Saturday, June 21, 2008

What, Exactly, Does Location, Location, Location Mean?

Aaah, Location, Location, Location! Ask any real estate agent what this means and you will get as many answers as there are types of houses. You'll also get answers framed according to the houses they are currently trying to sell but that is another subject.

While my comments deal primarily with new homes, the comments are just as pertinent for resale.

New Home sales typically involve a sales office, a couple of model homes and vast expanses of mud where dream houses will arise (eventually). Buyers will spend hours and hours and hours poring over choices of exterior and interior materials; they will spend a great deal of time selecting trim and finishes; family and friends will help them pick appliances perhaps even changing layouts. In short, they invest considerable time and energy in defining what the house will look like, inside and out.

Conversely, Buyers will spend only a few minutes looking at site plans and then spend months imagining their ideal home sitting on the selected lot. Buyers all but ignore exactly where the house will be situated within the development and what this will mean for the future. If buyers would spend more time in selecting which lot their dream home will be built on, they will greatly improve the enjoyment they get from living in it and dramatically boost resale value in the future. Do I have your attention?

A. Look at the site plan, focus on the existing roads outside the development and how these will connect to the new development. In my case, a development of about 130 homes with just two roads that connect to the outside world, and one of these is only for traffic heading in one direction.

If you are looking to buy a house on a lot close to where the development connects to existing roads, consider that you will have proportionately more traffic passing your front door than those deeper in the development. Consider also that during the period the development is being built these roads are the means for construction vehicles to get in and out of the development. These large vehicles are magnets for creating mud puddles in the rain and dust clouds in the summer.

If you are looking to buy deeper in the development; are the interior roads like a rabbit warren? Will you or others be able to find where you live easily? Will your children have a trek to get to the school bus pick up point?

No matter where in the development you plan to buy; consider that the roads are unmaintained and likely minimally signposted until the town takes responsibility; over time, other home owners will begin to forget that the roads are public places, they will ignore stop signs, parking signs, etc. since during construction - everything is abnormal.

B. Look at the site plan, focus on lots that abut intersections in the development - most intersections will be stop sign posted in one or more directions. Picking any lot within three/four homes of the intersection means that you will have to be very quick and very effective at backing your vehicle in or out of your driveway. Picking such a lot means that your guests who cannot park in your driveway will have to park somewhere else. Picking such a lot means that you will see and hear much of vehicles that have trouble navigating intersections.

When the intersection is a T junction style; consider this - if the lot you are interested in is at the top of the T, any and all traffic at night coming up the T will have you full in their headlights until they turn. If you are interested in one of the lots where the lines of the T join; depending on which way vehicles turn, every vehicle that makes the turn at night will bathe you in the glare of their headlights for a few moments.

If you have or plan to have children, lots close to intersections are not the best and safest place to have your children outside enjoying the fresh air; far too many intersections in developments tend to have limited sight lines around corners.

C. Look at the site plan, focus on where the sidewalks will be, where the utility poles and junction boxes will be. If the plan does not show these, ask! While utility poles and junction boxes may not seem like much; having a three foot by two foot by four foot transformer substation abutting your property might intrude on your landscaping ideas. Sidewalks present similar problems and more.

The home owner does not own the sidewalk and does not own the land between the sidewalk and the road - this strip of land cannot be landscaped, cannot be equipped with underground sprinkler systems and cannot be policed to prevent dog abuse. One neighbour of mine asked a dog walker to refrain from allowing her dog to pee on his strip of land since female dogs destroy any grass they pee on - her response, its not your property, I can do what I want!

D. Look at roads that curve, in cases where the curve is quite severe, traffic approaching the curve will shine their headlights on houses aligned with the road.

If the lot is on the outside of the curve, getting in and out of the driveway will be a nightmare; on the inner side of the curve, reduced visibility.

Additionally, an inner pie shaped lot - narrow at the road, wide at the rear might seem like heaven except the driveway and abutting gardens/paths will be impractical and, in winter (northern climes) a nightmare for entry and exit.

E. While site plans are 2 dimensional. look at the plan from 3 dimensions. Are there hills and slopes, is your dream lot at the top of a slope, in the middle or at the bottom? Many houses today, driven by the builders urge to cram as many houses as possible into the development, have garages that are partially below grade. Builders have to comply with height restrictions and, putting the garage below grade allows then to offer more square footage in the same relative lot space. If your dream lot has a sub grade garage and is on a slope - think long and hard about whether or not a deluge of rain will turn the driveway into a river and your garage into a pond!

If your lot is on a slope, this also means that driveways, on one or both sides will have retaining walls. Essentially, whatever side the retaining wall in on, getting in and out of your vehicle on that side is impossible.

In summary: Look at the site plan, try to imagine a 3D view of what the development will look like when it is finished. Look at the lot you are thinking about - imagine cars whipping along the roads, imagine traffic patterns, imagine what the landscaping and sidewalks will look like.

If you can imagine and like what you see, you will at least be prepared for what might otherwise be unpleasant irritants or surprises that did not occur to you when you signed on the dotted line to take possession of your dream home.

While this article is not a usual subject for me, I hope you found it useful.

If you would like to learn more about the seminar themes I speak to, types of consulting engagements and research that underpins my thinking, feel free to browse my web presence at

John Bolden

Transformation Leadership, Innovation & Research

John Bolden is renowned for value laden advice that stakeholders depend on when assessing the wisdom of investing billions. John's views and observations enable corporate leaders to ask the right questions, probe problematic answers and avoid surprises.

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