What does it cost to prepare land for building?

clearing land for house.jpgIn our last article, we talked about the first two of three main elements involved in the cost to build a house on your land:

  • The cost of building the house itself;
  • The cost of the land;
  • The cost to prepare the land for the house.

Now let's discuss number three—the cost to prepare the land for the house. There are several subcategories involved here:

  • Tree, vegetation, and debris removal;
  • Earth moving to create a flat place for the house and shape the adjacent land for drainage;
  • Hauling soil in or off (soil is dirt-cheap, but transportation is expensive);
  • Creating and maintaining site access (creating an approach and temporary driveway or road);
  • Bringing access to utilities (water, sewer, electricity, gas, cable/phone).

Clearly, the cost for each of these items is entirely dependent on the individual site. If there are quite a few trees to remove, this step alone can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000. In central Oklahoma, the cost averages around $3,000 to $5,000.

Earthmoving is in a similar range for most sites, but a site with excessive slopes or complex topography can cost $10,000 or more. A home I built a few years ago was located on the side of a steep hill in an area with dense trees and required a total of $70,000 to prep. If the site is relatively large and it's possible to move dirt from one part of the site to another in order to build the house pad and drainage areas, a few days on a bulldozer should do the trick for something in the neighborhood of $5,000.

If dirt is needed or if excess dirt needs to be hauled away, costs can begin to climb. As big as a dump truck seems, it's amazing to me how little dirt one dump truck can move in one load. It can cost around $150 per load to haul dirt in or out, and I've seen jobs that required 40 loads in or out. In general, if your land is at least a couple of acres, there's usually enough area to use the dirt that is on-site rather than hauling dirt in or out. If there's an acre or less to work with, there's a greater chance of needing to move dirt on or off the site.

Site access is an issue that often gets overlooked. When building a new home, there are phases that require heavy loads, such as concrete, lumber, bricks, and drywall. They are all heavy loads brought in by trucks that don't do well with muddy or extremely rough terrain. You should plan on the cost of a dozer or tractor to create the temporary driveway or road, and then some additional money for ongoing maintenance as weather and wear-and-tear take their toll over the few months it takes to complete construction.

Finally, there's the issue of utilities. Your new home will need (at a minimum) water, sewer, and electricity. If your land is somewhat rural, you'll probably need a well and septic, which typically cost in the range of $6,500 each (sometimes less, but sometimes much more, particularly for a well). Depending on the electric company, bringing electricity to the site might be free, it might cost a few hundred dollars, or it might cost a couple thousand dollars. It will depend on where the nearest electric supply lines and poles are, and whether you'll need a transformer or can use an existing one. I've seen electric co-ops charge as much as $2,000 for bringing service to a new customer.

As you can see, there are quite a few things to think about when figuring out how much it will cost to build a home on your land. For more information on the process of creating your budget and the steps to build a home on your land, download the free guide From Raw Land to Forever Home.

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