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Building a Home: Teardown vs Vacant Land

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Building a Home: Teardown vs Vacant Land
4 min. read

Image: Christian Delbert / Shutterstock.com

If you’re dreaming of, or seriously thinking about building your own home from the ground up, it’s good to have a plan laid out as early as possible. One of the first things you’ll need to address is location, and more specifically, the plot of land it will be built on. In most cases, those looking to build their own home seek out vacant plots of land where they can start from scratch.  

However, there is an alternative, and it’s not uncommon to tear down older, defunct homes, and replace them with a brand-new one. Both solutions have their pros and cons, and it’s a good idea to know what both options entail. Let’s take a look at the details.

Utilities

In terms of ensuring you’ll have access to all the utilities you need, a teardown is a fairly safe bet. Since there was already a residential property there before, for the most part, you can be sure that it had utility hookups. You will need to arrange for each utility service to come by and disconnect them from the old home before you demolish it, however. Later, you’ll need to call them again to hook them back up.

On the other hand, ensuring your vacant lot has access to all the utilities you’re used to should be a priority. It can be especially difficult in remote areas to gain internet access for example, and in some places, you might have to pay a considerable sum to hook up to the mains water, electricity, gas, etc.

Location

It’s important to factor in your preferred location when deliberating between teardowns and vacant plots. Empty land is typically rife in more rural areas, but also within new and developing suburbs. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a vacant lot in downtown, or within the bigger city. This is where a teardown could be your best option to build the perfect home for you, in the neighborhood that you love.

Costs and financing

Many people opt for a teardown after doing the math and realizing that it’d cost about the same, or more, to try to renovate an old home, than to pull it down and build from scratch. However, there are additional costs to factor in before you can start building your home. The cost of demolition alone can be anywhere between $8,000 to $15,000. On top of that you’ve got to factor in utility cut-off fees, safety inspections, additional permits, etc.

Building on a vacant plot of land will also require you to pay out some costs before construction can commence, including soil tests, right of way easements, etc. Though, on the whole, it’s typically more expensive to tear down an older home. Both options are difficult to obtain financing for, though not impossible. You’ll need to look for a construction-to-permanent loan.

Zoning laws and local regulations

Regardless of the type of land you buy, all plots are subject to zoning laws, and it’s essential that you know what you can and can’t do on your plot. When buying a teardown, you can be more or less certain that you’ll be able to build a home on the plot after the demolition dust has settled, since there was previously a home there. With vacant lots, you’ll need to thoroughly check the land-use laws, as well as any restrictions.

Depending on where you choose to buy a teardown, you can expect to come across certain restrictions and codes. Many older neighborhoods are often subject to land-use rules and codes that are designed to protect the current character of the area. Other areas may not allow you to demolish at all, or require you to stick to a certain architectural style. Vacant plots of land typically avoid such issues, but it’s always worth taking a good look at local codes.

Complications

Both teardowns and vacant land can be subject to complications, though they tend to differ in nature. Major issues that can disrupt a teardown could be the discovery of toxic materials such as lead-based paint or asbestos, which can slow proceedings down considerably and cost extra to deal with properly. Another potential issue is that the existing foundations or utility lines can be damaged and would be an additional cost to replace or repair. With vacant land, you might find that the soil is not suitable for construction, or that it’s difficult for construction workers to access the site.

There are many aspects to consider before making your choice, though often location plays a large part. However, be sure to weigh both options, and build a solid plan from there.

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