Land Purchase and Development: What You Need to Know

The following observations have been written as a simple guide. There are things to be aware of when looking for land. The characteristics of the land will subsequently affect your choice as to what home you will choose to build.

New Property Purchase

If you’ve found the perfect lot and are wondering what home to put on it you should do some simple research to obtain important information about the land such as . . .

  • Lot topography
  • Wetlands
  • Property lines
  • Tree removal-some cities and counties regulate this
  • Road(s) and access
  • Water
  • Sewer or on-site sewer (septic systems)

Lot Topography

If you are looking at a lot that has some slope on it, you will want to determine where to put the home on the flattest part of the lot to minimize construction cost. If the area you want to place the home is the only spot on the lot and it has a slope, you will need to adjust the cost of the home upwards to cover the cost of any additional concrete for the crawlspace or a walk out basement. You may also need to obtain the services of a Geologist so as to determine any factors that might affect the homes location or surrounding areas in which the home will be built. This is commonly referred in new home construction as a Geo Tech Survey.


With increased population growth in our areas this has increase attention towards safeguarding wetlands. They serve a purpose for our environment, but at times can make building a bit cumbersome for the land buyer. What can you do? Pay a visit to your county for any records regarding the lot that you purpose to purchase. The county maps and with the assistance of the person at the counter can help you to understand any wetland issue that might arise in you goal of building. This is a great way to start. Please, do not take the word of the seller. Unless they have recorded documents that allay any issues about the wetlands, be sure to do your own due diligence.

Having wetlands does not mean you can not build, it just may mean you will have to develop the property according to state mandated laws or laws that are governed by the Federal Government. Often times a persistent land purchaser can obtain property with “issues” at a reduced rate due to the bulk of work that maybe needed to build on that vacant land.

Property Lines

Noting where property lines exist is a crucial part to determining where you will build your new True Built Home. Small lots pose an equal if not greater challenge due to the size. Each county and city have varying degrees of set backs.

What are setbacks? These are areas off the property lines where you can start building. Some cities have 5,7 or even zero lot line setbacks. A simple call to the cities land and building service department should help you obtain the needed information. Make sure that if you find a lot and then it fails through; do not assume that the setback will be the same for the next lot. Setbacks can change from one street to the next street over. It would be wise to make a call to determine if any change in the setback for the new lot. This information would equally apply to counties.

Of course the best way to determine setbacks and property lines is by survey. The prices vary depending on lot size and location. Often before someone decides to sell their land they have it surveyed for any prospective buyer. If they have not, sellers and buyers may agree to go in half for the survey. NOTE: Do not assume that if you have a survey that this will solve Geographical issues or wetland issues. Those are separate and may have nothing to do with land surveying.

If you have your property lines and you are aware of your setbacks, then you will be able to determine your “building envelope”. The building envelope is the area that you can place your home or other structures.

Tree Removal

Some areas of our state have moratoriums on tree removal. This may mean that the land can be sold but not cleared. You will need to determine this ahead of time. The best location to obtain current laws regarding this is the Washington State Department of Agriculture


Does your lot have a road to it? You might assume that it does but unless the easement to the road has been recorded, it might just remain a trail forever. This can be simple to find out by paying a visit to the city or county that you are purchasing the land in. Although this is a rare occurrence, we have seen this before.

Will you need to make road improvements? Some cities and counties require their residences who build a new home to make road improvements that can cost additional funds. Often the land may be discounted as a result. Check with your city or county for road improvement laws. NOTE: If road improvements are required, a civil engineer would like to be needed to officially submit a work order to the city.  Check or subcontractor list for a Civil engineer for your needs.

Local Water Service

Likely the area you will be building in will have water either provided by a water company or city. These entities require that you pay for the meter to be placed at your lot. The cost will vary so do your due diligence. If the land had a home on it before then more than likely it has a meter on the property. This would obviously affect the cost of obtaining the water needed for your home. A simple call to the water district will help you to determine this.

Most states require well-drilling companies to log or record the wells that that drill. As this is the case, it will be easier to determine the depth that the well you may need to drill on your land will cost. This is not a fail-safe procedure. Some have had to drill deeper than a neighbor, and you might too. However, surrounding neighbors can help you to determine a depth based on their wells.  Well prices are pretty competitive. We recommend going with a more recognized driller.

NOTE: Your lender, if you are using one, will require a “certificate of water availability”. This is needed to assure the bank that the home will have water. This can be obtained from your local PUD or city. If you are having a well drilled, the driller will test the water with your local health department and then they will give you a water certification if the water is deemed safe to drink. The certificate will likely indicate the strength of flow for the well.

Sewer and on-site sewer (septic systems)

Your lot or vacant land will need to have the ability to dispose of sewage. Most city and some outside the city limits have sewer. The cost to connect will vary on conditions such as depth of the main sewer line, road improvements and distance. Check with your city as they have records indicating where the sewer lines run.

On-Site sewer

Better known as septic systems. What will your county require that you put in place to care for your home’s sewer needs may be determined by soil conditions more than man-made laws. A septic designer will need to be hired. He will dig wholes to test the soil conditions. Many think that pouring water in the holes is what determines soil condition. This is not the case. What they are looking for are types of soils and water table marks. A septic designer can often tell by looking at the holes what type of system will need to be designed in order for your land to meet on-site sewer laws. There are several types of septic systems. Read about them here.

As can be noted, development at times can seem a little daunting. Don’t be alarmed. It is most likely that the land you are interested in will have little or no issues. Think too of the tremendous equity that can be had. Often times, if not the majority of times, building a home may mean you save as much as 1/3 or even more of the price for a new home of equal size and location. If you love the idea of saving thousands of dollars on your next home purchase, then don’t be discouraged. True Built Home is here to assist in the greatest way possible. Please feel free to contact us at [email protected]


The aforementioned land development needs should not be misunderstood to imply state/city/ or county laws and enforcement. It is rather, a simple outline of what you may or may not encounter in the purchase and or the development of your land. The writers of this information are not surveyors, septic designer’s lawyers or civil engineers. Neither do they work for the counties city or state. The writer encourages all home purchasers to do their own due diligence as to the investment of land purchase.

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