How to Buy Land
Building a Custom Home

Want to buy land? Buying a lot for a custom home?

Are you planning to buy land and build a custom home, maybe an environmentally sensitive house built from renewable resources, maybe off grid? There's nothing like generating your own electricity, heat and air conditioning and drinking fresh, clean water from your own well. Of course, there are ways and means to fulfill this dream, but not without considerable time, effort, expense and sometimes a lot of ...


Prior to starting the search, you must obviously decide where you want to build. Do you prefer to buy land in the country? Or perhaps a town or city is more your preference? Click this buy land link to learn more about the pros and cons of rural and city life, whether or not it's a good idea for you to buy in the city or country. Here are a few ideas to ponder.

A significant difference is the type of municipal services available, such as water supply and sewage disposal

Keep in mind that you may just be trading city exhaust fumes, smog and traffic noise for the unique sounds and odours of the countryside. You'll also be trading city convenience for wide open spaces and free parking. Unless you're in a small town, there will be no more walking to the corner Italian restaurant or strolling to the local pub or making a quick trip for groceries. Could you handle farm animal and equipment noise and smells? There's no poop-and-scoop rules on a country road or in the back forty. Utilities aren't always reliable in the middle of nowhere, hence the popularity of emergency electric generators. Wood stoves definitely come in handy when the power goes out.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both life styles

If it snows and blows - and it does - and the roads aren't promptly cleared of the big white drifts (yes - it's white in the country in Canada), you could be snowed in for days. The kids won't mind missing school, but you might feel differently. Before buying land, you must find it first. This is maybe the ...

Toughest Challenge

How much acreage do you want? How much city frontage and lot square footage? Obviously, lot size will determine how large a home you can construct on your little piece of paradise.

The usual considerations are price range, location, topography and size. If you want a water feature, such as a river or lake frontage, or a ravine at the back, the price will be higher. Mixed bush? Ditto. Rocky outcroppings or a panoramic view? Prestigious neighbourhood? Dig into your pocket a little deeper. If a flat treeless corner of a farmer's field or a typical building lot squeezed between two city homes is appealing the price will likely be somewhat lower. It's mostly about location though.

Further away from the city, you'll find it will be cheaper

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After you finally find your dream land, you and your agent must do your ...

Due Diligence

Before buying land, check out the area for gravel pits, garbage dumps, industrial manufacturing, unpleasant agricultural uses like pig or poultry farms, planned road widening, air traffic flight paths, industrial wind turbine farms, nuclear waste storage, quarries, shopping centres and public transit. Is the land in a greenbelt or subject to a conservation authority? Any local environmental problems? Is any portion of the land subject to conservation control? Will you be allowed to remove any trees? This could affect where you'll be permitted to site your custom home.

Any wetlands close by? Imagine the beautiful song of red wing blackbirds ... and the buzz of voracious mosquitoes?

Before you buy land in the country, determine if it's accessed by private road across the neighbour's property. If a right-of-way doesn't already exist, make sure you can obtain one. Who maintains the road and what's the annual prorated share of the maintenance cost? Do neighbours have any rights to cross the subject property? What are the exact boundaries of the parcel you're considering? Is there an existing ...


If not, it could be quite expensive to get a new one. Title insurance is a great idea too.

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Buying a lot in the city is fairly straight forward when it comes to water supply. But buying land in a rural area is a little more complicated. You'll need a ...


... which will be another expense. Check with a local well driller to get a cost estimate. To reach the water table, if he must drill deep through solid granite, the fee will be high. If you plan to buy land in town, you'll just have the cost of connection to the municipal water supply.

The well water must be potable (suitable for drinking) and provide ample volume or flow rate for your family's use. If you choose a dug well (uncommon these days), the recovery rate is also a factor. This means how quickly it re-fills after usage. These details aren't just for you; your mortgage lender will usually insist on such information before agreeing to advance funds. When planning your ...

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Septic System

... ensure it'll be installed a considerable distance from the water supply. Reasons - obvious.

When buying land in the wide open spaces, it's important to seek assurance that you won't have any difficulty installing a septic system. In areas with municipal sewers, the disposal of sewage is not something homeowners often think about. In rural areas, however, sewage disposal is the responsibility of each homeowner, including the treatment and disposal of both sanitary sewage and waste water on their own property. An exception is if you buy land in an estate subdivision where the building lots are often already fully serviced.

Buying a lot in the city will involve connection to the municipal sewer system. For other ...


