Five things one should know when buying a home to build out in Los Altos

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Are you looking at buying a property in Los Altos with the intent on building it into your dream home?  Here are five tips that should make it easier.  These suggestions come from my four years of experience as a commissioner on the Design Review Commission (DRC) for the city of Los Altos.  Please note these are my own thoughts based on my experiences in reviewing numerous building applications that came before the DRC.  The information posted here is mine and hasn’t been reviewed or vetted by the city of Los Altos.

  1. Understand the building potential of your subject property before getting into contract.  If you are buying a property with the intent of expanding or building new, verify the building capabilities of the parcel with the appropriate building official prior to submitting an offer. Most real estate agents understand building requirements but some don’t.  Don’t make the mistake of relying on your agent only to find out after the fact that your agent was one of the few who didn’t understand the building process. I am more than happy to walk my clients into the planning office and discuss their plans/desires with the appropriate building officials prior to submitting an offer.  You won’t get an approval but you’ll have a pretty good idea regarding what can be built.
  2. The immediate neighbor’s homes may have an unintended affect on what can be built on your site. This is especially true with 2-story homes.  Setbacks, building heights, mass and bulk help define a neighborhood’s “look and feel.”  Think neighborhood compatibility as you look at the surrounding properties.  This is not to say that you can’t build a home that is stylistically different than the immediate neighborhood, but rather the size and bulk of the home will likely come under further scrutiny.  See the Los Altos Neighborhood Compatibility Worksheet for further details.
  3. Obtain a Single Family Residential District Regulations Guide which identifies the property’s zoning development standards. Use the guide to determine building setbacks, lot coverage, floor area ratio (FAR), height restrictions, daylight plane, basements etc.  Most lots in Los Altos are zoned R1-10, where R signifies the parcel as a residential property, 1 signifies that only a single family home can be built and 10 signifies that the minimum lot size is 10,000 square feet.  Note: if your lot is not a R1-10, you will be subject to different building guidelines. Check with the planning department for further information.
  4. Obtain a Residential Design Guidelines Guide which provides guidelines on how a home should “look and feel.”  It doesn’t regulate style or taste but rather gives examples on how the city evaluates any residential construction project.
  5. Work with partners who understand the process of home construction within the city of Los Altos.  Whether it is your local real estate professional, architect, or builder, hire those who have demonstrated local knowledge and experience.  We understand the process.  We know where to go to get issues resolved. We make your home building experience quicker, less frustrating and more satisfying.

Currently, I am the only residential real estate professional who has served on the Los Altos Design Review Commission.  My expertise and experience goes beyond that of any other Realtor.  Should you have questions, please contact me directly at 650 465-0755.


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