If you want to base your home-building project "on solid ground," literally as well as figuratively, you should "look beneath the surface" of the real estate deal - figuratively as well as literally!
A home is more than just a house. By the same token, a proper home site is more than just so much dirt. It may or may not have the qualities that make it desirable as a permanent location for a dwelling, and profitable as an investment in real property.
So here is a list of thirty items by which to judge whether the lot you are thinking of buying is mere real estate or a good home site:
1. Buy the knowledge of a dependable real estate expert; that is, patronize a dealer of high standing in the community.
2. Buy an appraisal. Consult a second disinterested real estate man or a professional appraiser and pay him his relatively small fee for making an analysis of the value of the property before you purchase it.
3. Buy an absolutely clear title. You may require the seller to establish his title to the property before you buy it, or you may employ a lawyer or a title guarantee company to search the title for you. This is vitally important and is worth the expense.
1 In Small Home (Architects' Small House Service Bureau, Inc.), January, 1927.
4. Buy exact boundaries. Don't take the seller's word as to property lines, but see that they are accurately established at the time when the title is searched.
5. Buy sunlight, not smoke and dust. If you are going to the trouble of acquiring your own permanent home, you might just as well have it in a location that is sure to be healthy for your children.
6. Buy exposure to the winds that prevail in summer. When looking over the lot, keep in mind the house you intend to place on it and try to see whether or not it will be comfortable.
7. Buy enough land. The minimum should be from 40 to 60 feet of frontage. Old-style 25 and 28 and 30-foot lots in crowded districts are poor investments. The wider your lot, the greater your chances for a price increase.
8. Buy solid earth. In filled-in tracts, or "made" land, there always is a danger of poor drainage or a chance that the house will settle. Either settling or bad drainage will damage the structure.
9. Buy high land. This is necessary if drainage is to be satisfactory. A low lying lot may mean a waterproofing problem.
10. Buy level land. Filling a lot to bring it up to the desired level is almost as costly as excavating.
11. Buy land of good shape. A lot of irregular outline may prove diffi-cult to sell.
12. Buy good soil. Remember that excavating in rock may prove more expensive than you wish to undertake, that quicksand or other defects of the soil may result in damage to your house, but that under-sur-face sand or gravel may be an advantage if it is of such quality that it can be used for the mortar, plaster or stucco.
13. Buy land fully developed or already under development. It is safer, though more expensive, than acreage which may be developed in the distant future.
14. Buy water and gas mains, graded and paved streets, sewers, walks and curbs already installed, or else add the estimated cost of taxes for these improvements to the price of your lot. Property with all these utilities in and fully paid for should not cost you more than 30 per cent of the total investment you plan to make, though 20 per cent would be a much safer figure. Land without these improvements should not cost more than 10 per cent of the total.
15. Buy moderate taxation. If you have any choice as to the state, county or city in which you intend to build your home, acquaint yourself fully with the taxing policy of the authorities and estimate what the taxes will add to the cost of maintaining your dwelling.
16. Buy good transportation to your work, church, schools and shopping centers. Measure the distance, not in miles, but in time it takes to get there. The ideal home lot is three or four blocks from transportation lines and stations.
17. Buy good collateral on a building loan; that is, choose a lot on which a bank or building and loan association will advance you at least 50 or 60 per cent of its value. If they won't lend you more than 40 per cent you may question whether or not you are paying too much.
18. Buy fire and police protection. See that your neighborhood is well served by these city departments.
19. Buy partnership in the community. "Restricted residential districts" may serve as protection against persons with whom your family won't care to associate, provided the restrictions are enforced and are not merely temporary.
20. Buy the right to build according to your own standard of living. The building restrictions may call for a more expensive house than you can afford to build and maintain.
21. Buy a well-balanced investment. That is, don't put much more or much less than one-fifth or one-fourth of your total funds into the lot. The construction should cost you three or four times the purchase price of the land.
22. Buy a sound investment, so far as you and your appraiser can judge future values. Population and transportation are the two chief elements in increasing home-site values. Be sure your property is in the line of residential, not industrial or commercial, growth of the city.
23. Buy freedom from easements; investigate thoroughly to find out whether or not any one has any right to lay pipes or erect poles or make a right-of-way on your lot.
24. Buy good location within the block. Remember that a corner lot may be double-assessed for streets and sidewalks and that it will require longer fences. See that your lot is such that your neighbor's kitchen or garage won't be a nuisance.
25. Buy a real share of parks, playgrounds and schools. An ideal location is about half a mile from these.
26. Buy freedom from traffic dangers and noises. A through street may prove a menace to your children and to the daily comfort and the nightly slumber of the whole family.
27. Buy a chance at future favorable development. Examine the chances of public utilities, parks or boulevards being brought closer to your property in the future - and then be sure that such developments would be to the advantage and not to the detriment of the property.
28. Buy "a sure thing." If at all possible, it would be well for you to rent and live in a neighborhood for a year before undertaking to buy and build there.
29. Buy beauty. Too many trees are better than too few; natural objects of beauty will save you the cost of development and will help you dispose of the property advantageously when the time comes.
30. Buy a home, not a speculation. You would accept many things in buying just to make money which you wouldn't consider if you were buying for permanence. Set your ideal high - you probably will have to modify it, but it's safer to modify a high ideal than a low one.
Of course, a home lot possessing all these thirty advantages may be more than an ideal - it may be a physical as well as a financial impossibility in your town. But these are the things you should have in mind before you buy. Don't let any one "talk you out of them."