... in the city, you'll simply have to connect to the local natural gas line, electricity system, telephone line and cable if it's available. If you buy land in the countryside, however, natural gas probably isn't an option. So, factor in the cost of a propane tank or some other method of providing heat and air conditioning. Geo-thermal is a great (but expensive) option. Or a high-efficiency oil furnace.

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Before breaking ground and beginning the construction of your custom home, you'll need a ...

Building Permit

... as well as an entrance permit from the local municipality. No road access means no construction.

Any other restrictions on the lot will need to be addressed in the project planning phase. Is the ground level or sloped? The grade will have an effect on the style of house you can build. Is the lot large enough to accommodate your new home plans? Will the architectural style esthetically suit the neighbourhood? If you want friendly neighbours, you won't want to build a mansion in a cottage area or an ultra-modern style in a heritage district. In such historically significant locales, the municipality may have restrictions in place to control size and architectural style.

I suggest you ensure that the lot you're considering meets the requirements for what you want to build. What is the setback requirement from the road? Are there any easements that will affect the location of the construction? What maximum footprint is permitted for the lot size?

Address these issues before you act.

Not only must you comply with the requirements of the Building Code Act, you'll also benefit by having your plans and actual construction reviewed and approved as it progresses. This ensures the minimum construction standards established by the provincial or state Building Code have been met to protect your health, safety and welfare.

If you buy land in an area regulated by a conservation authority and your project is either new construction or not wholly contained within an existing building, you may need a permit from that authority. You may still apply for a permit prior to obtaining this approval, but a permit cannot typically be issued until such approval is obtained.

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Development Charges

... often referred to as lot levy's, must also be paid at the time the permit is issued. They're typically collected on behalf of the local municipality, possibly the province or state, and boards of education.

They can be substantial, but are a one-time charge. Any prior payments for previous buildings on the site will often be taken into account by way of a re-development allowance. Proof of demolition is required before a credit can be allowed (i.e. demolition permit). Top-ups may be required to bring the total payable up to the current development charge rate.

With your permit application form, you usually must provide 2 sets of drawings with the fees, along with the following:

  1. Site Plan (not applicable if proposed work is confined to building interior)
  2. Floor Plan
  3. Elevation Drawings of each side of your proposed home (not applicable if the work is interior only)
  4. A roof framing plan or truss layout (including truss drawings)
  5. Mechanical drawings including heat loss/gain calculations if a HVAC (heat, ventilation, air conditioning) system is being installed or altered
  6. Number and type of plumbing fixtures (i.e. sinks, bathtub, toilet, etc.)
  7. Septic system plans
  8. If the property is under the jurisdiction of a conservation authority or commission, proof of approval from these authorities is required

Your Building Designer

... who'll prepare the plans, may be required to be registered and/or have specific qualifications. If not, your plans may rejected and you'll not get a building permit. Building in the country could present another practical challenge ...

Finding a Builder

... who is willing to travel. Check out the neighbourhood builder, if there is one. He may personally know someone in the local building department; it's sometimes a "who you know" scenario. Your city builder might not appear when expected at your rural lot, or want higher fees to compensate for the greater travel distance. And if your lot happens to be miles from civilization, getting your building supplies may cost you more too.

If you plan to buy land on an island or a heavily wooded lot, be prepared for higher construction coats. The cost of shipping materials to your island paradise is increased because of the added labour and expense of barging and extra handling. And clearing the building site and its access is not inexpensive.

If you plan to hire a custom builder, they'll likely take care of the permits and details on your behalf and include this in their written project cost estimate.

When you want to buy land, whether rural, recreational, city or suburban, you should ...

Seek Expert Assistance

... from an appropriate agent who specializes in either rural or city real estate and is experienced in the entire process.

Before buying vacant land, or at least prior to removing your conditions from the offer to buy land, seek answers to all these questions. Satisfy yourself that everything will be fine and there will be ...

No Surprises

Still want to buy land? Does building a custom home still attract you? Don't turn your dream home project into a nightmare that will haunt you forever.

If you're planning to buy land and build a custom home and would like to learn more, visit the appropriate local municipal website.  For active Canadian listings, click here. For active listings of American real estate, click here.

If you're interested in a definitive guide to buying and selling real estate (including changing your life) - privately or with the guidance of a qualified realty agent - check out Ross' book The Happy Agent. It's full of tips and techniques developed during his successful 4 decade realty career. A small investment of your time could conceivably save you thousands of dollars, and help you trade in real estate like a pro. Remember - knowledge is power.

Available virtually everywhere print and e-books are sold.

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