If you’re planning to build a barndominium, choosing land is one of the absolute first steps.
In fact, most banks will require that you have property selected and ready to go before they offer you a construction loan. This means you’ll really want to start your barndo journey by looking for land.
While many barndominium builders will actually help you find land as part of their services, it’s generally cheaper if you can do so yourself. In addition, shopping for the right property will allow you to move where you want to live rather than settling.
However, there are a lot of considerations for building a barndo, including zoning, local regulation, accessibility, and much more. This article will go over everything you have to consider when you choose your land for your barndo.
A standard home lot is about 13,896 square feet, giving the average homeowner enough space for a large front and back yard. However, the actual lot size will vary a lot depending on where you’re trying to live.
If you want a barndo in a busy city, you’ll probably be lucky to get about 7,000 square feet. On the other hand, if you want a barndo in rural Vermont, sizes of 40,000 square feet and up are common.
The more rural your home, the easier it will be to afford a larger lot for your home.
In addition, you’ll have to consider how much land you need for your property. For example, if you’re building a 2,500-square-foot barndo, you need much more than 2,500 square feet of land. You’ll have setbacks that determine how close to the edge of the property you can build.
And, if you want to install a septic tank, you’ll typically be required to have a minimum of about 20,000 square feet or about half an acre. If you want to add a well to that, it typically has to be at least 100 feet uphill from any sewage or septic drain.
- What are the setbacks for each side of the property?
- How much land do you actually want to have free?
Accessibility is an important question for your home during every stage of the building process and living in the home.
For example, you can often very easily purchase rural land for cheap. But, what happens if it doesn’t have a road up to it? What about if it’s not accessible for the trucks and equipment needed to put up your barndo?
You can typically overcome these issues by putting in a private road. However, this is expensive and may require significant costs.
For example, a simple gravel road typically costs about $15-$25 per foot of length for the road. If you’re going with asphalt, that can be as much as $13 per square foot – or up to $156 per foot of road length.
Later, you’ll have to think about things like accessibility for groceries, emergency services, and repairs. You might not care about having a pizza delivered to your location, but what about an ambulance?
Of course, accessibility issues aren’t entirely about rural living. For example, if you pick a lot in a dense suburban neighborhood, you might find you actually have to remove fences or that construction equipment can’t fit between houses for proper erection of your home.
Accessibility will always be an important concern.
If you’re building a home, you’ll need basic utilities including electricity, water, gas, and sewage. You can opt to supply each of these yourself. You can also opt to connect to city or county supplies where available.
Here, you’ll want to look at:
- Is it possible to connect to the existing utility infrastructure?
- Do you have the option to build a well?
- Do you have the option to build a standard septic tank? If not, can you build a mound or other alternative septic tank?
- Can you connect to local electricity? How much will it cost to have electricity run to your location?
Utility connections are important during initial home construction as well as after it. That’s often because you’ll need water, sewage, and electricity while building the home.
You don’t need to be able to connect to local utilities. However, you should have a plan and county approval for how to supply your own utilities.
For example, not all areas are suitable for wells, septic tanks, or solar panels. Your location might not be suitable for you.
Distance to utilities can also help you make decisions about whether you want to supply your own or connect to existing utilities.
For example, if you’re set on having a city sewer connection, you’ll want to price things out upfront, because if it costs more than about $10,000 to make that connection, it’s typically a better idea to go with your own septic tank.
Zoning & HoA
Zoning laws impact what can be built on a plot of land and why. This means that if you want a shopdominium, you’ll need land that’s zoned for mixed use and not “just” for residential usage”.
In most cases, you can very easily check zoning by looking the property up with the parcel number. Otherwise, you can call city hall and ask for advice.
In each case, you need to know what types of property can be built on the land, whether or not there are any restrictions, etc.
Zoning affects things like:
- The maximum size of your home
- The minimum size of your home
- Whether you can have sheds and what size they can be
- Property setbacks
Setbacks can also be more impactful than you’d think. For example, most setbacks regulate the distance of the home from the front of the property, such as from the street. Others will dictate the distance to any edge of the property, to a water feature, or to a nearby home.
You might also have restrictions on how close you can build to a neighbor’s home – which can become extremely impactful if they have a two-story home with dormer windows and you want the same.
In general, the best way to figure out zoning and setbacks is to simply pay your surveyor to draw up a lot plan. They’ll work the setbacks in, so you can easily see if your current floor plan and home idea fit into the property.
