6 Factors to Consider Before Building on an Existing Lot In Pittsburgh

Finding and building on an existing lot is not an easy feat. The median lot size for homes has shrunken 13 percent since 1978, highlighting the increased competition for land in America. Not to mention that the available lots that appear to be perfect are not always what they seem. Failure to consider zoning laws, flooding risks, and property condition before diving headfirst into a purchase can lead to property maintenance headaches, unexpected expenses, and compromised safety for you and your loved ones.

Below are six factors you should always consider before building on an existing lot:

custom home build on an existing lot

1) The general condition of the land

Just because a lot appears to be in good condition does not mean that it is fit for a home build. Hastily buying an existing lot without the necessary soil testing and property evaluations can result in damage to your home and health. Prospective lot buyers should request a formal property evaluation or seek the input of an experienced home builder in order to avoid these potential hazards.

2) Zoning laws

Zoning laws have existed for over 100 years and are the most prevalent type of land-use regulation. They often dictate what you can do with the property you purchase and how you can develop an existing lot. For instance, zoning laws may prevent you from opening a home-based business or storing a boat on your property. You may also face restrictions on construction and remodeling. Failure to consider zoning laws may ultimately result in delays in approval for your plans to build your home.   

3) The grading of the property and general land terrain

A poorly graded lot can lead to flooding, water damage, and foundation problems. These problems can result in costly repairs and the need for extensive landscaping work. All too often, buyers fail to consider property grading issues and their projects end up exceeding their predetermined budgets.

Unfortunately, detecting poorly graded lots is not always easy for novice property buyers who are often focused more on lot size, shape, and neighborhood concerns. This pitfall illustrates why it is so important to hire a home builder as early as possible when evaluating a property.  

The terrain of an existing lot should be an immediate consideration. Land terrain refers to the slope, elevation, and orientation of the lot. A heavily sloped lot, or a piece of property with varying elevations can pose a multitude of challenges for home builders, who must often adjust their building strategy or spend thousands of dollars to modify the land to facilitate home building.

4) Costs to prepare the land for building

Preparing a lot to build a home can cost well over $10,000 depending upon the size of the lot and the work that needs to be completed. The presence of trees, ‘bad ground’, and sloping sites as the three main factors that can result in escalating ownership costs for a property. Tree removal can cost thousands of dollars, while rectifying bad soil can cost thousands more. Residential grading jobs can add thousands more to this total, as they typically range between $1,000 to $6,000. Failure to consider these costs can result in sticker shock for buyers who initially thought they had made a cost-effective purchasing decision.  

5) Pittsburgh Wetlands and Flood Zones

Another important factor to consider before building on an existing lost is whether the property is located within a flood zone or wetland area. For instance, many homeowners are not aware that there are state and federal laws that dictate how they can use properties in wetland areas. Other prospective lot buyers pull the trigger before realizing that a lot lies within a flood zone.

An experienced home builder can help a prospective buyer determine whether a property is situated on wetlands before a purchase is confirmed, helping to avoid potential legal violations.

Determining whether a lot is located in a flood zone is essential to estimating insurance costs and potential risks to residents. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notes that residents who “live in an area with low or moderate flood risk are 5 times more likely to experience flood than a fire in your home over the next 30 years.” Standard homeowners insurance will not cover flood damage, requiring many homeowners to add flood insurance. This additional expense can be costly depending upon the flood zone where a lot is located.

6) Expected property taxes

custom home build on an existing lot

Property taxes can be an unexpected surprise for novice buyers who may not fully understand the financial responsibilities that come along with purchasing land. The good news is that these taxes might be deductible if they are listed as a personal itemized deduction on Schedule A. A seasoned home builder can lend expert advice that will help you estimate property taxes and how those taxes may change after your home is built.

What is the best step to take if you are considering building on an existing lot in PA?

As outlined above, there are many factors to keep in mind before taking the plunge and building on an existing lot. The single best way to avoid these pitfalls is to enlist the support of an experienced home builder. We invite you to contact us at Costa Homebuilders to find out how we can help you successfully navigate the challenges of building on an existing lot. In addition to saving you time and money, we will eliminate your property search headaches by helping you build your dream home model on the perfect lot.  


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