What should you look for when shopping for your Dream?

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Let’s face it, when people shop around for real estate property (whether a home, vacant land or commercial property) what most people are shopping for is a dream, a lifestyle or a stepping stone that will take them closer to realizing a vision or goal.

No matter whether there is a structure present or not, a new owner will most likely build, remodel, refresh or somehow personalize their new purchase.
But how many people are familiar with all the rules and regulations that govern their property of choice?

Each property and each location throughout the U.S. is unique and specific to the jurisdiction it is in. As most of my experience has been in Santa Barbara, California, keep in mind that some of this information may vary depending on where the desired property is located.

Generally speaking most properties fall under the jurisdiction of counties or cities and they govern them by means of zoning regulations or general plans, which are blueprints for city growth and development. These regulations dictate what uses are allowed but also regulate front, side and rear yard setbacks and open space requirements (if any).

In addition to the zoning regulations and land use requirements some jurisdictions may also have Boards or Committees to enforce local aesthetic or historical guidelines that were put in place to convey or preserve the special character and value of a whole city or specific neighborhood.

Fire Departments have a strong influence in how a lot can be developed: in fact, any development must meet their specific standards and in some cases these standards can undermine the feasibility of a project if there are physical site constraints that prevent a specific condition meeting their standard.

Easements are very common. Specific to individual lots, they are typically present to allow for construction of public roads and paths, installation and maintenance of utilities, or access to land-locked lots. They can, however, also address environmental preservation to safeguard sensitive wildlife habitat or corridors. Specific rules are attached to these easements and most commonly no permanent structure can ever be placed (or even encroach) within its boundaries.

HOAs (Home Owners Associations) often impose their own rules and regulations to properties within specific subdivisions or developments. It is advisable to thoroughly read through all of them and ensure you are able to undertake your favorite pass times and hobbies.

CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions) can be placed upon a property’s title to ensure certain conditions are enforced in perpetuity and they can be imposed upon an individual property or applied as a condition of approval for subdivisions or large developments.

When dealing with older structures, especially in a state like California, one must be aware of the possibility that structural and seismic retrofitting might be required.
In older commercial structures some consideration must also be given to accessibility and any easily achievable removal of barriers for people with physical disabilities.

During the purchase process certain inspections are normally performed and it is good practice that septic systems or water wells will actually perform and fulfill the desired capacity of use of future uses envisioned. If not, it is then important that there is a possibility to enhance, enlarge or improve upon the existing conditions.

And what about the current standing of a chosen property with the agencies that govern it? Are all the structures permitted? Are there any known violations? These are very important questions to ask. Most jurisdictions in fact will penalize and fine the current property owner even if he/she was not responsible for such violation and was unaware of its existence at the time of purchase. They normally do not come looking for faults out of the blue, but it is quite common that issues like that might surface at the time the new owner applies for a new and unrelated permit.

Let’s hypothesize that you purchased a property and you are ready to build, remodel or add to an existing structure. In addition to complying with all that was just discussed, your structure will be required to comply with all the codes that have been adopted by your local jurisdiction (building, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, etc., etc… codes).

Professionals work and comply with these codes on a daily basis and it is really not a problem. It is part of the process, and designs accommodate for all of these requirements. It is, however, not always possible to modify certain existing conditions and physical restrictions that come with the property. Even physical properties such as slope or terrain, if inappropriate for the desired use, could reveal themselves as obstacles.
It is crucial to ensure that the property that is purchased can allow you to achieve your goal without incurring costly and prolonged approval processes such as requesting zoning variances, conditional permits or re-zoning cases.

As you can see, each property can be subject to many regulations and governed by many agencies. This list is extensive but depending on the location of the property of interest there may be more, less or simply different aspects to verify.
It is of paramount importance to complete all the required research before closing a purchase agreement.
This could save a lot of headaches and surprises in the future and it will definitely empower you to make an educated decision in your purchase.
Of course this can feel like a chore and become overwhelming, especially when faced with the rest of the paperwork required in a real estate transaction, but there are professionals that deal with these types of research and property regulation on a daily basis and would be happy to assist you in matching your goals and needs to your property of choice. It is best to find a local professional that is familiar with the regulations in your area and can then proceed in investigating the specifics of a property.