Substandard Lots











If planning to build a new custom home design on a budget, you may find yourself considering the purchase of a “substandard” lot.  These lots, as the name implies, are smaller than the average lot size surrounding them.  They are often the leftover spaces in an older neighborhood and sell for a bargain price.  Think of this lower price as compensation for the extra work that a substandard lot may require.  Such a lot will have special code restrictions on the build-able footprint, height, and often still require a garage within that footprint limiting your precious square footage severely. While a 25′ to 45′ wide lot is a challenge, the good news is that this is a challenge any good designer will love!

First, pair down your wish list to the absolute priorities.  For example, do you need a separate bathtub and shower in your master bathroom?  Will a combo do, or is there one you never really use?  Rather than differentiating between a formal and informal dining space, could you live with one dining room and bar seating in the kitchen?  Make a list of the spaces you simply can’t live without and then a list of spaces which you are aching to add, and give both to your home designer.

The good or bad news about most substandard lots is that their height is usually required to reflect the height of the neighboring structures.  If your prize lot is squished between three story row houses, then you will also be able to spread you wish list number of rooms along three levels.  If, however, the neighbors are sitting low at one story, the most that you are likely to be allowed to build is up to a story and a half, or 18′.   While these restrictions can be frustrating, try to remember that you don’t want your home to be the sore thumb.  The special code defining the limitations of building on a substandard lot is made to keep a neighborhood in sync and real estate prices high.

When a home floor plan is limited in space, tall ceilings and opened spaces help keep the rooms from feeling stuffy.  I like to keep small floor plans open but layer them to disguise the exact dimensions.  Dropping soffits to make an implied division between spaces, adding partial screens, columns, steps down or up, and changes in ceiling height can help to make small connected spaces feel larger.

A benefit of a smaller home is that you can increase the quality per square foot and stay within the same budget of a larger, but more standard home.  If you planned to build a 3,000 square foot home on a $200,000 budget, but your lot is limiting you to 1,600 square feet, you have just gained $58.00 to spend per square foot.  Maybe you can splurge on that Wolf range after all…

Most often, smaller means planning smarter.  So if your budget or preference has landed you in a substandard lot, don’t fret.  Give a generous amount of time to choosing priorities and planning with your designer, and you will discover that great things come in small packages.


Comments are closed.