Homebuyers typically consider factors like school quality, easy access to a place of work and, of course, price and curb appeal. But in today’s market, the forward-thinking buyer might be wise to look at zoning regulations, too.
Zoning regulations? Really?
Many buyers, especially first-time buyers, are only vaguely aware of zoning, the set of local laws that determines what can be done with a piece of land. You can’t, for example, put a gas station on a site zoned for residential use, and most suburban communities prohibit raising farm animals like pigs and cattle.
Generally, it’s safe to assume that if you’re buying a single-family home in a residential neighborhood the property is zoned for single-family homes and you’ll have no problem. It would be nice to know, though, if the vacant land across the street is zoned the same way, or could someday have a shopping strip, office building or industrial park. Different uses of land near your home will affect your property’s value in different ways.
It’s also important to weigh a subtler issue: what changes will you be allowed to make to your new property? Zoning boards spend lots of time dealing with homeowners who have violated rules on fences, pools and additions.
Given today’s slow housing market, it can be risky to buy a home unless you plan to stay there for a number of years. It can take an 8% or 10% appreciation in the property’s value to offset the many fees involved in buying and selling a home, such as title insurance, loan application fees, appraisal and realtor’s commission. With homes appreciating very slowly, breaking even could take a good deal longer than the four or five years traditionally assumed.
If you have to stay in your house as your family grows rather than trade up to a bigger one, you might need to expand or modify the property to suit your changing needs.