Buying Land To Build A House VANCOUVER // Custom Home Building Process


Kathy Yuen: Are you in the process of choosing
land to build a new home in the city of Vancouver? Watch this video for the top six things that
you need to know to make sure that you can build exactly what you want. Hey, everyone.
I’m Kathy Yuen, architectural technologist, custom home designer, and founder of Phase
One Design. This YouTube channel is dedicated to sharing my custom home knowledge with you.
If you’re new to this channel, it would mean the world to me if you could just click the
Subscribe button below. I’ll be uploading more videos like this on a weekly basis. Now,
onto what the video’s about. By the end of this video, you will know exactly what to
look for when choosing land to build your new custom home, and so that you can be absolutely
confident that you have made the right decision. Make sure you watch until the end, as I provided
a link to a really helpful cheat sheet for this entire process, and of course, please
don’t forget to hit the Subscribe button so you don’t miss my future videos.
Number one, zoning. It’s really important to know your City of Vancouver zoning. Your
zoning will determine a lot of what the city of Vancouver will and will not allow you to
build on your lot. For example, a house, in most cases, yes, you can build a house, but
still obviously it’s good to double check. Can you build a suite? Can you build a laneway?
How do you find out what your zoning is? There’s a great online public tool called VanMaps.
It will show you the zoning and a lot of other information about your property, which is
super helpful for this exercise, of figuring out what it is that you can actually build
on your lot. I’ve made a separate really quick video just to walk you through the VanPaps
tool and I provided a link below, or you can see a link right above my head here in the
floating black box. You can click there as well. Number two, how
big can you build? Of course this is what everybody wants to know. In the city of Vancouver,
this is dictated by something called FSR. What is FSR? FSR stands for floor space ratio.
It’s the maximum amount of square footage that you’re allowed to build on your land.
What does it he does is they take the area of your lot, they multiply it by FSR, which
is a percentage, and that number is a total amount of square footage that you can build,
not including your lane way or your garage. Here’s an example. You have a 33 foot by 122
foot lot, which if you do the math is 4,026 square feet in total, so you have 4,026 square
feet. If your FSR is 0.7, or let’s say 70,% then what you do is you basically multiply
4,026 by 0.7, and the resulting number is the maximum that you can actually build on
your site. Again, not including lane way houses and not
including garages. If you want to know more about how to actually calculate FSR in Vancouver,
I was actually thinking about making a video specifically on this topic, because it is
kind of complicated, so just comment below if you want and just put FSR. If we get enough
requests, then I’m going to make a separate video for that, because like I said, in real
life, there’s actually a little bit more to figuring this out tn what I just explained.
I also just want to mention that maxing out the lot of your FSR, that is very, very common
in Vancouver based on land prices but not absolutely necessary. Okay. I also have one
last little tip for you. In Vancouver zoning bylaw, most of the zonings have something
that I like to call bonus FSR. Essentially whatever you calculated for your FSR, that
we just talked about, you can actually build more than that.
But there is a catch. This bonus FSR … That’s a tongue twister, has to meet certain conditions
and be designed in a certain way in order for it to be approved. That being said, if
you’re working with an experienced custom home designer, they should know exactly how
to design your house so that you can actually take advantage of this additional bonus FSR,
and if that, of course, is what you would like to do. One last thing. Please keep in
mind if you’re doing this calculation, please, please get a double checked by a planner at
the State of Vancouver, or a professional custom home designer. Like I mentioned before,
I’m giving you a high level explanation, which is great, but in reality, there’s actually
a lot more to interpreting FSR than just the one calculation. If you want our team to take
a look at your address, I provided my contact information below. Just reach out and we’d
be happy to help. Number three, lane way house. Are you considering
a building, a lane way house with your project or not? If so, make sure you’re actually allowed
to build one on your lot. There’s actually very specific criteria that your lot needs
to meet in order to build one. If you’re looking for a lot to purchase, you need to make sure
that it fits this criteria. For example, lane way homes are allowed in all zones starting
with an RS, but if you have an RT or an RM lot, just make sure that you’re double checking
the rules, as only certain RT and RM lots will allow lane way houses. Also, your lot
has to be certain size. If your lot sizes 33 foot by 122 feet or larger, you’re most
likely okay to build a lane way, but if it’s anything smaller, you may just want to double
check because again, there are rules about the sizing.
