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Choosing a Property for Your Custom Home or Cottage

The property you choose for your new home or cottage has an enormous influence on the design of the home or cottage itself. So, it’s critically important to choose the right property for you and your family. The orientation, size, slope, topography, tree coverage and many other factors determine what you can and cannot achieve when designing your custom home or cottage.

Location, Location, Location

While the location of the property has the most significant impact on price, it also influences so many other factors that determine your living environment. Is it important for you to be on municipal water and sewer? Do you want shopping and other amenities within walking distance or do you prefer the quiet tranquility of a rural or waterfront area? If you are building your dream home and hope to age in place, you will need to consider how the location will affect your ability to stay in your home if you develop health or mobility challenges. The style of surrounding homes, the “streetscape” they create, and existing neighbourhood covenants will have a strong influence on the style of your new home, so it is important to choose an area that fits the look and feel of the home you plan to build.


Do you enjoy sunbathing in your backyard, or do you prefer cooler shade? Would you like to produce solar energy and require a south-facing roof to optimize the efficiency of the panels? Do you want the snow to melt quickly from your driveway? If so, the front of the home should face south or south-west. Want to reduce cooling costs? Choose a property where you can orient the home to capture the west-to-east breezes. All of these questions and many more will help to determine the east-west or north-south orientation best suited for your home and lifestyle.


Are you a social butterfly who loves to chat with the neighbours when you step outside or do you value privacy in your yard? Are you planning a backyard oasis with a large pool, decks, patios and outdoor spaces to live and play? Would you prefer a small, easy-to-maintain yard that you can leave during your frequent travels? Your answers to all of these questions, and many more, will determine your ideal lot size and dimensions. Want more space between your home and the neighbours and plenty of windows on all sides? Choose an extra-wide or estate lot. Looking for that backyard oasis? Locate a deep and wide or pie-shaped property with plenty of space for your backyard plans. If you want to build a large home on a relatively small lot be certain that you understand the municipal coverage by-laws which may specify a maximum lot coverage for the home and other non-permeable surfaces. It’s not just the size of the lot, but also the bylaws and special covenants that will influence the size, shape, and certain features of your new home.


The degree and direction of the slope will establish potential features of the home. A walk-out basement requires a property that slopes away from the street. If you want to install a pool without significant fill and retaining wall costs, choose a relatively flat lot or one with a flat section at the back. If you choose to build with slab on grade, a flat area will be required.


Particularly relevant for rural or waterfront lots, the surface features of the land such as hills, creeks, and other geographical contours will provide both attractive features and possible challenges when planning your home or cottage. Although an interesting, varied topography will make a property more attractive and introduce creative design opportunities, you need to ensure that the natural features will not prevent you from building the home you want to build or increase the costs significantly.

Tree Coverage

A treed lot is desirable for most homeowners and will provide shade during the hot summer months, reducing air conditioning costs. It is important to identify the species of major trees on the property to determine if it is a species under threat (e.g., ash trees) from an infestation that will damage or kill them. Do you want to grow a vegetable garden? You will need a garden plot that enjoys full sun most of the day. In many jurisdictions, permits are required to remove trees that reach a certain diameter and, in some cases, permission may be denied. If you need to remove trees to build the home or cottage, check local bylaws prior to purchasing.


Properties fronting on a lake or river require additional considerations. Most critical are municipal or conservation area setbacks that determine if and where you can build a home and install a septic system. In recent years, these regulations have become far more restrictive and, in some cases, can make it very difficult to build the home you envision. It’s also important to understand how you want to use the waterfront. Do you have young children or grandchildren who want to swim? Are you an avid boater? Want to enjoy the sunset on your dock? All of these questions will determine the right shoreline, orientation, and type of body of water best suited to you. Although a gradual slope and sandy beach are lovely, you may want to choose a lot with a more significant slope to avoid the threat of flooding.


There are so many aspects to consider when choosing a property, it can be a challenge to determine the most important factors for you. We have covered only a selection of the considerations here. If you have a property in mind and have more specific questions, we would be happy to consult with you about your plans and provide feedback. Contact us today to book a complimentary phone consultation.