- Has title issued? This may seem obvious, but land and sections will be put on the market at various stages of the subdivision process. As an example, a neighbouring property began that subdivision process years before we bought our section, but title still hadn't issued on that property. That may not be a dealbreaker for you - you may know who is subdividing the land, and you may get a better deal because title hasn't issued....but remember - you won't be building on your land until that title is issued. Luckily for us, title had issued not long before we grabbed the section .
- What are the zoning rules? Wherever you are in New Zealand, you'll have a District and Regional Plan that will dictate what exactly can be built on your section without resource consent. Finding out what those rules will let you do is definitely something worth looking at before putting pen to paper. Look up your local District Council website, find the District Plan, and check what the zoning is and what rules apply. At the very least have a conversation with the real estate agent and developer about those zoning rules. We were right on the cusp of a rural residential zone - so no real worries there.
- What are the utilities and services like? If you're building smack bang in the middle of town, then it's likely you'll be hooked up to all the town services. For us, this was a big one to find out about - we both work in the IT space (I personally run 543 Website Design out of a home office), so a good broadband connection was crucial. If you're further afield, you may need a septic tank etc - which can add to costs.
- What does the contract look like? Alot of blank sections will be within a subdivision of some sort - and often the developer will impose some building requirements on new purchasers. These can be HUGELY onerous - we looked at one development that required us to sign a contract that basically said "the developer can change anything - including the size and shape of your section - at any point.... and that all deposits were non-refundable....even if the development didn't go ahead." Scary stuff! Obviously you can negotiate any contract - but always be aware of what you may be required to conform to in terms of your build. For us there was a minimum spend per square metre (which building on a slope we were always going to end up spending), and a few clauses requiring a certain sewer pump and nothing too radical in terms of colouring. Again, no red flags for us, so we pushed on.
- What's going on beneath the surface? A big learning we've had in this process is that what the ground is like below the surface can be hugely influential on your build costs. A flat section may look perfect - but if it's mainly 'infill', then your foundations and excavation costs might pop up. Some developers will provide you with a geotechnical report, but otherwise it's a good idea to investigate the land early. It's a couple of thousand of dollars that could save you hundreds of thousands in the long run. Obviously we were most worried about our steep section - so made our offer conditional on a geo-technical report being completed. Ben Bistouni at RDCL was fantastic in that regard - we expressed the urgency, he was out on site with us within days, and turned the report around with plenty of time for us to meet our condition. The good news was that while the site was steep, the underlying ground was solid.
- Understand your bargaining power. This one will vary from person to person depending on the section and the amount of interest in it. Obviously, if you are one of 10 bidders on a section, you aren't going to be in as strong of a position as the solo person interested. The good news is, sections do tend to have less interest than houses at the moment, so if you find yourself in a strongish position, you can always 'negotiate creatively'. For us, we knew we liked the section, and the price was OK, so rather than trying to push the price way down, we put in a couple of conditions in the contract to give us time to be sure about the purchase. We signed with a settlement date a couple of months down the track, and made the offer conditional on both having the geotech report AND an acceptable design completed by settlement date. We gave ourselves as much certainty as possible that we could build something we loved, before being absolutely committed.
Purchasing land was definitely a new and exciting prospect for us. We knew we could build something awesome on the section we found, but we heard so many horror stories about 'steep sections' and the costs running up that it was pretty freaky making the commitment. What we did end up doing was spending a decent chunk of change (several thousand) before we went unconditional on the contract, to just give ourselves more confidence in the land we were buying. Looking back on it, it's been worth every penny - as we would have incurred all of those costs further down the line anyway. Ultimately, if the geotech report had been bad, or we couldn't get a design we liked...we could have not settled on the section and saved hundreds of thousands. We'd definitely recommend some good thorough planning up front. And with that great planning underway....we really wanted a a great 'team' to make our home a reality - which I'll dive into in our next blog.
Disclaimer: Building Logic is constructing the home of the author - Jamie Twigg. Jamie is friends with Matt Symonds (of Building Logic), and the founder of 543 Website Design - which created the Building Logic website. This is not a sponsored post - and is an honest reflection on how the build process goes for a keyboard jockey and newbie to construction. As such, nothing in this blog post should be considered expert advice.