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Posted by Melissa Lynn Galland on Apr 8, 2019 10:28:00 AM
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Washington state is a popular place to live for a number of reasons. There are ample jobs in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area, many places offer easy access to water views and recreation, there are countless outdoor activities, and there is no state income tax. Whether you already live here or are planning to move to the area, building your own home is an excellent way to put down some roots and have the type of living space you’ve always dreamed about.

While building a home may seem out of reach, many people are surprised to learn that new construction can actually be more affordable than purchasing an existing house. This is especially true in some of the more lively real estate markets in the state, where home prices are rising faster than the rate of income growth. In addition to affordability, building a new home gives you the opportunity to get exactly what you want.

If you’re thinking of building a new home in Washington state, it all starts with having the right land. Use these tips to help you find a suitable lot for your dream home.

Searching for Land

If you don’t already own land, you have to find a property that matches your needs. Identify the neighborhood(s) where you most want to live and find a local Realtor who specializes in land sales. This is a good idea because they often have access to listings that are not yet public and may also be able to help you get a lot that is not currently for sale. Some other tips for picking the perfect lot include:

  • Search both online and offline.

  • Sign up for MLS email alerts about new listings.

  • Ask owners if they are willing to sell even if the lot isn’t listed.

  • Look for properties with mobile homes that can be removed.

  • Act quickly to get a feasibility study started.

Remember that there is more to a lot than what it looks like. You also have to consider factors such as site development costs, local zoning regulations, and homeowner association (HOA) restrictions.

Securing Financing

If you need to purchase land, it’s a good idea to get preapproved for financing before you start your search. In addition to giving you a better understanding of your budget, this will allow you to quickly make an offer if you find a property you like.

Working with a builder that also offers financing solutions will give you a clear picture of what you can afford as the cost of building a new home includes the land, site development costs, and the home itself. Understanding this breakdown is key if you’re working with a limited budget. For example, if you spend too much on the land or purchase a property that requires extensive site development, you might not be able to build the home you have in mind. However, a qualified builder will be able to provide some rough guidelines based on how much you have been preapproved for and the type of home you want.

Performing Due Diligence

Blindly buying a lot can be a costly mistake, which is why it’s so important to perform some due diligence. Just because you make an offer on a property does not mean you are obligated to purchase it, but it does prevent other buyers from scooping it up. Include a 30-, 60-, or even 90-day close condition with your offer to allow enough time to do the necessary research so you can determine whether it’s a smart purchase. In a hot market like the Seattle area, it’s a good idea to go for the shorter time period, but in markets such as Central Washington or the Inland Northwest, you might be able to take more time if you want to move more slowly.

After making an offer, ask a builder to perform a site visit to determine the feasibility of building on the lot. You’ll learn more about the estimated site development costs so you can decide if the property works with your budget.

Doing Regulatory Research

The due diligence period is also the time to do some research about local zoning and building regulations. For example, the lot size is an important consideration in Washington state. In order to prevent degradation of groundwater, the Department of Health has created rules about minimum lot sizes for new home construction. The current minimum lot size is 12,500 square feet, but there are sometimes exceptions to this rule—and local health officers can issue permits for smaller lots in some cases. Your house, driveway, and septic system must all fit within the necessary setbacks, so this is an important consideration when you’re evaluating a property, especially if the buildable area on the site is limited.

Start your research by visiting the websites for the county and city building departments to understand the regulations specific to the property you are considering. Once you have some basic information, it’s a good idea to visit the local offices and speak to somebody in person about what you have in mind for the property. You can get a lot of information during a quick face-to-face conversation that you might never learn on the internet. Your site might also be subject to environmental permits, especially if the land is near water or has a conservation easement. Do as much research as you can before you close on the property so you can avoid permitting delays and unpleasant surprises down the road.  

Understanding Building Restrictions

The Washington State Building Code defines minimum construction requirements, some of which are national standards and some of which are specific to the state. The code includes regulations for mechanical systems, plumbing, fire safety, energy use, ventilation, and so on. As a homeowner, you don’t have to understand every detail of the code, but you must ensure that your home complies. Working with a builder that is familiar with the state, regional, and city codes will help you minimize delays caused by permitting and code issues.

Zoning and code regulations aren’t the only restrictions you might need to consider. For example, if the property is located in a neighborhood with an HOA, it’s important to know what the design guidelines and limitations are to ensure that you can build the home you want. For example, some neighborhoods allow only custom homes, while others allow only mobile homes. There might also be restrictions on design details such as the building height, roof slopes, and exterior paint colors you can use. Such restrictions could prevent you from designing your dream home, which is why it’s important to understand exactly what you can and cannot build on a property before purchasing it.

Getting a Land Survey

Having your land surveyed will help you avoid potential legal issues in the future. A survey establishes the property’s boundary lines, which is important for both keeping the neighbors happy and making the permitting process go more smoothly. Some people choose to forgo a survey because it’s not required, but it’s a relatively small expense that will help protect your much larger investment.

Getting Access to Utilities

When evaluating a lot, find out what is required to get access to utilities such as electricity, natural gas, water, cable, and sewer. In some cases, it might be as simple as connecting to the resources that are available at the road. In other cases, you might have to pay the utility companies to run a new line to your property. This cost will be higher if there isn’t an existing access road, so consider all of these budget factors when choosing a site.

You can find all of the electrical utility providers in the state through the Department of Labor & Industries and information about access to drinking water through the Department of Health.

Working with a Trusted Builder

The homebuilding process in Washington can feel overwhelming at times, but when you work with an experienced builder like Adair Homes, you can have peace of mind that seasoned professionals are there to help you every step of the way. When you build with Adair, our superintendents perform site visits to help you determine whether a particular site is suitable for building the type of home you want. They will also help you get estimates from contractors who do various site development tasks and provide advice throughout the permitting process.

Many people believe that they can’t engage a builder before securing land, but this is not the case with all builders. At Adair Homes, we can refer you to a local Realtor who will help you find land. We also have a sister company that provides financing for new construction, so you can get prequalified before you start your search. If you’re planning to build a new home in Washington, schedule an appointment at a local Adair Homes branch to learn more about our unique process. Contact us today to get started.

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