Site selection is the most permanent of the choices made during the new home building process, which is why “location, location, location” remains the fundamental rule of real estate. Building an Expressive Home begins with selecting a site encompassing all the factors important to you. Residential site selection is a decision process for prioritizing these attributes.
When selecting land for new home construction, don’t hesitate to reach out to potential future neighbors in the area. In general, most people are very forthcoming about the real issues and blessings involved in living in a particular area. They will tell you how living there really is. They will be able to share some insight on how the property works at different times of the day. If you only visit a property in the calm of the evening, you may miss some issues that occur during weekends, late nights, special events, or commute times.
Not every characteristic discussed here will have importance for you. Expressive Homes recommends selecting just the ten most critical attributes for you individually, and then weighing prospective properties against them. This will keep you from getting bogged down in all the variables during the decision making process.
The criteria have been categorized into two main sections—those general traits related to the neighborhood under consideration, and those qualities unique to the specific site you are evaluating. In the end, when assessing your options, trust your instincts. If you feel like something is off with the area, you are probably right. Once you have selected a site, see the related article on Site Planning.
Neighborhood evaluation is the thoughtful consideration of all the factors that could make an area desirable to you based on your own personality, lifestyle, and preferences.
Culture & Lifestyle
Prevailing passions and interests of an area create a multitude of cultural options to suit your lifestyle. One component of site selection entails matching the property where you want to build with who you are, what is important to you, and how you live.
- Social Network:
- Distance from family and friends
- Commute time from the proposed site to your place of work – longer commutes detract from your social time
- Availability of clubs and affiliations to causes and interests important to you
- Recreation and the Outdoors:
- e.g. public lands, green spaces, parks, beaches, lakes, hikes
- Sports and sporting venues
- Commercial Access:
- Dining & food choices
- Gas and grocery
- Small towns and big cities offer drastically different lifestyles, as do smaller towns with proximity to larger cities versus rural living deep in the countryside
Aesthetics is the attribute of site selection relating to how visually appealing an area is.
- Scenic Views:
- e.g. lakes, mountains, sunsets, valleys, cityscapes, open space
- Emotional Connection:
- Sometimes it is hard to articulate what it is that attracts you to a certain location, but you are able to feel when you are in a special place
- Some areas are just more clean than others—trash is picked up, sidewalks are clean, parks are well-kept
- Will the neighborhood allow you to walk for leisure and for function? Or will you need to jump in your car and drive everywhere to get things done?
- Prevalence of green space, trail systems
- Ability to hear birds chirping, spot wildlife, or observe nature
Infrastructure comprises the systems maintaining a community and are usually supported by tax dollars and government policies.
- Determine whether the quality of the available school systems matches your expectations and values
- Transportation Network:
- Assess accessibility to transportation hubs (public transportation, main roads, airports)
- Quality of healthcare, response time of emergency crews, nearness of doctors and hospitals
- How safe is the neighborhood? What are the city crime rates? Would you feel comfortable walking alone at night?
- Understand the local rules and laws
- Look for well-planned land use
- Ensure area is zoned for what you would like to do with the property—e.g. if desired to use for home based employment
Demographics relate to the measureable characteristics of a given population of people.
- Prevailing Age Groups:
- Some areas are very diverse, others are filled with different segments like families and small children, retirees, or partying socialites
- Religion & Politics:
- Prominent belief systems in an area help indicate how much you have in common with the locals
- Affluence and Poverty:
- For some people, the distribution of wealth is an important factor in selecting potential sites for a home
Certain aspects of an area have a known propensity to drive frustration among homeowners. Knowing about nuisances before committing to a site is the best way to mitigate avoidable dissatisfaction.
- e.g. factories, flight path of an airport, highways, train tracks, night clubs, shooting ranges
- e.g. dairies, water treatment ponds, factories, fish markets, farms
- e.g. pollution, haze, smog, contaminated soil, off-tasting water
- Some areas are able to clearly see the stars at night while others have the night sky washed out with the abundance of city lights
- Busy roads
- Consider factors such as safety for kids, difficulty pulling out of driveways
- Traffic congestion:
- e.g. living by a stadium, school, or other venue drawing lots of traffic
- e.g. abandoned buildings, vandalism, graffiti, abundance of dysfunctional vehicles
Environmental factors include all the naturally occurring elements having an impact on the site selection process.
- e.g. warm or cold, rain or sunshine, dry or humid, windy or still
- Geography & Topography:
- e.g. soil conditions, vegetation, slope
- Assessment of what areas exist in designated flood plains
- Natural Disasters:
- e.g. hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes
- Air Quality:
- e.g. pollution, pollen, presence of allergens
One of the biggest constraints to finding the perfect property is whether it fits into the allowable budget. This involves more than simply knowing the asking price of the property.
- Know what taxes to expect in an area which can affect the cost of living there (i.e. property tax, sales tax, income tax)
- Employment Opportunities:
- If you lost your job, would you have to move? Or do ample opportunities exist to seek alternative employment in the available job market?
- Cost of Living:
- Know what a gallon of milk costs, or how expensive the gas is. Compare the area to an index like the Consumer Price Index to help determine affordability.
- Housing Costs:
- What is the condition of the real estate market in the area? Are home prices increasing or decreasing? Is there a lot of inventory on the market? How do prices compare to national averages?
Most attributes of a neighborhood will also be applicable to a specific property within that neighborhood. However, certain characteristics can be unique to each site and should also be considered when determining final site selection.
Utilities, Hookups, and Services
Knowing the types of available hookups and the distance required to hookup, helps determine how affordable development on the site will be, and how suitable it will be to your design preferences.
- e.g. culinary water, secondary water (for irrigation systems), water regulations and restrictions, ground water table
- e.g. sewer systems, septic tanks (enough space for a drain field)
- Above ground delivery vs. below ground
- e.g. natural gas, heating oil, propane
- Consider the speeds and bandwidth required for your lifestyle as some areas have limited options ranging from DSL to cable to fiber optic to satellite
- Storm Drains:
- Will runoff be efficiently redirected from your site?
- Land lines above or below ground
- Your favorite provider may not have coverage at the desired location, or service delivery may be at slower speeds from one area to another
- Who will maintain the road?
Size and configuration
The dimensions and configuration should allow enough options for you to pursue your desired plans for the property.
- Useable Space:
- The property’s size should be big enough to accommodate the desired footprint and outdoor space requirements after accounting for easements, preferred orientation, setbacks, and other restrictions
- Steep slopes are more expensive to develop, typically require retaining structures, are more susceptible to erosion, and are harder to access in snowy climates
- Soil conditions:
- Knowing the type of soil and the proper foundation types required keeps the structural integrity of your future home intact (otherwise you may see things as minor as doors sticking in the home, to large cracks in the foundation and walls)
- e.g. compacted soil, sinking soil, toxic soil, water absorption and drainage, strength and stability
- Sun & Shade:
- Snow Removal or rain collection – depending on location
Sometimes important factors related to site selection are not always apparent upon examination of the physical property.
- Scenic Views:
- Does the potential exist for future development to inhibit views or become a nuisance?
- Try to avoid dominance from other buildings
- Besides the initial acquisition costs, some properties by nature are more expensive to maintain