A property isn't just a piece of land
A property isn't just a piece of land. It's part of a neighbourhood, a wider landscape and an ecosystem, and can also be your home.
By choosing your property carefully (or getting to know the property you already own), you can design or build to harmonise with your site and potentially:
- enhance your quality of life
- make your home and surroundings more attractive
- improve your home’s energy efficiency
- reduce building or renovating costs
- reduce maintenance and utility costs
- reduce your impact on the environment
- fit in with the local community.
What you achieve will depend on your goals, priorities, budget and circumstance.
Do some site research before you buy, build or renovate
By taking time to research and understand a property and its surroundings, you'll develop a 'feel' for what it will be like to live there and whether it's right for you.
If you already own the site, you can still benefit from spending some time researching what you can do with it. If it already has a house on it, your options will be further limited but are still worth exploring. Talk to your builder or designer about your options.
MBIE’s Building Performance website has information about choosing the right people, including when to use a licensed building practitioner (LBP).
Information to help evaluate a site
You can get to know a property by visiting it at different times of the day and in different weather conditions. It's also worth looking around the neighbourhood to see how others have dealt with the local climate, topography and what type of plants grow successfully. If you’re renovating an existing building you may already have a good idea of these things, but take some notes and share them with your designer.
Certificate of title
The certificate of title will tell you about:
- a property's general size and shape
- who owns it
- whether there are mortgages, leases, or other interests registered against it
- whether the land is freehold or leasehold
- whether there are any covenants or easements that might restrict your use of the site (for example, restricting the size and shape of any building or driveway sharing).
You can order a copy of the certificate of title (or land title) from the Land Information New Zealand website or ask your lawyer or another search agent to get it for you.
Land Information Memorandum
You can get a Land Information Memorandum (LIM) from your local council.
It should tell you anything the council knows about:
- the location of stormwater and sewage drains
- problems with erosion, land stability or flooding
- protected buildings
- permits and building consents relating to the site
- information about zoning and what the land can be used for.
See the Local Councils website for council contact details
All local councils have to produce a District Plan showing how they will control land use within their boundaries.
District Plans may contain restrictions on such things as the height of any new building, how close to the boundary you can build and if specific trees are protected.
The District Plan might also tell you about flood risks and other hazards.
See the Local Councils website for council contact details
To see if the property's boundaries are accurate, you can look at the survey plan or a Land Information New Zealand aerial photograph. However, it can be difficult to find the surveyor’s pegs or know if they’ve been moved. For complete accuracy, contact a surveyor.
If you have doubts about ground stability, it's worth consulting an engineer or getting your architect to commission an engineer's report. For new subdivisions, the developer should have an engineer's report you can look at.
You need to find out about any problems or hazards, any conservation or planning requirements or restrictions. There may also be other factors to consider that may influence your quality of life and the design of your home or renovation. Check with your local council.
For example, if you're building or renovating you'll get better results if, early in the design process, you think about any features of the site that you want to preserve and any features you want to make the most of (such as sun for heating and trees for shelter).
Striking a balance to get an ideal site
There's no such thing as a perfect site. Your decisions will involve balancing one factor against another.
You'll be better able to balance competing factors if you think through your priorities, when you make a decision about buying a property or designing a new home or renovation.
For example, the view or the sun might come from a direction that is also buffeted by strong winds. This will affect the design and structure of any building or extension.
Things to consider when choosing a site
Many factors will influence your enjoyment of a property and your ability to build or renovate the way you want. Some things to consider:
- climate – sun, wind, rain and temperature
- orientation to the sun
- susceptibility to hazards such as flooding, erosion, earthquakes and chemical contamination from past uses
- slope, existing landforms and waterways
- property size (which can impact on what you want to build, how much land you want to maintain and how much you have to spend)
- existing plants and trees, which can require planning to work around, can also:
- make a property more attractive
- save time and money establishing the site
- improve air quality
- reduce the risks of erosion and flooding
- provide shelter and shade.
- town planning requirements
- distance (and potential extra travel costs) to:
- services (utilities, food, medical, vehicle, public transport)
- friends, family, work, hobbies and interests
- character and 'feel'
- noise or activity.
It's worth considering whether you'll be able to build or renovate the way you want without substantially disturbing the site's existing landforms, waterways and vegetation. Substantial earthworks or vegetation removal can be costly and increase the risk of erosion, subsidence and flooding.
Find out if any work has already been done by previous owners, so you avoid costly problems later. The more a building site is altered – through earthworks, removal of vegetation, and diversion of waterways and runoff channels – the greater the risk of problems such as slips, slumping, erosion and flooding particularly if professional advice has not been sought.
Good design reduces these risks by minimising the impact a home has on its site. For example, you might be able to use foundations that don't require extensive earthworks or avoid large-scale concrete paving that can increase the risk of flooding.
While all of these factors will influence the design of any building or renovation, you can still use smart design to achieve a drier, more comfortable home with lower energy costs.
It's worth thinking about the future as well as the present. How long do you plan to live in a particular location, and how is your lifestyle likely to change in that time? Will it be suitable, for example, if you start a family, your children leave home, you get a new job or your health changes?
Designing an adaptable home has more things to think about.
Could neighbouring land uses change in ways that might affect you? For example, might neighbours be able to build out your sun and views, or are industrial land uses permitted? On the other hand, how will your future plans affect your neighbours?