safe figures.

There is nothing worse than falling in love with a particular piece of land, then realizing you cannot afford it.


Owner builders, and general contractors building a custom home, have a full range of choices for the location of the home. Location is probably the most critical factor in your happiness and your home's value. After all, where you choose to live will influence your lifestyle and raise or lower the value of your home.

You can never improve your location. Even the nicest house is worth less if it's in an undesirable spot. And you won't be happy in your house if you don't like your surroundings.

You might prefer a country setting, far from other houses and commercial development. Or you may want a town or suburban location, with schools, shopping and neighbors close by.

Some people want to be close to family, friends or your place of work; others want to be as far as possible.

Still others may wish to have a location with easy access to highways or public transportation.


Owner builders often have a house plan in mind before looking for their land. If so, you may need to search for a particular lot shape or topography. For example, if an owner builder wants a walk-out basement, they'll need a lot that is sloped in a way to accommodate the plan.

The other issue related to the layout of the land is the cost you may incur to get the land prepared for construction. Removing excessive earth, blasting rock, or building a special foundation can explode any owner builder's budget.

If your land requires a well and septic, you have another set of concerns. You must know if the land "percs," or satisfies the county's standards for soil percolation rate. This determines the type of septic system you will need. A conventional, regular septic system will cost about a third of an engineered system. This could turn a seemingly cheap lot into a very expensive one.

If you need a well, you should know how easy or difficult it will be to find water and at what depth you will need to drill. Owner builders who don't research these things, often end up with shocking additional costs.

Do you have a good idea of what you want and what you can afford? Great. Now you're ready to look for land.

But how do you find it? This could prove to be the most difficult step in the entire building process for many owner builders.

How to Find Land That's for Sale:

Newspapers - Owner builders can find available building lots through Newspapers. Check out the classified ads in newspapers that cover the area you're interested in. Look under "Lots for Sale."

Real estate agencies - Find them listed under "Real Estate" in the Yellow Pages of your telephone book. Agents you call may have properties listed or know of others with land to sell.

Exploring - Drive around areas you like. If you spot a sign advertising a lot for sale jot down the number and call the seller for information. If a lot you're interested in doesn't have a sign, talk to neighbors or check land records at the town hall to find out who the owner is. Then contact the owners to see if they'd be interested in selling.

Word of mouth - Tell families, friends and co-workers what you're looking for. They may know of available property or be able to direct you to people who do.

Be a smart owner builder. As you look at properties, be sure to pay special attention to these practical considerations:

- Can you afford it? (Remember to calculate your qualifications for either an owner builder construction loan or a loan with the added cost of hiring a builder.)

- Is the lot large enough to accommodate the house plan's square footage? (Check local regulations regarding placement of houses on lots.)

- How do the houses already in the area measure up with regard to size, quality and condition? Owner builders often make the mistake of building a superior house in an inferior neighborhood - a poor investment.

- Are there wetlands or other features on the property that may prohibit it from being developed?

Walk the lot, get a feel for it. Think about where on the lot you'd place your house, the swing-set for the kids, and your barbecue grill. As an owner builder, these are all decisions that you'll be making.

Now that you've narrowed down your choices, get more detailed information on properties you're considering. Gather information from reliable sources and contact the appropriate people to get answers to questions about any lot you're considering.
About the Author
Chris Esposito and Owner Builder 101 provide owner builder construction loans for you to manage your home's construction without paying the costs of a general contractor. Discover the secrets of being an owner builder at www.OwnerBuilder101.com. Or call Owner Builder 101 at (877) 876-3688.
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