Are you looking to buy an infill lot to build a new home in an already-established area?
It may sound like an impossible task, but it’s not!
Infill lots are pieces of land that have never been developed or are now open after older structures have been removed.
Infill lots give you access to the locations you’re dreaming of in established neighborhoods, but there are quite a few factors to consider before buying.
Here’s what you should know.
1. What is an infill lot?
In urban planning, infill lots are typically vacant lots in urban environments.
An infill lot is often thought of as a piece of land that is left empty even when development has sprung up around it.
In the past, these have primarily existed in cities.
It may be surrounded by apartment buildings, businesses, urban schools, etc., and yet, there are these few infill lots that have yet to be touched.
2. Do infill lots only exist in urban environments?
No, not necessarily.
Both urban and suburban environments can have infill lots.
Just think of an infill lot as “filling in” available lots and land where infrastructure and services already exist.
So, an infill lot might be…
An empty lot in the middle of a city
An empty lot between homes in an existing newer subdivision
An empty lot between older homes or between buildings
A lot with an existing home that will be demolished so that a newer home can be built
3. Why does the infill lot exist in the first place?
You’re drawn to this infill lot first and foremost because of its location.
But ask yourself…why does this infill lot exist in the first place?
These lots are often highly desirable spaces in neighborhoods, but don’t assume that.
Some infill lots are left as is because they are closer to smells, sights, and sounds that are undesirable.
They may also have utility drawbacks which made them difficult to develop in the first place.
Don’t assume that you’re getting a steal years after the neighborhood was established.
You could be getting the “runt of the litter” when it comes to lots.
Talk to a real estate agent about why the lot is vacant.
See if it impacts your opinion on whether or not you want to buy.
A lot’s location can only tell you so much.
Dig deeper to see if there are negative reasons the infill lot is still vacant.
4. What are the pros of building a home on an infill lot?
You know the neighborhood
When you purchase an infill lot, the neighborhood is already established.
Homes, schools, and businesses exist with neighborhoods and communities around them.
Unlike building a house in a newly developed area, infill lots give you an advantage because you know what you’re walking into.
You get a killer price
The “typical” infill lot is priced significantly lower than the “typical” custom lot.
This makes it an affordable option for individuals looking to be in a great location for less than they otherwise would have spent.
You get the best location
Infill lots are a great option for individuals looking for the perfect location.
If you know exactly where you want to be, but you can’t seem to find a house or building in that location, why not build your home on an infill lot?
5. What are the cons of building a home on an infill lot?
Infill lots could have served as dumping grounds
It’s rare to see a soils report on an infill lot that is positive because they so often serve as dumping grounds for original builder(s) and neighbors.
Unfortunately, this often leads to over-excavation because of all the soil and trash that has been dumped on it throughout the years.
Infill lots often have issues that prevented building previously
You always want to know why others have passed on this lot before you.
For example, does it have expansive soil issues?
Is it in a flood or landslide zone?
Do zoning regulations prevent it from being useful to you?
Before you buy the lot, you want to make sure there isn’t anything that will prevent it from being a viable investment.
Infill lots may have physical constraints
Infill lots can often be physically small or oddly shaped.
This makes “laydown” (space to store and stockpile building materials) virtually impossible during construction.
This adds to the cost of building as excavated dirt needs to be trucked off-site and backfill material must be trucked in as part of the building process.
Infill lots can be tight fits
As noted above, infill lots are often small.
This means you’ll be pretty cozy with your neighbors.
As people often dream of having a backyard and at least some space for privacy, this can be a tough sell for custom home builders.
6. Why is it environmentally friendly to use infill lots?
Infill lots are an environmentally friendly option for a few reasons.
Instead of expanding outward, they’re expanding where human beings already are.
This helps revitalize neighborhoods, make use of existing transportation, and reduce the carbon footprint.
Urban infill lots can help revitalize neighborhoods.
What was once old is now new!
When you build in an infill lot, you’re more likely to have access to existing public transportation as well as nearby businesses and services.
This means that nothing additional needs to be built or offered to serve these individuals.
They can just use what already exists.
Reduced carbon footprints:
Because an infill lot is already near local businesses and amenities, walking and biking are viable options.
This helps to reduce carbon footprints.
7. What should I be aware of when buying an infill lot?
It’s worth knowing what you should be aware of when buying an infill lot.
This way, you can investigate all of these aspects and consider whether the investment itself is worth your while.
Sewer and water:
This could be a key reason that the lot is not already occupied.
Sometimes sewer and water are not readily available, and you’ll want to make sure you’ll have access to these services if you decide to buy the infill lot.
If the lot does not have these services already, research what the cost would be to install them.
Some cities and counties have maximum impervious surface requirements.
This means that the foundation, walkways, driveways, etc. may not cover more than a specific number of square feet.
Working with your engineer or architect is the best way to design the home to fit these specifications.
Shape and size of the lot:
Some infill lots are oddly shaped, which is why they’re vacant in the first place.
If you’re intent on building in that neighborhood, this may not be a deal-breaker.
