Buying Land to Build A House (Calgary Infills Edition)

Kathy Yuen: How do you know that you have the right piece of land for your custom home in inner city Calgary? Watch this video for the top seven things you need to know to find that perfect piece of land to build your custom home in inner city Calgary. For everything that you need to know about planning, budgeting, designing, and building your new custom home, make sure that you subscribe for new videos every Tuesday every single week. I’m Kathy Yuen, an architectural technologist, custom home designer, and CEO of Phase One Design.

If you are in the process of trying to finalize land for your new home build, by the end of this video, you will know the top seven things to look for. You will know exactly how to secure the right piece of property and avoid costly mistakes. These tips are taken right out of our exact same process our team has used for the last 12 years with over 500 clients and now I am going to share them with you.

Number one, know how big you can build your house. In the City of Calgary, how big you can build your house is defined by something called lot coverage. What the City of Calgary does is they will take the size of your lots of the area, so let’s just say a six-thousand square foot lot and they will look at that and multiply that by a certain percentage.

That percentage is usually 45%, and that 45% is what you can actually build on that site. What they measure is a few different things. Number one, the building, so which would be your house. Secondly, any garage structures so inner city Calgary it’s usually a detached garage and thirdly what a lot of people don’t know is they actually measure any covered areas. For example if you have a beautiful covered outdoor area or a front covered porch, that is actually included in that calculation as well.

Number two, height. So everybody wants to know how tall can I build my house. If you have driven through any parts of inner city Calgary, you will have seen that there are two story homes and three story homes. The question we get all the time is how high can I build my house? Can I build a third story? We actually have a very specific video for that so I am not going to go into the details right now, but when you’re looking for a lot, you should know the things to look for. Here’s what to look for in a few tips for height.

The City of Calgary will calculate your maximum building height based on your directly adjacent neighbors which is basically your immediate next door neighbor on the right and your immediate next door neighbor on the left. The higher they are, the higher that you can build, so it’s really important that if you want to build a three story, let’s just say you are looking at a lot to purchase and you have bungalows on either side of you, that probably is a little bit of a sign that your building height is going to be lower.

Now I’m also going to address something else. We get this a lot. We have clients coming in saying, “Oh my goodness. I have bungalows on either side. Can I still build a two story?” The short answer is yes, but the way that the calculation works is that regardless of bungalows on either side, there is a rounding technique that the city does so that everybody building a new house in inner city Calgary will at the very least be able to build a two story home with nice high ceilings, usually 10 foot, 9 foot with a roof on it.

So if you’re building or considering building a three story home in inner city Calgary, make sure that you actually check out our video on that. I provided a link below in the comments and you’ll find that very helpful. Number three, parking access. What I mean by this is where does your garage go? As I’m sure you’ve seen in inner city Calgary, there is a load of detached garages out there that are accessed from the lane. That’s just what’s common. Why is that? Well, the City of Calgary has policies that encourage that type of setup but we all know living in Calgary, it is freezing cold. So sometimes you would just like to have an attached garage, so we get this question a lot as well.

How do I get an attached garage?

The city actually has some very specific rules about whether or not you can build an attached garage and they’re quite strict. We also have another video for this which explains this in more detail, but if you’re actually looking for a lot right now, some of the things that you want to look for is either number one, an existing curb cut so basically an existing driveway which the city will most of the time allow you to keep, or secondly, if you actually look at all the houses on your street and if 50% or more of them have a pre-existing driveway that’s legally existing mind you, then the city will generally speaking allow you to have a driveway on your property.

So not completely black and white, but those are generally the things to look for. So if an attached garage is important to you, make sure you’re looking at those two things. Like I said, an existing driveway on your particular parcel and/or 50% of more of the houses on your street have a legally existing driveway. Number four, trees. So there are actually two types of trees in the world of inner city development. The first kind is private trees, which basically is any tree that is on your property. The second type of tree is a public tree, which is basically a tree that is owned by the City of Calgary.

Why do we care what the City of Calgary owns?

The City of Calgary cares about any tree that is within six meters of your actual development site. As part of your permitting process, you will actually need to disclose if there are any public trees within six meters of your property and if you want to remove them in some cases they will allow you to remove them but you will need to potentially pay some money to replace that tree.

