Lot in subdivision "unbuildable"?

9 Replies

I noticed a vacant lot in my subdivision and found out it is owned by the HOA. I asked one of the neighborhood trustees about it and he explained there was originally a house on it but the ground settled and the house wound up being demolished. Everyone now assumes nothing can be built on this lot.

I have a hard time believing that in a development of several hundred homes one particular .3 acre lot is IMPOSSIBLE to build a house on but everything else is fine. I imagine with a soil survey and a properly engineered foundation it should be possible to build. How would I go about pursuing building on this lot? I would think that first I would get the property under contract with the HOA with a contingency that I would do a soil survey to determine if it is suitable to build on. Get the soil survey done and then move from there.

I asked the city about the lot and they didn't have any records related to it being "unbuildable".

If it matters the subdivision was built in the 60's and is in the St. Louis Missouri area (Chesterfield). Based on Aerial photographs from the St. Louis county parcel viewer I can see that the house was torn down between 1970 and 1981.

I think you're on the right track. If you have access pull up a property profile to get all the specifics on the lot itself and go from there.

Fixable, sure.  But at what costs. Don't know your area, but obviously there is a reason it settled....maybe some pocket of buried trash, organics, etc. or some ground structure anomaly.  We deal with having borings done on earthwork projects.  The problem is you could do 15 borings (which are less than 2" in diameter) and completely miss the problem.  

@Gregory J.  One thing to keep in mind is the St. Louis area does have quite a few underground caves due to the limestone in the area.  That being said, today's technology can prevent/correct many of the settling issues deemed irreparable in the past.   I recently had a house piered to correct settling issues-most hit bedrock at 40 feet but several went to 60 feet along one section of wall.  

It sounds like your on the right track.  I would definitely get a comprehensive soil survey of the property and go from there.

Originally posted by @Perron Riley :

@Gregory J.  One thing to keep in mind is the St. Louis area does have quite a few underground caves due to the limestone in the area.  That being said, today's technology can prevent/correct many of the settling issues deemed irreparable in the past.   I recently had a house piered to correct settling issues-most hit bedrock at 40 feet but several went to 60 feet along one section of wall.  

It sounds like your on the right track.  I would definitely get a comprehensive soil survey of the property and go from there.

 Thanks for the local perspective! I plan on moving forward to see if I can get it under contract.

hire a Geo tech .. at least that's what we do here.. I assume that's the same thing as a soil survey.

not many lots are physically unbuildable.. many though are financially.. 

I am doing little two lot split in my home town.. Geo Tech survey for the city is 3,400.00  .. and its mandatory requirement for my lot split.  10 foot borings.. along with perc tests.. because there is no storm sewer in the street we have to put in dry wells for roof drains..

Very interesting thread. I guess that’s why CA is a place where numbers can work. If neighbors are at 800k, then lot is 500 then house is 300, so this way you can get more
money from the lot, say 300 then 400 build. Better than the hoa paying yearly taxes and maintenance on the lot.

Thanks everyone for the feedback. New construction in this zip code is selling for $600k-$800k+ so I think there is a very good possibility this could work. Only way to find out for sure is get it under contract and then have a geotech survey performed. (Thanks @Jay Hinrichs for teaching me the proper term!)

I spoke to the trustee again today and asked him what it would take for the HOA to sell the property. He explained that under the current restrictive covenants the association doesn't even HAVE the ability to sell common ground. He explained that they were already considering amending the restrictive covenants to allow something like this and he is going to speak with the other trustees about it tomorrow. He was very supportive of selling it though!

I understand that this is a long shot because it literally depends on a 50 year old HOA amending its restrictive covenants, but if things do move forward I'll keep you updated.

Even if the new build doesn't move forward just reaching out turned out to be a great move. This trustee is THE realtor that people go to when they need to sell a home in this neighborhood. I explained that I am also looking for a home to renovate in the area and he told me there are three different elderly residents that have reached out to him recently as they are moving into nursing homes and need to sell their home. Hoping to hear back on these!

@Manolo D. Probably normally a good point about the taxes but in this particular area the common ground is assessed at $0 so the HOA doesn't have to pay tax on it. On the other hand, I don't know who is mowing it but somebody is...

@Gregory J. You're on the right track. In San Clemente there was a subdivision that had a lot of problems with soil and some of the houses began having cracks, slipping down hill, etc. and the HOA ended up having to buy back those properties. Though there were builders that came in later and were able to develop the lots, and sell the houses, the subdivision does have somewhat of a stigma due to the issues. However; if a soils engineer does the testing and gives you the go ahead, I see no reason not to proceed. I would definitely find out what caused the original problem, how many homes were affected, etc. 50 years ago building standards were completely different than they are now, and getting something through planning that's going to fall off a cliff, or in a hole, is a lot less likely.

When (if) you end up getting a geotechnical engineer on board to pin cushion the site, have them provide a report and discuss it with them. Make sure you are satisfied with their reasoning on why it settled in the first place. Do a lot of research on their proposed solution (overexcavation, geogrid reinforcing, soil cement stabilization, pilings) whatever it may be and share the report with contractors. Ask questions of the pros and get a second opinion because ultimately geotechnical surveys are a ‘recommendation’ of opinion that have every out that you can imagine for the geotech. If something goes wrong, and the proposed repair does not work, you will be left holding the bag with little recourse.

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