In addition, this won’t be wasted money, because you’ll need that plot plan when you’re applying for building permission.
You’ll also have to consider any Homeowners Associations (HoA) that might have jurisdiction over the property. That’s also true with some municipalities.
Here, the zoning and regulations set by HoA may actually prevent you from building a barndominium. Why?
Housing might be restricted to a specific type of housing option. In other cases, it might be restricted to housing that looks similar to everything else in the neighborhood.
Or, you might be restricted from using more than a percentage of a pole barn for anything but agriculture or storage.
These kinds of issues are one of the main reasons that most barndominiums are built in rural areas. However, you can sometimes get away with building your barndo wherever you want, so long as you pay attention to the requirements and build accordingly.
Checking these kinds of regulations before you build the property is an important part of shopping for land.
However, it’s also a good idea to simply hand these requirements to your broker and let them take on responsibility for checking the zoning and the housing association requirements.
Some areas have site restrictions that are unique to the location and will have to be checked. These are common in urban areas, in historic areas, and in some other cases.
For example, if you’re living on a property with a waterway that connects to a local drinking source, you might have a significant number of restrictions on building.
If you’re building near a park, you might have to keep noise contamination below a certain level.
If you’re building around a scenic area, you might have to keep your home below a certain level.
And, if you’re building near a historic area, you might actually have to match your home to the surrounding neighborhood, meaning you might have to build in “traditional” materials.
Of course, that’s also likely to apply if you’re building in a neighborhood full of houses, as many housing associations require that you use paneling and exterior build options to help your home blend into the neighborhood.
Environmental factors can play a very large role in your building site and construction.
For example, it’s usually a good idea to start your property purchase off with a soil test. However, again, you can hand requirements to your broker and make them responsible for ensuring that the land meets your needs.
Environmental tests check for scenarios like:
- The environmental impact might be too high to build. For example, if you’ve chosen an area that is a protected nesting site.
- Your site is a flood zone.
- The soil stability is not high enough to build a home on (e.g. you’re on an old riverbed or soft ground).
- The soil stability is not high enough to build a two-story home.
- The soil stability is too low to build on without using deep piers for stability.
- Soil drainage is not good enough to have a standard septic tank.
- Soil drainage is not good enough to build a home without replacing the sub-layer below the foundation.
- The ground is not level enough to build on without significant excavation
Here, it’s important to note that environmental issues can greatly impact the cost of property. For example, if the land is on a slope, you’ll probably get it for a very cheap rate.
However, you’ll have to excavate and build into the side of the slope or you’ll have to use a more expensive foundation option to account for the slope. In either case, it’s important to be aware of the extra costs upfront.
In most cases, the only time you truly won’t be able to build on land is when you can’t afford the countermeasures or the county won’t offer planning permission because of environmental concerns. Otherwise, you can almost always pay more to account for problems.
There are plenty of considerations that might impact your property choice. However, it’s always an option to tell your broker what you want, and if the broker doesn’t deliver, make sure you have title insurance so you get your money back and you can start over.
Good title insurance will guarantee the property meets your specifications, so if it later turns out that it doesn’t, you are reimbursed not just for the cost of the land but any build costs you’ve incurred so far.
Some areas will have significant tax obligations. Others will have tax liens on the property.
It’s important to be aware of those before you make the purchase. For example, property may come with significant liens.
You may also want to look at what tax obligations you have based on the size of the property, the size of your home, and even which county your home is in.
If someone has easements on your property, it means they can use that property for things like advertising, machinery, storage, etc.
Purchasing property with easements can reduce the cost of the land. However, it’s rarely a thing that you want.
In some cases, you might find that land is being sold without the mineral rights.
This often happens in rural areas, where the previous owner had a large tract of land and sold off the mineral rights (water, oil, gas, metals) on the entire property – and then divided the land into parcels to sell it. In this case, you can’t typically put in a well, although you may be able to anyway.
In addition, if the company owning the mineral rights were to show up and put in an oil rig, there’s not much you could do. Therefore, you might want to look at whether you get mineral rights with the property.
In each of these cases, the best option is to have a discussion with your broker. However, if you’re buying the property yourself, you’ll want to make a list of concerns and preferences, and then compare what you’re buying to that list.
Taking the time to research and ensure your property is exactly what you need will save you a lot of hassle as you go to build your barndo.
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