When selecting a lot in a new subdivision, it is important not to make any snap decisions. Bring along your home builder and an expert on things like erosion, water drainage and soil. Finding a lot is a much more than just considering the proximity to subdivision amenities. It has little to do with trees either, since most of them will need to be cleared to build your home. Instead look for high ground, especially in flood prone areas.
It is important to consider soil composition, especially if you plan to install a septic system. Yellow clay called tallow is not suitable for septic tanks. Clay, preferably red, black, grey or brown clay, is the most suitable soil for a crawl space. Loose soil is more prone to erosion and sand requires a deeper footing.
While homes built on a hilly or sloping property can be beautiful, it usually costs more to grade and the house plan must be either designed or adapted for the hill in order to look right. Erosion can also be a problem with slopes. Slightly rolling hills are very attractive, but they will have to be leveled out under the house and the surrounding area as well. When your home builder levels your property, be sure that the paved driveway does not slope towards the garage. If your frontage is lower than your home site this is usually a bad sign. Pick a property that is a bit higher in the center than towards the front.
Land which slopes at a greater angle than 30 degrees usually requires a cut and fill method of grading the property. In this method earth is dug from the high end of the property, and moved to the low end. Cut and fill is expensive and sometimes the resulting ground is less than stable. Your lot could be susceptible to erosion and ground settling which might crack the foundation. In some cases these techniques have resulted in homes literally sliding down the mountain during heavy rains. Cut and fill is not ideal, but your lot may require it. I recommend grading the property and then allowing it to sit for several months before building. Alternatives to cut and fill can include building a smaller home and employing a split level design, but sometimes even this does not completely alleviate the necessity of cut and fill. It is best to keep cut and fill to a minimum when building a mountain home.
If your home is going to built in an area where precipitation is common, or tends to be excessive at times, it is best to choose a property on a hill. I don’t mean little mounds either, but the overall elevation of the property in comparison with surrounding land for miles, and especially throughout the development and surrounding land. Low lying areas are prone to flash floods and this leads to water damage and even dangerous conditions.
Of all the factors involved in choosing a lot, this is the most important and the hardest to spot. Underground springs can bubble up to the surface at any time. Often the water is seasonal or it can be opened during grading. Even worse, it can go unnoticed during the construction process and then spring up suddenly damaging your foundation and causing moisture under the home. It’s very difficult to spot an underground spring. A small dip in the land resembling a ditch, one to five feet wide, a good bit longer than it is wide and anywhere from six inches to three feet deep can be a tell tail sign, but this isn’t conclusive. Step in the hole and test the firmness of the soil. You could be stepping into a deep mud hole so be careful. If it feels soft and wet far below the surface you almost definitely have an underground spring. If not, it could still be there. It helps to be familiar with the area or find someone who is. Long term residents nearby might be able to advise you if there are wet spots on the land but even they may not know. If the land was farmland, farmers who worked the land would know exactly where the usual wet spots are.
If the amenities are not built yet take their existence and location with a grain of salt. While developers may plan to put in a lake or build a clubhouse, often these plans change or construction is postponed for decades. Never pay more for a lot because it will be next to an amenity that does not yet exist.
If you can afford it, buy two or more lots. This provides a buffer between you and your neighbors. Centering a home on three lots is ideal and can make your home more enjoyable and valuable. It provides more room for gardening, landscaping and outdoor life. Building a little home on a big lot can be a very freeing and leads to a healthier more outdoorsy lifestyle.
Choosing a lot can be a difficult decision. In addition to these practical concerns there are other factors including the general vibe of the spot. Don’t ignore your instincts. If something makes you uneasy on this spot, choose another lot. Always trust your intuition, but consider all the other factors as well. Selecting a lot in a new subdivision is an opportunity to pick the best lot you can.