Now in most cases it’s not a big deal, it could be a few hundred dollars, maybe even thousands of dollars but I’ve seen some cases where a tree is valued at like $30,000.00 plus. If you’re looking at a parcel and you see trees that are not on your property but close to your property, you need to go to the city and find out the value of the tree and whether or not you can take that down. Private trees. Private trees are the ones that are on your property. Those ones are easy. More or less, you can do whatever you want with them. You can cut them down or retain them. The city obviously prefers you to retain them, there’s some bylaw around that, but generally speaking, you can work around those in your development.

Number five, permit type. When you’re looking for a lot, permits seem so far away and so far down the road, but if timeframe is important to you, this is something you should be considering as you’re actually looking for the lot. When you are developing inner city, there are two different types of permits you are going to require, a development permit and a building permit. Development permits, there’s two different kinds. I have another video that talks about all of this fun stuff, but what you need to know when you are actually looking for a lot is what type of permit will you likely need.

There is a faster permit called a contextual permit and a slower permit called a discretionary permit. The contextual permit is great because you can get a permit as quickly as three to six weeks. For the discretionary permit, it could be three to four months, so yeah, if timeline is important to you, this is something that you should know when you buy the lot. Most of the time you can design around what kind of permit that you would like to fit into. However, there are certain lots that automatically kick you out of that faster contextual permit and force you to go into a discretionary permit.

For that reason, when you’re actually looking for a particular lot, you need to know what type of permit that you might potentially need to get. This one, you might need to reach out to a building designer. If anybody watching this video right now needs some help determining that, my contact info is below. Feel free to shoot our team a quick email and we’re happy to take a look.

Number six, pull the title. This is a step that is so simple but is very commonly overlooked. Pulling the certificate of title, you can do this on your own. I’m gonna provide a link below to a system called SPIN which is publicly accessible. So for $10.00 to $20.00, you can pull the certificate of title. What you are looking for is you are looking for anything that could potentially affect your development. For example, things like easements, right of ways, caveats. All three of these things can dictate what you can actually build and there’s a long list of what could potentially bee in one of these caveats, easements or right of ways.

However the point is pull the certificate of title and make sure you read it and understand it. If there is anything on there that you do not understand, it is well worth your time and money to go invest in getting a lawyer to review it just so you know exactly what it is that you’re up against. Last but not least, number seven.

Consider adjacent zonings and future developments. In inner city, development is everywhere. What might look like a nice little innocent bungalow next to you today might change very quickly once that bungalow comes down and there’s another development. If it’s another house, that’s not such a big deal, but what happens if there’s a ginormous apartment building or a really, really large commercial building that goes right up right next to you? Obviously that’s not great. I don’t know who would really want to live beside that, but maybe some people do. How do you do this? There’s a couple different ways. The first tool is called City of Calgary My Property Tool which I will provide a link below.

This particular tool will show you all of the active permits within that particular community so you can see if your neighbor has any permits active on there that they’re looking to build something in the near future. Also with this tool, the second thing I always like to do is check the zoning around you. For all of the parcels that are around you and all the land that is around you, check the zonings. I’m gonna give you three really quick tips on how to read zoning without becoming a zoning expert. R zoning, if you see an R zoning so like RC1, RC2, what that means is that’s a residential zoning. What that means is probably you are going to have a house built on that particular lot.

The next one is M. M zoning means multi-residential, so if you see that zoning, you know that particular lot is actually going to be zoned and potentially built in the future for a multifamily building, so anything with typically four units and higher density, so more units than that. Last but not least, C. C zoning, anything that starts with a C stands for commercial. That’s when you start looking at office buildings, strip malls and there’s a whole long list of them but you know you have a bigger building than just your house.

Now you know the top seven most important things to look for when choosing land to build your custom home on inner city Calgary. That being said, there are many, many things and it’s a large investment as I’m sure you know, so what I’ve done is I have created a super easy straightforward cheat sheet for helping homeowners such as yourself for choosing land in Calgary for your custom home build.

have provided a link below to download it so it’s just in the comments below. Or feel free to go to our website and book a 30 minute video call with either myself or a member of our team and we would be happy to look at your particular property for you. If you like this video, please let me know by liking it and please feel free to share your comments below and feel free to let us know any future topics that you would like me to address in this channel. Also, don’t forget to subscribe and hit the little bell button to get notified every time there’s a new post.