How to Find Out If You Can Put a House on Land

How to Find Out If You Can Put a House on Land
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Finding a piece of land that you like is one thing, building on it may be another. Many beautiful pieces of land and seemingly nice lots may be hiding secrets that you don't want to find out about after you've made the purchase. Oddball deed covenants, rights of way, wet springs, HOA rules, and zoning may all be cause to walk away and start looking for another piece of land.

Decide what sort of house you will build. Two story, three story, stilts, square footage, style -- all may affect whether you can build a house on a particular piece of land. For example, in North Elba, N.Y., near the village of Lake Placid, no one may build a house that is more than 30 feet high. One couple who ignored this zoning restriction were forced to tear their house down.

Check the zoning ordinances. You can do this at the local town or county zoning codes enforcement office. You will need to know not only whether or not the area is zoned residential, but what kind of limitations the town or county places on buildings.

Check with the homeowners association, if there is one. If you plan to build in a housing development or other community where there might be a homeowner's association, or HOA, ask if there is one. If there is, get a copy of their rules. These may include restrictions on the exterior appearance of a house, the size of a house and other items that may or may not make it a feasible place for you to build.

Check the deed for covenants and restrictions. Before you buy any property, ask the seller for a copy of the deed. You can also get one at the county clerk's office. You may discover, for example, that the house you want to build may be OK, but not the horse barn that you planned to build in the back. Also, look for deeded rights of way. Maybe the power company has the right to put a power pole in your backyard.

Do a percolation test. A "perc" test will tell you whether or not the land is too wet to build on. You can do it yourself, but ask the town building inspector how to do it correctly.

Check to see if the land is on a flood plain. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, updates its floodplain maps every few years. You can view them for free online. Even a location that hasn't seen a flood in decades may be located on a flood plain.


  • Before you invest in a piece of land, take a good look around. Think about what you will you be staring at every time you walk out your new front door.