Building Your Perfect Custom Home Starts with a Site Analysis

Greg McAninch, chief operating officer, Timberlake Design/Build

When you wish upon a star, you may be thinking about finding the perfect lot for your dream home. But it takes more than wishes and dreams to get to the home of your fantasies.

Whether you own or inherited a lot or are in the process of searching for land where you can build your completely personalized home, at Timberlake Design/Build we start with an in-person site analysis. Our goal is to provide people with as accurate an idea as possible of what can and can’t be built on the land, along with a cost estimate of what it will take to get the infrastructure in place for your custom home.

I’m the chief operating officer of Timberlake Design/Build, and my background as a landscape architect and more than three decades of working with architects, builders and engineers has given me insight into the land planning aspect of custom home building. It’s unusual for a custom home builder to have someone on their staff with this type of expertise, so we take full advantage of it before starting any build on your own lot project.

What to expect from a site analysis.

But here’s the even more unusual part of this: we offer a site analysis and cost estimate for free. About 25% of the lots we analyze are already owned by someone who wants to build a custom home there or are being seriously considered for purchase. The rest are lots that potential custom home customers want us to evaluate to see if they’re a viable place to build the home of their dreams. In some cases, the land has a house that could be a candidate for an extensive remodel or a tear down.

Typically, it takes about six to eight hours to do a site analysis, which may seem like a lot of time to devote to a free service. The reason we don’t charge for a site analysis and cost estimate is that we’re not doing a detailed feasibility study and we’re not guaranteeing there won’t be an issue with the property if you decide to build a home there. We’re not civil engineers and we don’t get into interpreting zoning rules.

Here’s what we do provide for free: Our expertise. We guide our customers and provide them with our opinion on challenges and opportunities we see on any lot. We provide references to experts as a next step if there are concerns or questions we can’t answer. We make our analysis as comprehensive as possible because we know our customers are relying on us to help them make a decision about whether to move forward with a land purchase or with architectural plans. After the land analysis is complete, we provide a written evaluation, a list of assumptions about what may need to be done and recommendations for how to reduce costs.

Reviewing a homesite for buildability

Benefits of a site analysis.

Why is an upfront land analysis so important? Unfortunately, not every lot can accommodate every home. Sometimes people buy a lot with the intention of designing a 4,000 square foot home for it, but then we find that the land slopes too steeply and will need a well and a septic system in a specific location. In the end, that lot may only have space for a 2,000 square foot home. If the owners don’t want to compromise on the home size, they may end up selling the lot and starting over. That’s why a site analysis can be so valuable as early as possible in the custom home building process. We want people to be able to build what they want in the place they want to build it. Our land analysis can be used to help them visualize what their property can look like.

Among the factors we review, one of the most important is the topography of the property. We look to see if it’s wooded or not, how much it slopes, what storm water management and drainage would be required and where a driveway could be built. We can recommend retaining walls and evaluate whether a walk-out basement is an option given the topography of the property.

We check for any existing infrastructure and evaluate where necessary infrastructure could be installed, including a septic system. We check for underground and aboveground connections for phones, gas, electricity, water and sewer, and determine whether they can be moved or engineered around. Most private property owners can’t afford to spend $50,000 for an electricity relocation fee, so we do our best to see if the house can be sited to avoid moving anything.

Touchpad with architectural sketch in hands of modern engineer

Our main focus is to provide value engineering to assure our customers that we can get the best possible outcome for the price they expect to pay. In some cases, the potential customers opt not to buy a particular lot or ultimately decide not to build a custom home at this time. That’s OK. We know we helped them make an informed choice and we hope that if they decide to move forward on a custom home in the future that they’ll think of us and the value we provided.

Contact us to get started on your dream home project today! Call 443-420-6166 or email. We look forward to hearing from you.