Building a house is a major life project – and before you can break ground, you’ll have to find some. But buying land isn’t a step you should take lightly, as it can affect how good you feel in your new home, and how long it will remain standing! That’s why myLIFE has put together a list of things to check before you sign anything.
Andy and Emily have decided to become homeowners. But after many months of searching, they are forced to admit that their dream house just isn’t out there. So they change their tactic, and decide to build it themselves. Now they’re just bursting with plans and ideas – but they’ll have to be careful not to get carried away and risk cutting corners. Before they can start looking at paint swatches, there is a critical first step to complete: choosing a piece of land!
Emily loves the beautiful view from the hilltops of Remich, but Andy wants to be near his parents in Pétange – if they want to find something that suits both of them, the couple will have to consider a whole slew of factors before making a purchase.
Just like buying a house, buying land means you have to consider the surrounding area.
What priorities do Andy and Emily have? Do they want to be near public transport, or have quick access to the motorway? Are there shops, childcare facilities and schools close by? Even if they don’t have children yet, in a few years they may wish to live within walking distance of a nursery school.
Another important step is to check whether there are any urban development projects planned in the neighbourhood, and whether the land is close to anything that could prove a nuisance later (railroads, factories, streets with heavy traffic at peak times, etc.). The couple can seek advice from the municipal government, or even the neighbours, about these questions and about local taxes (on property, for local services, etc.). And come what may, they will need to find time to visit the land at different hours of the day and days of the week if they want a clear picture of what their future neighbourhood is really like.
Should you build in a subdivision? Whether you do can affect how much your home will cost and the types of restrictions you’ll face.
The type of land
Now the couple have chosen the general area, and they even have their eye on a plot. But they shouldn’t rush into anything! There are lots of things to check if they want to make sure the house they build will last, and get a precise estimate of how much it will cost.
Lots in subdivisions
Different rules will apply depending on whether or not the couple decides to build in a subdivision. Homeowners in subdivisions have to follow guidelines that affect how their home is built, the materials they can use, what colour paint they can have, the kind of roof, etc.
Suitability of the lot
Whatever they do, they have to ensure the chosen lot is suitable to build on. If it’s in a subdivision, this is generally a given. If not, Andy and Emily will need to check one of two state development maps, called the PAG (Plan d’Aménagement Général) and the PAP (Plan d’Aménagement Particulier). These documents show the planned use of all the land in a municipality (residential areas, commercial areas, forests, farmland, etc.).
They can be viewed online at Geoportail.lu or obtained from the municipal government.
=> If the lot the pair have their eye on is in a no-build zone, they can contact the municipal council to request a review and potentially change the PAG. They should be aware, though, that this process takes a long time and its outcome is uncertain.
Foundation and soil quality
Emily remembers that when she was little, a factory was built not far from the place where they now want to build their home. She can hire a geologist to check the soil and make sure it’s not polluted, and that the ground is stable enough to build on.
It is also a good time to check if the lot is in a zone that’s at risk of natural hazards (flooding, earthquakes, etc.). The Moselle River is lovely, but not when it turns up in your basement!
Connection to utilities
The land you want to build on has to be connected to a number of utilities networks (electricity, water, sewage, gas and telephone lines). Land in a subdivision generally is, but this isn’t always the case for isolated plots. Once again, the couple will need to turn to the municipality, which can direct them to specific service providers so that they can get an estimate of how much it will cost to connect their plot.
Boundaries of the property
Andy will also need to make sure the plot has clear boundaries that match the land registry map. To do so, he must check the demarcation – whether any markers have been set to show the boundaries of the property. He wouldn’t want his garden spilling over into his neighbour’s! But he must also remember that just because a plot has a fence around it, it doesn’t mean the fence is where it should be according to the state map. He must be sure. It isn’t wise to skip this step, as the consequences can be serious.
In order to avoid surprise costs, the couple should visit their notary public to find out whether there are any easements or rights of way connected to the property. Some of these are visible (high-voltage power lines hung over the property), while others aren’t (neighbour with the right to pass through, underground sewage pipes buried on the land, etc.).
A building permit is required before you begin construction. Make sure you can get one before you buy the land!
The couple agrees that everything seems to be in order… well, almost. There’s one more thing to do. Andy and Emily need to get a building permit (permis de construire) before they go ahead with construction. And they should do it before they sign a deed of purchase for the land, too. Otherwise, they might find they can’t build on it after all!
Applications for a building permit should be addressed to the municipal government, which will look at the blueprints provided by the architect or engineer to decide whether to grant the permit.
=> Important: once the building permit has been issued, the couple has one year to start construction on their new home. If they don’t begin in time, they can apply to extend the validity of the permit for an additional year, but will have to provide justification.
Energy performance certificate
The newly built home must meet specific energy performance requirements (thermal insulation, CO2 emissions, etc.). This means that the building permit request has to be accompanied by energy performance calculations and an energy performance certificate (CPE certificate).
What kind of property the couple has chosen will determine whether they need other permits before construction can begin. If the building project requires roadworks, they will have to get a permit from the Road and Bridge Administration. If a part of the property measuring more than two hectares needs to be cleared of trees and underbrush, they will also have to contact the Nature Conservation Agency.
And for both the land and their self-build project, Andy and Emily can get valuable advice from the OAI, the Order of Architects and Consulting Engineers.
To sum up: Andy and Emily have found a piece of land they like, they’ve had the stability of the foundation and soil quality checked out, and they can now rest easy in the knowledge that they have the proper permits to get construction underway. Once they sign the deed, they can move onto the next step: building their new home! And that’s a whole other story…
Financial assistance and tax benefits
Under certain conditions, Luxembourg taxpayers can qualify for tax benefits when building a home, as well as apply for financial assistance from the Ministry of Housing (construction subsidy, interest relief, interest subsidy, state home loan guarantee, savings subsidy, subsidy supplement for architect or consulting engineer fees).
To find out if they qualify for the different forms of financial assistance, they can use the simulator available at Guichet.lu.