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5 THINGS TO LOOK AT BEFORE BUYING A LOT IN THE OKANAGAN

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

We've all been smitten with Grey Anatomy's Dr. Dreamy's romantic gesture of the candle house on the vacant lot - but it turns out he's also Dr. Smart! Early research and planning can save you headaches down the road.

things to look at before buying a lot
Candle House on Lot - Grey's Anatomy

So you've made the decision to build your dream home and now you are on the hunt for the perfect lot. Now the question becomes what do I look for in the lot? What do I need to investigate to make sure the purchase makes sense for what I want to build?


01 Size – This is an obvious one, however when you are looking at your lot you have to consider the building setbacks. The setbacks are no-build areas that every lot has on all sides, the size of the areas will vary from front to back and side of an interior lot line to an exterior. So when you are standing in front of the lot keep in mind that your buildable area will be smaller than than your property lines. There are also the hidden factors like no build easement areas or right of ways on properties that can also limit your buildable areas on a lot and will need to be factored into the calculation.


02 Zoning/Bylaws – Each municipality has its own zoning bylaws and development regulations. Our team will review your specific lot zoning and bylaws to uncover the following important information:

  1. Allowable uses (I.e. single dwelling, duplex, multi-family, secondary dwelling, etc.)

  2. Setbacks (explained above in 01)

  3. Maximum lot coverage % - Maximum building footprint and impermeable areas allowed

  4. Maximum Height – Note each municipality has their own definition for defining grade as well as top of ridge. For example, Grade can be defined as the lowest point of grade in the lowest part of the proposed building, and in other municipalities it is defined as the average grade level in the lot's elevation. Height can be defined as the highest point of the roof or as the average elevation in the roof's slope, so good to familiarize yourself with how you will be evaluated.

  5. Maximum Floor Area Ratio FAR – This is calculated as a ratio based on the total square footage of the lot.

  6. Wildfire Interface Zone - One of our #FireSmart site strategies is establishing risk management – is your home in a wildfire interface zone or high-density residential zone? Review of site and conditions such as vegetation type and slope of land to determine the risk to which a building is expected to be exposed to.

  7. Riparian Protected Environmental Areas - if you are looking a building a home on a lot near a lake, ocean, creek or stream you will want to investigate if you are within a riparian environmentally protected area. If so, you may have restrictions as to how far away from these natural watercourses that you can build any structures on. You will likely require the engagement of a Qualified Environmental Professional, a QEP will review your site, the proposed design and submit a RAPR report to the Province of BC for review and approval prior to building. This report might also be required by the local municipal Authourities for review prior to issuing building permits

03 Title Search – Important to review to see if there are any; Easements, right of ways, neighborhood design guidelines, building schemes, restrictive covenants, or liens registered to the property that could restrict the use of the area. It is important to carefully read and understand the implications of each document, most standard restrictions are:

  1. Easements - may indicate areas on the property that you are not allowed to build on due to underground utilities passing through a property.

  2. Right of Ways - may be noted for neighborhood servicing where you cannot build on or even project a roof overhang over into this area. You may also be limited as to your ability to remove/alter the natural grade in an area. So no retaining walls etc.

  3. Neighborhood Design Guidelines/Building Schemes - certain neighborhoods have specific requirements around the style of home you can build or the material types that are allowed and if so often require an extra step of a design review prior to submitting to Authourities for building permits so good to know what your specific guidelines are, any costs involved, and process involved to get your new design reviewed and approved.

  4. Restrictive Covenants - if property is in a Wildfire Urban Interface zone there may be restrictive covenants in place that will restrict types of building materials allowed and landscaping restrictions including landscaping maintenance regulations.

  5. Liens - It may be possible that if the previous property owners had work done by trades or general contractors and there were unresolved billing/works disputes that a trade or GC could have placed a lien on the property. So good to look for these and ensure that they are resolved prior to purchasing property or else they will become your problem to resolve as liens are tied to properties not to individual ownership.


04 Grade/Topography – The terrain plays a major part in building your home. It will define which type of house you will build, such as an entry level or a walk-out basement. If you have done your homework in advance the cost should be minimal. If the lot is not prepared this could mean a significant budget item added to your project to ensure stability of soils have been investigated by Geotechnical engineer and that any structures are property engineered and approved by Geotechnical and Structural engineers. It is very important if the topography is not relatively flat to get a survey of the property that will provide you with multiple elevation points which will make it easier to identify potential earthwork and retaining walls. Some municipalities require hillside development permits if the slope of a lot is beyond a certain % so good to investigate through surveys and know what is needed of you.


The Okanagan is notorious for underwater springs so important to check GIS mapping to see if any underwater springs are present on your lot or creeks that may be dry when viewing the lot but actively flowing in other seasons - you don't want to start your build with a swimming pool pit before a house so good to explore the lot in detail, ask neighbors and explore GIS mapping.


05 Design Guidelines | Building Scheme – certain neighborhoods have specific requirements around the style of home you can build or the material types that are allowed and if so often require an extra step of a design review prior to submitting to Authourities for building permits so good to know what your specific guidelines are, any costs involved, and process involved to get your new design reviewed and approved. Design guidelines vary from neighborhood to neighborhood but here are some examples of items that might be required of you;

  1. Form & Character: some building schemes set clear standards of what is expected in the exterior design including; overall massing, roofline designs, exterior material selection, windows and doors exterior form and character, driveway slopes, parking minimums and approved list of building materials and desired combinations.

  2. Snow Loads and Water Run Off: some municipalities require you to show on your plans where on your lot the snow storage will be placed and must meet a certain percentage of your lot area. They may ask you to show your storm water management plan on site as well as your snow load calculations and that you have engineered snow breaks on your roof and may ask for you to calculate snow shed from roof to ensure safe distances from neighboring structures.

  3. Mechanical/Electrical Systems: Controlling the types of mechanical systems, appliances, and electrical specifications can guarantee the quality of the equipment's and installations, avoid potential fires, establish sustainability principles in the community

  4. Construction Practices: Noting tree clearing permits, parking, waste management, recycling and noise regulations.

"Each one of the above aspects are equally important to get a full picture of a property's potential opportunities and challenges. By doing your homework upfront you manage the risk versus it running your project".

Engaging the team at MQN to dig into the specifics will ensure you are empowered with the information and prepared up front as to the road map that lies ahead. Our team can produce a Lot Analysis Package as part of our Schematic Design Phase which will provide you with a one sheet all in depth review of the lot and all previous documentation as well as the interpretation of your design parameters, with a lot plan marking the building setbacks, buildable area, any building schemes, and a summary of the zoning bylaws.


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