City of Vancouver has written actually a really helpful guide that outlines a lot of these
rules and what I’ve done, I’ve just provided a link below in the comments, so you can go
grab it from there. It’s really, really helpful and has lots of visual guides to kind of help
determine whether or not your lot fits lane way requirements. Another option is to talk
to the City of Vancouver development department directly. I have also provided all of their
contact information in the comments below, to make it super easy for you. Number four,
peat area. In the city of Vancouver, there are certain areas that are referred to as
peat areas. These areas tend to have unstable soil conditions, so if you’re building in
a peat area, here’s what that could mean. Oftentimes there is additional work that needs
to happen, so for example, like geo-technical testing, additional structural engineering,
and just extra structure in general, which could potentially increase your overall building
costs. Many new homes in the peat area don’t have
basements, and good to know for you is that some builders actually choose not to build
in these areas at all, just based on liability. I want to make it really clear, I am not necessarily
saying that it’s 100% bad or anything to build in these areas, but what I’m saying is if
the line you want to build on is in a peat area, just make sure that you do your proper
due diligence, so you know exactly what that means for your specific lot. How does the
peat area affect your design, your build costs, and just the overall planning process in general,
like do you need to leave more time? So how do you find out if your land is in a peat
area? Simple. Just call the City of Vancouver Planning Department, and I’ve actually provided
the contact information for you below. Number five. Trees. The City of Vancouver
has a specific bylaw, just to protect trees. This includes trees both on city land and
private land, like yours. When you’re building a new home in Vancouver, the city wants to
know how the development will affect trees. For example, trees on your property, trees
on your neighbor’s property within a certain distance, and that distance is two meters,
and trees that are on city land in front of your property, or if you’re on a corner lot
on the side of your property as well. The City of Vancouver does favor preservation,
so sometimes I treat may effect where you can build your building, or how large you
can build your building. This applies both to your house, and also if you have a detached
garage or a lane way home. If you want to remove a tree, you must apply for something
called the tree removal permit, for any trees with a trunk diameter of 20 centimeters or
more. The city does allow tree removal, but the tree does actually have to meet certain
criteria. For example, if the tree’s dead, dying or
hazardous, the city will allow you to remove the tree with an arborous report and with
a permit, like I mentioned earlier. Make sure when you’re choosing land to build on, do
take note of all the trees, not only on the property, but also within two meters of the
property, and make sure that you understand exactly what you can do with them, and exactly
what you cannot do with them. If you’re unsure, just reach out to a custom home designer,
someone like myself, or an arborist that’s actually familiar with City of Vancouver regulations,
and the tree protection bylaw. If the removal of a tree is a deal breaker for you, which
sometimes it is, you may even want to think about investing and engaging in arborists
early on, just to confirm whether or not the city will allow you to remove the tree.
Generally speaking, the city will work together with the arborist just to confirm whether
or not they will allow the removal of the trees. If you want more information on trees,
please comment below, just write, trees. If I get enough request, what I will do is I
will make a completely separate video deep diving into that topic. Number six, character
merit. What is character merit? Essentially it’s when City of Vancouver reviews the front
exterior of an existing pre-1940s home. They will determine if it has character features,
so for example, they’ll look at the windows, and also the roof line. If the house has enough
character features, then the house is deemed to have a character merit. If not, then the
house does not have character merit, so any house that’s pre-1940s, if it is deemed character
and has character merit, it can potentially affect what you can do if you want to do a
new build on that lot. For example, sometimes, you will actually
just need to have a different type of permit that’s a little bit longer, in order to get
the same FSR, or in some cases you will just have a reduction in FSR overall. On the flip
side, sometimes having character merit works in your benefit, if you actually retain the
character home and let’s say, for example, put an infill house on the property. An infill
house is an additional building, or in some cases if you decide you want to retain the
existing home and renovate it, you could get bonus FSR, and they will allow you to actually
build higher than the FSR for a new house. There is actually a good side to actually
having character merit as well. How do you know if your house has character mirror? Just
call the city’s development line. I provided the phone number below.
If the property hasn’t yet been a character assessed, it’s actually a fairly easy process.
You can actually just do it online, and get the results in about a week. Just remember,
if you’re looking for land to build on, just make sure you understand whether or not it
has character merit on the property. If you find out that your house does have character
merit, make sure you speak to the city or a custom home designer to really understand
exactly what this means for your property. Each situation is going to be a little bit
different, depending on the zoning, and a lot of different other factors. If you want
to learn more about character merit, I’ve actually made a completely separate video
for it and I provided the link below, so that you can go check it out, so I’m going to leave
you with one last thing on character merit. Keep in mind, character merit doesn’t apply
to all properties. You do not actually have to worry about character merit if your lot
meets one of the two criteria. If your lot is zoned RS1, you actually don’t need to worry
about character merit. This may change in the future, but for now if it’s RS1, don’t
worry about it. Second thing, if your existing home on the property right now is built after
1940s, character merit does not apply whatsoever, so you can completely not worry about it.
Now you know the top six things to look for when choosing a lot to build your new house
on in Vancouver. To make this process even easier for you, I’ve actually written a quick
checklist that you can use as a guide while you’re going through this process. You can
download it below. I provided the link in the comments. If you found this video helpful,
I would appreciate it so much if you could hit the Like button below and also subscribe.
I upload a new video every single week on the topic of custom homes. My contact information
is below, if you want to reach out, say hello, or have any questions. Thanks so much for
watching and see you in the next video.

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