How to Choose Your Building Lot

You know the saying “Location, location, location!” Well, in fact there’s a lot more to look at when purchasing land for your new home. It is a much different sensation from purchasing an existing home. For one thing when you’re looking to build in more remote areas all you’re looking at is … BUSH! You drive up to the for sale sign along the side of the road and stare at a patch of trees!

How on earth are you to determine if one patch of trees is any better than the next? That’s what I’ll attempt to answer here. At least I’ll share the factors we looked at.

Disclaimer: Please remember that we are not real estate or homebuilding professionals. The information below is our opinion and experience. Please engage a Real Estate Professional or a Builder (if they do pre-purchase consulting) when searching for your lot.

Preparing for Your Building Lot Search.

Do Your Research

You definitely don’t want to dive in and look at lots all willy-nilly. Here are a few things you’ll want to think about before setting out:

Local Amenities

Take some time to consider the services and attractions you’ll need close to your new home. Think long term: healthcare facilities, groceries, hardware. How far are you willing to drive for these services? For example, we knew that we’d like a grocery store within 20 minutes of home. I certainly don’t want to be out for two hours just to pick up the eggs I forgot on grocery day!

Municipal Building Regulations

Take some time to get familiar with building regulations in your search area.  For example, the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula has an excellent guide to the Building Permit Process freely available on their website. This will become super important if you’re looking at small or waterfront lots. There’s no doubt you already have some ideas on what you’d like to build, I’d hate to have you get your hopes up on a particular lot to find out after you’ve purchased it that you can’t fulfill that vision. Surprises are free at this stage so best get as many out of your way as possible.

Put Your Boots On

Be prepared to bushwhack if you’re looking at bush lots. That means putting on your wellies (in case of swamp or snakes) and being prepared mentally to really get in there to get the lay of the land. We found out just important that is with one lot we went to see. It looked great from the road but once we got in there we noticed a long, high berm that made a good portion of the lot swampy. Correcting that could come as a nasty, expensive, and possibly impossible surprise if you didn’t know it was there from the beginning. Again, surprises are free when you’re just shopping your lot.

5 Key Considerations for Your Building Lot Search

Lot for Sale by Terri Cardinal – Image used with permission.

Now that you’re prepared for your lot shopping excursion, it’s time to get out there and get looking! This is SO exciting! You could simply start searching or driving around, or you could engage a Realtor you trust. You can also do some research and reach out to a local builder to see if they would assist you in your lot search. They may charge a fee for their expertise – pay it!  But, if you’re ready to head out on your own, here are some things to look for when choosing your building lot:

1. Location

If you haven’t done so already, start by really getting to know your search area. We had extended our search just beyond our cottage area but we still took the time to drive around the neighbourhood to explore water access, walking routes and other factors that are important to us. Is there hydro service already along the road? Is there municipal garbage collection? These days internet is also a big deal, how can you get yours? Often asking that question on a local Facebook group can return great information – and sometimes debate.

2. Type of Neighbourhood

Even though you’re building in the bush or on a waterfront lot, there’s a good likelihood that you’ll still be in a neighbourhood/community of some kind. The idea of being in the bush or other remote spot is a lovely romantic notion but if it’s primarily a cottage area, are you prepared to feel somewhat isolated in the off season? If you’re a very social person who needs lots of interaction with all kinds of people, please consider this point seriously.

3. Proximity to Tourist Attractions

This is a little add-on to the point above but I think it’s important enough for its own space. If quiet and a bit of space/isolation is key on your wish list, you might not want to be too close to the key tourist attractions in the area. Of course it’s nice to be close to things to do but there’s traffic and … well … tourists to consider. Are you prepared for your slice of quiet paradise to not be so quiet, or for your neighbours to be changing weekly if you end up next to a rental, all in the best times of the year?

4. Lot Size

If purchasing an acre or less, consider that you may have to clear every tree to make room for construction. On smaller lots, you may have to build up (storeys) to get the space you need in the home. Smaller lots also mean closer neighbours. If you’re clearing your lot to the edge, and the next guy clears his lot to the edge, well, suddenly you’re not living in the woods anymore. You know as well as I do that trees can be replanted but they need time to fill out; be sure you’re mentally prepared for that.

5. Grade & Composition

Image used with permission from Terri Cardinal – Sutton Sound Realty Inc.

This is a BIG item. You’ll want to see that the land won’t slope toward your new home as that could cause basement troubles down the road. If you’re on rock, you’ll need more space for septic. If on sand, your well will likely cost more as they’ll have to drill deeper. In Ontario you can search well records in the neighbourhood to get an idea of what you’ll be working with.

If the lot you love has bedrock close to the surface, you’ll definitely want to factor the cost of fill into your budget! Sure, the material itself may not be expensive by the truckload, but remember you’ll also be paying for the machine time to do all the distribution and grading. Yes, any good site contractor will have the machinery to break rock to get your foundation deeper but do your research to see if that’s what you really want. Oh and that cost can add up too!

Things to do before making your offer:

  • If you haven’t already, contact your favorite Realtor. If you don’t have one, call the listing agent.
  • Check municipal/township plan and building restrictions again to make sure you’ll be able to build what you’re dreaming of on the lot you’re thinking of purchasing. Double check the planning documentation to see if the neighbourhood you’re considering has conservation rules, limitations to size, setbacks, driveways, and number of accessory buildings if you want separate garages or sheds and bunkies for guests.
  • Walk the lot again … slowly. If you can, wait until the weather conditions are different from the day you first looked at the lot. Put your boots on and start bushwhacking. Look for grade, boundary markers, animal habitat and gigantic rocks (outcroppings or erratic). You don’t have to let anything you find stop you from buying the lot if its “perfect” for you, you just have to make room in your budget for handling what you find if you still decide to purchase it.


We found that choosing the lot was much more complex than we anticipated. It’s a really big deal! It’s not an easy mistake to correct if you get this step wrong. Well, I suppose if you catch it in time, you could just sell the lot again. The good news is that if the location is right and the lot size satisfies your needs, there’s almost no condition that can’t be corrected with some good planning, time and money.

And if you laughed at the “get your wellies on” part … I can say this with experience … if you’re not comfortable with this step, the lot isn’t for you. I didn’t / wouldn’t / couldn’t bring myself to do this on a couple lots we went to see. That should tell you a lot about the lot. I don’t recommend ignoring this little detail, or any “gut” feelings on such an important emotional and financial investment.

Good luck with your search! Please drop a line in the comments below if you think I’ve missed any important factors in choosing your building lot.

Send me a message!

The Cottage Wife

In addition to hiking, biking, reading and writing, I like to focus on making as light an impact on the land possible, while still living a modern life.

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