I recently co-hosted a Clubhouse* room with building and design consultant Bronwyn Aldridge, on the topic of what people should consider when buying land. Our aim was to educate consumers because we both understand how overwhelming it can be when making such a large investment.
1. Size and Price
We bundled these together and mentioned them very briefly, as we know most people are already across this. Primarily, the size of the block of land and its price are what people are concentrating on. However, there are many other considerations that can be a big impact.
2. Council Regulations/Encumbrances/Estate Guidelines
Council regulations are not the same across Australia, so it’s wise to check and see what the Council in which your block of land is situated, allows. Likewise, estate guidelines can be set down by developers in particular areas and must be adhered to. These regulations and guidelines could affect the type of dwelling you build, what materials it is made from and even what colours you choose. The regulations might even extend to fencing, driveways and nature strips.
Encumbrances like easements are another factor that impact what you are able to build on the land. Some easements can’t be built over so you could be forced to redesign your plans to leave such an encumbrance free. This becomes a real problem if the easement doesn’t run close to a border of the property.
3. Flood/Bushfire/Heritage Zoning
All land in Australia is classified and documentation exists to indicate what sort of building can be erected on it (eg residential or commercial). There are also other special zoning regulations that are essential to consider.
Flood reports will indicate whether your land is in a flood zone. If it is situated close to creeks, rivers and other waterways, this would definitely be a consideration. But you don’t have to be next to a waterway for flood zoning to apply. If you are in a flood zone, you may need to raise floor levels on your design and that can add cost to your build.
Similarly, if your property is declared to be in a bushfire zone, you may be up for extra costs for treatment on windows and seals on doors amongst other things. There are different levels of bushfire zoning, so even in the middle of suburbia, if you are near a nature reserve, you might be up for extra building costs.
Heritage regulations are more common in older areas. Even if you have an empty block of land, you may need to comply with design specifications, especially in regard to the front facade of your home.
4. Trees on Property
This is one that people often overlook, assuming that they can clear any trees on a block of land they own. Unfortunately, some trees are protected and cannot be bulldozed. This may affect the building envelope of your land so it’s definitely one to consider. It’s also an easy one to spot on your own – make sure you ask the selling agent about it and seek written confirmation.
In some cases, an arborist may also need to be consulted and that adds cost. If it’s decided that stormwater or other services have to go through the roots of the tree, then the arborist will need to be on site while the works are carried out to ensure preservation of the tree. This can turn into an expensive exercise.
With climate change and energy efficiency at the forefront of people’s minds, the orientation of your block might also be something you consider when buying land. Different states have various regulations in regards to energy efficiency, but all will require your house to pass a certain threshold to make it efficient and comfortable to live in. Of course, you can influence a lot of this when designing your home, through window placement, shade awnings and so forth, but you can get a headstart on it all by selecting a block that’s oriented to the direction that suits your needs.
6. Site Costs/Slope of Land
This is a huge consideration and truth be told, one that often proves the biggest hurdle. It’s the reason some people find themselves selling a block of land right after they’ve bought it. To the naked eye, most blocks of land seem fairly level. But you would be surprised at the extent of slope across a block of land. The aim is to have a minimal even cut and fill on the block. However, if you have a great deal of slope you may be required to remove a lot of fill (which can be expensive) or even bring in fill in order to achieve finished floor levels, and then take the soil out again once piering is complete. Throw in retaining walls or steps in the house design and suddenly that cheap block of land isn’t so cheap anymore.
7. Soil Testing
Most builders will also have soil testing done on the land. A geotech test will check the strength of the soil and a salinity report will give details as to the levels of saline in the soil. The results of these tests will determine how likely land is to produce movement. And from this, decisions will be made about the strength of the slab that is needed and what grade materials are required in the slab. Again, this can add a great deal of cost to a build. So these are extremely important considerations that the builder needs to think about but that you can also consider pre-purchase.
8. Site Location
When we talk about site location, people immediately think of pretty views. But sound or rather noise, is a big consideration that could add thousands of dollars to your build. If you are near main roads, airports or train tracks, you may be required to soundproof your home. This would involve an upgrade of the insulation in your walls and ceilings, as well as special window and gyprock treatments.
9. Neighbouring Properties
If your land is in a position where neighbouring properties have already been built on, it’s worth considering a few factors. Do your neighbours have single or double storey homes? Will they be encroaching on your privacy or vice versa, depending on what you wish to build? Do they already have fencing in place? Have they built retaining walls? Their already-made decisions could impact on your build. So that’s definitely something to consider to avoid neighbour wars down the track.
*Clubhouse is a new social media platform revolving around audio communication with no video or text. People enter rooms on various topics and either listen or “put their hand up” to “go on stage” and contribute to the discussion. The above is a brief summary of a room I co-hosted with Bronwyn Aldridge. I would encourage you to join Clubhouse if you’re interested in this or similar topics, as you get much more value from being in the room and listening to the discussion live.
Bronwyn Aldridge is a professional Building and Design Consultant, helping to navigate the overwhelm around all things residential construction and design. Originally from Perth, she is currently based in Adelaide and is developing her own brand – Bronz Designs.