How to know if a site is right

The adventure of finding the perfect lifestyle property continues, writes Kama Burwell.

So, you’ve written down your wish list, you’re being realistic about how much money and time you have to buy and develop your dream block, and you’ve gotten a feel for the property market. It sounds like you are ready to look seriously at some properties!

 

How do you really assess whether a particular site is the right one for you? What if there are pitfalls with a certain site that you haven’t considered?

 

The first time you go to a site, you are really establishing whether you “like” it…. the location, how it makes you feel, and the potential you see. The feel-good stuff, which is really important!

 

If you like a site from your initial visit, then it is time to do some proper research… ask to see all the documentation available for the site: the certificate of title, existing plans, existing geotech reports, and the LIM.

The new NPDC online maps have aerial photos with contour lines overlaid.
 

In Taranaki, check out the free maps and land use information online at www.trc.govt.nz and at maps.npdc.govt.nz. The new NPDC online maps have aerial photos with contour lines overlaid – super useful.  If you can’t get this information online, go into your local council office and ask for it in person, you may be charged but it is worth it.

 

I also highly recommend asking for natural hazard information….. there is a map of Taranaki showing the volcanic eruption risk zones, and it is a very good idea to avoid buying land in the high risk areas along some rivers and streams, where lahars will sweep down.

 

Carefully check the certificate of title for any covenants on the site… some sites have very restrictive covenants, and you need to be comfortable with them.

 

Call your local council and ask for the boundary setbacks for the site. This critical information tells you how close to the boundary sheds/garages and houses can be built. On your aerial plan, measure and draw in the boundary setbacks.

 

Lastly, check out what farming operations, industry, and oil & gas sites are near the site. One of our clients bought a beautiful site, spent years and large sums of money developing their dream home and garden, and then a nearby mothballed industrial site started up again. They were unable to sleep and abandoned the site... In Taranaki, the regional council can provide a list of sites that have received or applied for consent for oil & gas drilling – it is well worth asking for this!

 

Armed with this pile of information, go back to the site with your aerial plan, a pencil, a camera, tape measure, and maybe a spade.

 

This time, cast a more critical eye over the site:

  • Do the existing or potential house sites get enough winter sun? Remember that in mid-winter the sun rises in the northeast, is low in the sky, and sets in the northwest. A south-facing site may mean cold and miserable winters. Ideally, for low heating bills, a sunny aspect, and a productive garden all year round, a north-sloping site is best, although flat, east, or west sloping sites are good too.
  • Consider the wind… especially in Taranaki! When I first moved to our lifestyle block with an existing bungalow built on the top of a hill with virtually no shelterbelts in place, the wind almost drove me mad. It was always about 5 degrees colder at our place, the veges got demolished, and the lemon tree couldn’t hack it. It takes 3-8 years to grow good shelter, depending on the site and what species will grow there.
  • Driveways and power supplies can be very costly. If cost is a major consideration, is there a good house site close to the road?
  • Water … the perfect site would have a spring high up in the landscape, so you could gravity-feed the pure spring water to the whole site. If you find a site like that you are lucky indeed! In Taranaki there is plenty of rain falling from the sky. Although if you plan on having stock, you really need a more reliable water supply: a bore, well, or a suitable waterway.
  • What sort of landscape is your site? Another of our clients bought a site in summer, and discovered in winter that it was actually a wetland!

 

While you are there, knock on some doors to talk to neighbours about the site – they’ll provide invaluable information about prevailing winds, traffic, flooding, and the local community.

 

Now, sit down with your wish list again (with its “importance ratings” for each item), and decide whether this property is for you. If your answer is yes, then your adventure is only just starting!

 

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Kama Burwell is an ecological engineer and landscape designer, and is part of the GreenBridge team. She “lifestyled” for 9 years on a corner of the family farm near Inglewood, before moving to a suburban garden in New Plymouth.

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