35 Questions to Ask Before Buying Vacant Land ?

Are you interested in buying your own piece of earth?  There’s nothing more fabulous than having a few acres of your own, and building your own place from the ground up.   But, buying land, especially in highly regulated areas like California, can be a lot more risky than buying a home.  These days of real estate disclosure for a home buyer have come a long way from the traditional law of “Caveat Emptor” (meaning buyer beware)!  Land, however, does not have the same rules.  I constantly hear stories like:

Ojai Land for slae
“I thought we were buying 80 acres, it turned out we got 65!”

“We had no idea this area was in an ancient landslide.  Its almost impossible to build here.”

“We thought we got an amazing deal, $1m for 120 acres, but it turns out its going to cost another $1m to get to the pad before we can even think of starting the house.”

“We bought a small lot in town and it turns out we can’t get water service so we can’t build!”

Unfortunately there isn’t one place to get answers.  Many local departments are involved and sometimes have conflicting information.

Here are 35 questions you can ask
Or you can get professional help – call me 310 963 7900.

Planning and Zoning

  1. Is it a legal lot? If not, how do I make it legal?
  2. What is the zoning classification of this lot?
  3. Does the Zoning on the property permit my project?
  4. Does the County General Plan permit what I wish to do?
  5. Are any planning permits required prior to building on the lot?
  6. Are there any zoning violations on the lot?
  7. Are there any special building restrictions in this area?
  8. Are there any cultural heritage sites on the property?

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Pasadena Historic Preservation

From the Pasadena Heritage News – an interesting article on how Pasadena, a city that takes preservation seriously, handles illegal construction. Note the penalty – 4 years no construction allowed !



City Levies Penalty for Illegal Demolition

The City of Pasadena recently issued a ruling against the owners of a project on Prescott Street where an eligible historic home was virtually demolished against city code and without proper permits. Neighbors alerted the city when they believed work on the property was going far beyond the permitted plans. After calls to our office by the neighbors months ago, Pasadena Heritage offered free architectural consultation to the owners. That offer was rejected.

On November 18th, the Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously to support city staff’s determination that this was an illegal demolition of an historic resource. Pasadena Heritage attended the Commission meeting to speak in support of the staff’s action and joined Craftsman Heights’ residents in expressing sadness and frustration at the loss of this architecturally significant home. The penalty is that no construction can take place on the site for four years, however, there are other remedies the owners can pursue that could allow an acceptable project to move forward.

Photo credit: City of Pasadena

Building in a challanging location – Ojai, CA


Building a home in remote areas ups the ante for challenges and cost. This house located at 2700 feet above sea level on the south range of the mountains of the Ojai Valley has amazing views of the Topa Topa mountains to the North and the mighty Pacific on the South.


Just getting people to the job is a challenge – Google, smart phones and even maps don’t accurately show the property.  With the 100’s of trade contractors, inspectors, delivery drivers, etc. getting people to the job is a chore itself.


We had to install our own street sign – which was later mysteriously removed !


Roadways, grading, drainage, utilities have to travel up a 1700 foot long driveway.  Rules and regulations also get more challenging from the building department, the fire department and all of the other agencies that get involved in the permitting.



But you just can’t beat it!  Views of the Channel Islands of Santa Barbara.

Bottom Line: Get er Done!




Feel Free to copy, share, or re post this article. Kindly make sure to include this information: Written by Otis Bradley, a Custom Home Builder, in Southern California. Please see OtisBradley.com for more information on Custom Home Building!

New Construction in Southern California – Weather and Project Management

By: Otis Bradley


Sunny California is usually such an easy place to build – weather wise – we take it for granted.

I heard a story (not my job) of a guy doing a roof tear off in July in a little town in Southern California. Not thinking twice about rain, he removed the entire roof without providing any protection. Guess what? A freak summer storm rolled in and drenched the building and all of the stores that were doing business below. Can you spell L A W S U I T ?

The year this project occurred was during the El Niño storm season. From all of the water entering the home, clay muck sticks to your shoes 4″ thick! Because this happened the builder now had to deal with the following Hazards:

  • slippery
  • dangerous
  • the job site port a potty was the job site…
  • mold
  • guys don’t show up
  • mud


Although, building in Southern California seems like the perfect place to be, things can still happen and sometimes lead to disasters at your job site.




Feel Free to copy, share, or re post this article. Kindly make sure to include this information: Written by Otis Bradley, a Custom Home Builder, in Southern California. Please see OtisBradley.com for more information on Custom Home Building!

Permitting in Ojai and Ventura County – always new rules, especially in the mountains


Building a new home these days requires lots of permits.  More all the time.

Ventura County which includes a lot of the area around Ojai, has a difficult permitting process and many different agencies which require permits.  Particularly if you build in the mountains, the process can be challenging.

  • Building and Safety Department
  • Grading Department
  • Planning and Zoning Department
  • Environmental Health Department
  • Fire Department
  • Water Resources Department
  • Trash and Recyelcing
  • to name a few !

The process requires multiple trips to each department,  consisting of submitting plans for “plan check” – revising plans and making corrections – resubmission of plans (sometimes repeat again and again)

If you pass “GO” you move on to the next department.  Sometimes you go to “JAIL” or have to start over!

A day at the county can feel like living a “Twilight Zone” episode.


Below is an example of a recent Ventura County Ordinance – amending the rules for an “overlay” of the “Scenic Resource Protection Zone.”  This revises regulations for homes built on “ridgelines.”  The thinking that overbuilding on the tops of mountains spoils views for others.  Just an example of the incredible complexity of the rules and regulations in some areas today.

See if you can read and clearly understand this …

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