WASHINGTON—In most new-home communities, buyers can select from not only several floor plans and exterior elevations, they also get to choose the lot to put it on.
Typically, buyers select a lot based on size, foliage and view. But there's much more to picking a home site than that.
Daniel Van Epp, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Newland Communities, one of the nation's largest developers of master-planned communities, suggests that before you choose the site, you should see how your home will receive sunlight, its main source of heat.
"The orientation can make as much difference in your energy bills as building a home that's meant to be energy efficient from the ground up," says Van Epp, whose privately held company is based in San Diego.
Generally, the house should be positioned so the kitchen has an eastern exposure for natural light in the morning and the living areas face west to get the afternoon sun. But there are regional variations. If you live in a hot or humid climate, look for a lot where the longest side of the house faces north or south to minimize exposure to the sun.
Here's a short course on the other things you'll need to consider:
*Size: The size of your lot will probably depend on cost: the larger the piece of ground, the more you can expect to pay. But after that, buyers tend to base their decisions on emotion.
While a large lot may be appealing, think about who is going to tend to the grass, trim and prune the shrubs and rake the leaves. If you enjoy this sort of thing, go for big. But not only is it more expensive to keep a large yard shipshape, it also will cost more to landscape.
Large lots also are more taxing, as in property taxes.
From a purely investment point of view, however, nationally recognized architect and land planner Quincy Johnson says that, as a general rule, pick the smaller lot in a neighborhood of larger ones. All things equal, houses on small lots tend to appreciate more rapidly than small houses on larger lots in the same subdivision.
*Terrain: Trees are nice, but in many places, they shed -- and someone has to rake up or blow away all those leaves.
Besides, there's more to the topography than trees.
For example, an uphill lot not only provides better drainage, it also displays a house more effectively. "Psychological studies have shown that people feel more secure when they look down at the street rather than up," says the Boca Raton, Fla.-based Johnson.
Also, perspective will trick the eyes, making a house on an uphill lot or one that sits further back on the lot seem larger and more impressive. But the farther back a house sits, the more expensive it is to build.
*View: What you see out your windows is important, whether it's water, woods, mountains or even an impressive skyline. But don't let the current picture bewitch you. Things change.
A water view may not be a water view later when the area is completely developed. And that stretch of meadow on the other side of the road may be a shopping center or gas station one day. So investigate the future of your area before making a decision Master-planned projects, on the other hand, are put together as a single entity, so "there's a little more reliance on what you see is what you get," Van Epp says. "Also, while master-planned developments tend to have a variety of different housing types ... they all fit together."
Either way, though, it's a good idea to study the plan for the area to determine what, if anything, is penciled in -- for next door and down the road.
*Orientation: There isn't much wiggle room in most subdivisions. Aside from "flipping" the floor plan -- reversing the plan so what's on the left is now on the right, and vice versa -- a builder usually can't position a house on the lot much differently. So if conservation is your bag, you might want to pick the lot first and the floor plan second.
Another consideration is your family's lifestyle. If you or your spouse is a late riser, for example, don't pick a lot where the sun comes streaming through the bedroom windows at the crack of dawn. Also try to take advantage of prevailing breezes.
Overall, though, Van Epp says buyers should focus on the lot first: "The market value of the house is most affected by the lot, not the layout."
*Location: If you need to make a fast getaway in the morning, consider a lot near the entrance of your new community. But if you have small children and traffic is a concern, go for one toward the rear.
Cul-de-sacs are out of favor with big developers because they suggest a less-connected community. "The whole art and science is back to a more gridlike pattern, which is more walkable," Van Epp says.
Still, if traffic and privacy are important, consider a house on a balloon-shaped lot where there is no through traffic.
Also consider the lots' relationship to parks, greenbelts, walkways and other amenities.
*Shape: Sites come in many configurations -- square, rectangular, irregular and pipe stem, or flag-shaped -- each with advantages and disadvantages.
Corner lots tend to be the most prized. But, then, they are usually more costly.
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