Find out if there are any building restrictions due to proximity to wetlands, shoreland or resource protection zones. Setbacks can range from 75 feet to 250 feet from these natural features. Most town halls have maps with these areas clearly marked. Many towns have made this information available on-line. If the property is part of a subdivision, find out if there are building limitations as part of the development standards. This might include height restrictions, particular exterior building materials (as in “no vinyl siding allowed)”, view corridors, or whether or not an unattached building, such as a barn or storage shed, can be built.
Collect all the hard data available for the site: boundary survey with required setbacks, and location of utilities, such as water, sewer, and electricity. If town utilities are not available, then the location of a well and septic system will have a more significant impact on the building location. If possible, locate the house so that the septic system uses gravity in your favor, allowing for the natural flow of effluent to the leeching field instead of having to pump it.
A topographic survey (which shows the contours of the land) is important if the lot has a lot of irregular or sloping terrain. This information will help determine whether or not a daylight basement makes sense and where to locate the driveway so that it’s not too steep and will be passable in the wintertime. One of the benefits of a sloping site is that, rather than grade a flat spot for the house, use the drop in grade to create a design that incorporates different floor levels and ceiling heights.