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Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Zoning When Investing in Real Estate

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Don’t be afraid to take a big step. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps. David Lloyd George, former British Prime Minister

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Zoning When Investing in Real Estate

Zoning is not the sexiest real estate topic. However, ignorance in this area can cost you money with both buying and selling investment real estate.

1) Understand the area’s current zoning

Before you buy a property, you want to be clear on what you can do by right or by permission. Often, you cannot rely on information from the current owner. It is best to verify this information on the city’s website or a zoning official.

Building requirements for vacant lots may vary for setbacks and the minimum width to build any structure at all. For instance, the value of a narrow lot is diminished if it is too small to build a house by zoning standards.

It is also good to know what is “in favor” at the zoning board. Parking and recovery homes bring much discussion across Delaware County and Philadelphia.

2) Stay Alert to Planned Zoning Changes

Zoning ordinances evolve to meet the strategic plan for the neighborhoods. Sometimes, this vision of the elected officials may be ahead of the current economics. If the local municipality has prohibited the highest use of your property since you bought the property, it may create a challenge when you try to sell.

In this case, the city may require you to apply for a variance to continue an approved use that has been active for decades. The variance process costs both time and money (the fees to review your application vary by municipality).

For sellers, an appeal may be worth it. Without it, a seller may be forced to hold onto a property longer than desirable. Potential quality buyers may opt to walk away rather than battle the zoning board. Often, it may be easier for the seller to go through the appeal process to plead the case for economic hardship to sidestep the existing code.

3) Document known non-conforming use

If your property does not comply with the known ordinances, register your use with your local municipality. There is no excuse to be unsure (again see #1).

For example, you have treated your property as a two-family rental, but the current zoning calls for only single-family homes. If you can show consistency in this use with no negative impact on your neighbors, you can make a good case for a variance approval. This action will allow you to market a legally approved use.

September Key Market Statistics

(Statistics shown are for rolling 12 months ending in September)

(19143) West Philadelphia-Cobbs Creek/Cedar Park

 Sept 17 Sept 18% CHG
Total Sales5055529%
Lowest Sales $7K$14K100%
Highest Sales $950K $800K-16%
Average Sales $137K$157K15%
Days On Market 5436-33%

(19104) West Philadelphia-University City/Mantua

 Sept 17Sept 18 % Chg
Total Sales 1831904%
Lowest Sales $13K$18K39%
Highest Sales $1,325K$1,250K -6%
Average Sales $250K$259K4%
Days On Market 4840-17%

(19139) West Philadelphia-Walnut Hill/Haddington/Mill Creek

 Sept 17 Sept 18% Chg
Total Sales 26232123%
Lowest Sales $5K$8K50%
Highest Sales $607K$635K5%
Average Sales $89K
$110K22%
Days On Market 5240-23%

Upper Darby

 Sept 17 Sept 18% Chg
Total Sales 1,1431,2015%
Lowest Sales $17K$20K18%
Highest Sales   $435K$435K0%
Average Sales $129K$139K8%
Days On Market 67681%

Chester

 Sept 17 Sept 18% Chg
Total Sales 21023110%
Lowest Sales $5K $5K0%
Highest Sales   $165K$255K55%
Average Sales $53K$58K10%
Days On Market 57 6720%