Talk to your architect or engineer and see if they can recommend a home or floor plan that fits well with the lot you have in mind.
HOA and review committees:
Some neighborhoods will require that potential homes are reviewed and approved by any existing HOAs or review committees.
If this is a step you’re unwilling to go through, then you’ll want to know that it’s required before you start the process.
This topic will be discussed more below, but as a homebuyer, it will be advantageous for you to try to match the architectural design of the existing neighborhood.
Otherwise, it will not hold value well and may not appraise well for financing.
8. What should you know about the design of your home?
When you purchase an infill lot, you’re committing to building a home in an established neighborhood.
As a result, the design of your home is an important factor.
You should consider this carefully before you commit.
Here are the potential issues that you could run into.
When you purchase an infill lot, you’re going to have a clearly defined space to work with because you’re sandwiched between other structures.
You’ll want to consider whether your vision can be appropriately achieved in the infill lot.
While you don’t want to stunt your vision, you also don’t want to build a home that towers over your neighbor’s.
You ultimately want it to fit in well in the space that is provided.
Design is also important when undertaking infill development.
When a new neighbor builds a modern home in a traditional neighborhood (or vice versa) then they often stick out.
Make sure you invest in this part of the project and have an architect create a design in harmony with the development while still in line with your vision.
While building a home on an infill lot, you’ll want to consider resale value.
When homes don’t match their surroundings, resale is generally poor.
So, keep in mind that it’s always better to be the least expensive home in a desirable neighborhood than the most expensive home in a less desirable location.
You may be thinking, “Yes, but I plan to be here forever!”
And you may…but you’ll eventually pass on, and someone in your family will have to sell the house.
It never hurts to look at how a potential buyer may see your home design and how that perspective could impact your resale value.
9. What should I know about the neighborhood?
Realize that buying an infill lot will mean that you’re picking your neighborhood.
Your lot will come with a ready-made community and that can be a good or bad thing.
You should try to get to know the neighborhood and any potential neighbors before making this decision.
Some neighbors may not love the fact that you’re buying the infill lot.
If the lot has been vacant for years, they may be used to this extra communal space.
It may be where their kids ride their bikes or play ball.
Having someone’s house in their assumed “backyard” will be a nasty piece of news.
Plus, they’ll have quite of bit of construction in their backyard while you build your new home.
Between the noise and dust, how would you feel about you moving in?
Do yourself a favor and put yourself in their shoes.
What could you do to make this time easier?
If you can become friends with them now, you’ll be a lot happier once you actually move in.
Send over a care package or offer them some gift cards that could get them out of the house during construction.
A little bit of generosity goes a long way!
You should also consider the neighborhood rules.
Not every neighborhood has a homeowner’s association (HOA), but if yours does, then you’ll want to be aware of the community regulations before purchasing an infill lot.
As a member of this neighborhood, you’ll be responsible for respecting and abiding by the rules once you live here.
10. How can zoning restrictions impact my ability to build on an infill lot?
If you’re looking to purchase an infill lot, don’t forget to check that the proposed building aligns with the zoning regulations.
If you want to build something that the current zoning regulations don’t allow (that isn’t entitled), you’re potentially out of luck.
Even if you’ve been told that the neighborhood will see changes soon, you’re potentially inviting a long and stressful period of waiting and negotiating for plans that could never get approved.
The best plan is to purchase an infill lot with zoning that already agrees with your plans.
11. Should I buy an infill lot?
This answer is ultimately up to you.
It will depend on a number of factors.
Ask yourself, “Do I have the resources, expertise, and wherewithal to build in an area that’s already densely populated with an existing infrastructure?”
You’ll need to evaluate the situation depending on where the infill lot is (urban or suburban area) and what type of process you’ll need to navigate in order to construct a house or building.
Some communities are absolutely open to the idea of having you fill an empty lot because they see empty lots as eyesores that draw vagrant activities.
More densely populated areas may be against the inconvenience that construction will bring.
Will you block the streets and sidewalk?
How will the mess and debris impact the residents who already live there?
As a result, simply navigating the project with the community will take time, expertise, and diplomacy.
Another thing to consider is your experience as an investor, developer, and/or builder.
Do you know what you’re doing?
Or is this investment a bit of a pipe dream?
If you anticipate significant obstacles in this process AND you’re inexperienced, then it may not be the smartest financial move.
In the end, you should hope to build something worthwhile for yourself while also bringing value to the neighborhood.
If it doesn’t bring the neighborhood value, then there’s likely a less complicated and less densely populated site that you can build on.
Infill lots can be a great investment, but they’re not all created equally.
The smartest investors will look at multiple options and run a feasibility study before deciding which infill lot is the best fit for them, and they’ll know that the neighborhood must have buy-in on the project as well.
If the neighborhood doesn’t support it, then you’re not doing yourself any favors.
Also, if you have a great infill lot story, let us know in the comments.
For more information on buying, selling, or investing in vacant land, check out our other resources below.
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If reading this article got you interested in land investing, you can check out our article on How to Get Started in Land Investing.
And if you are looking to sell land, visit our page on how to Sell Your Land.
Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.