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By Cindy A. Cunard-Hogan, Office/Accounts Manager at Berks Surveying & Engineering, Inc.

[Updated 9/7/21]

You’ve been searching for the right lot to build your future home and you think you’ve found just the right one. You can’t believe your luck! It’s affordable. It’s in the right area and school district. You can visualize your new home on it. You even have a builder in mind and you are ready to take the leap and buy it before someone else does.

But wait a minute! Before you buy, there are some important factors about that property that we, in the business of land surveying and land planning, suggest you consider.

These clues are just a short list of the many factors that can make or break your dreams and budget. Contact Berks Surveying & Engineering, Inc. to discuss. We can even do a Feasibility Study to address some of the pros and cons of the lot, taken from many years of experience. The phrase “Buyer Beware” is very appropriate when it applies to purchasing real estate for building.

Q: How long has the lot been on the market? If it has sat unsold for many months or years, it may be because the “Real Estate Savvy” are aware of its flaws and want nothing to do with the expense it will take to develop it. Or, they may know that it simply can’t be developed. And, you can’t always count on the seller or the realtor to make you aware of its flaws, because they need to sell it. It’s a great idea to have a title search done to make sure there are no liens on the property, deed restrictions, or other restrictions that may hinder your plans for the lot.

Q: Is the size of the lot large enough to build what you want on it? Municipal zoning ordinances set a minimum lot size with construction/building setback requirements. You might be able to fit a building on it, but take into consideration that you need room on the lot for a primary septic area & a secondary or back-up septic area (if you can’t connect to municipal water & sewer systems), a water well, and stormwater drainage and/or collection areas. If it passes these requirements, the next question is, “Has the lot been perc & probe tested and did the primary and secondary areas pass?” A call to the municipal Sewage Enforcement Officer (SEO) and Zoning or Code Office might get you some inside information on previous testing. If the perc/probe testing passed, that’s one hurdle jumped.

Q: Does the lot have enough road frontage to build on (per the municipal zoning/code regulations)? If not, please pause. You may not be able to get a variance from the zoning ordinance and it can be timely, expensive, & exhausting, to pursue this route AND the outcome may not be in your favor.

Q: Is there an existing driveway or driveway entrance that has been previously approved by the municipality (if the lot fronts a township or borough road)? If an existing driveway or access fronts a State Road, can the seller of the lot produce a PennDOT Highway Occupancy Permit (HOP) for it? If not, please pause. You can’t build if you can’t get approval for a driveway. Land surveyors and land planners like us can help you determine if access will work and help you with the driveway permit process.

Q: Does the lot have steep slopes? Not only does this make construction more difficult and potentially more costly, if the lot is too steep, it may not meet municipal zoning requirements. Also, it might trigger some challenges in engineering design, in order to capture stormwater runoff. Soils infiltration testing may be needed to make sure the soil type can even handle your proposed construction activities. Again, we can help you with this.

Q: Are there streams, rivers, or wetlands on or within 300-feet of the property? If so, sometimes special studies such as a PNDI Search could be required in order to identify endangered or threatened species that may be impacted by digging. If a species of concern is identified, further studies by specialists may be required and their findings may or may not result in construction avoidance measures or, even worse, excavation or construction not being permitted at all. If the house sits within a FEMA floodplain, you may need to purchase flood insurance. We can get you a quote to get a FEMA Elevation Certificate survey. Planning the new building so that the base floor elevation is above the benchmarked base flood elevation for your zone, may mean you could be able to opt out of paying flood insurance or pay less.

There are more characteristics to investigate about a property than I can list here. It came to my attention, during a recent meeting with a young couple who had just purchased what they thought was going to be the perfect lot to build their first home. Unfortunately, they were never made aware of the possible pitfalls of the lot that they purchased.

When they finally came to us at Berks Surveying & Engineering, Inc. with their building plans in hand to have us do the land surveying and Erosion & Sedimentation Control planning, we went through the questions listed above and our hearts went out to them. The lot had so many issues that it would eventually cost them more money than they were prepared to spend and take longer than they had to have the home built before their financing elapsed. Some limitations of the lot required them to make concessions in the way they intended to build.

Q: What is involved in a Feasibility Study? The definition of the word "feasibility" is "the state or degree of being easily or conveniently done". Berks Surveying & Engineering, Inc. has over 30-years of expertise in land development planning. Our Engineering and Planning Professionals' experience and knowledge of municipal, county and state ordinances & regulations are a valuable asset when trying to decipher regulations, restrictions and possible uses or planning design options of a particular property. A Feasibility Study is a less expensive way for a potential property buyer or developer to have professionals research the property's potential and any possible issues BEFORE the expense of Formal Planning and associated plan review fees, and identification of possible Zoning issues that may require zoning relief, etc.

The process from purchase to concept and from planning to final construction can be a challenge. If you are planning to purchase a lot for new construction, please investigate these questions and let us know if we can help you out with an estimate for a “Feasibility Study” or for your other land planning needs.

Berks Surveying & Engineering, Inc., 311 E. Main St., Fleetwood, PA 19522


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