A Checklist for Buying Property in Santa Barbara

We get a lot of calls from people who are looking at a piece of property for sale in the Santa Barbara area and are wondering if they could add on, develop or change the home to suit their needs. There are many possible issues that can affect the final decision of whether to buy or not.  Aside from trusting your gut instinct It’s helpful to think like an Architect when looking at property. What follows is a short checklist of items we normally advise a buyer to consider and research:

Title Report:

This should describe the property boundaries, any easements, CC&R’s and any liens placed on the property. Easements can be controlled by utility companies or neighboring property owners, it’s important to know where these are to avoid problems in the future.

Septic System or public sewer service?

If the property is on a septic system it may limit the size of an addition. The system is typically sized to service the number of existing plumbing fixtures and any additional fixtures added will require upsizing the septic system. Occasionally finding the location of the septic system is a problem, we’ve had a few projects where there was a vague notion of where it was, they are not well documented. Often all that is available is a crude “treasure map” style sketch showing X marks the spot 50 feet from that tree and 20 feet from this rock.

Electrical service:

Is the electrical panel old or undersized?

Older homes may have a 100 amp panel and may still have old wiring. Modern homes demand much more power to support all the TV’s, lighting etc. and a 200 amp panel is almost mandatory.

Are the utility lines serving the property overhead? Depending on the overall cost of the project the City of Santa Barbara may require these lines to be placed underground at your cost.

Height Limits:

Most areas allow two stories however some property is located in areas with height limits due the zoning or the topography. CC&R’s can also place limits on number of stories. It is important to know that zoning does not guarantee that property may be developed to the maximum, neighborhood compatibility can trump zoning.

Floor Area Ratio (FAR):

The City of Santa Barbara places a limit on the interior area that can be built on a property based on the size of the lot. The County also places FAR limits on some areas like Montecito. It is possible to gain approval to build beyond these limits but the process can be lengthy.

Open Yard Requirement:

The City of Santa Barbara requires residences to have a significant open yard area (1,250 s.f. in some cases) with minimum dimensions and must be within the rear yard. This can impact the buildable area even on a large lot.

Topography and natural features:

Does the property have steep slopes? Construction is generally limited on steep hillsides. Large trees may require permits to be removed and streams have additional setbacks. All of which can further limit the buildable area.

How we can help

We know that in todays real estate market sometimes there isn’t much time to contemplate all of these factors. So give us a call and we can talk about the possibilities for your site or walk the site with you. We are happy to help assess the development potential of a property and provide a quick zoning summary.

Like what we do? Let us show you what we can do for you, get in touch!


[email protected]