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PLOTS AND PLATS
THE AVERAGE small house weighs more than a quarter million pounds. It is not mobile, and once the final nail is driven your house is going to remain right where it is built for a long, long time. Thus, even if you yourself do not make it your home throughout its useful life expectancy, you still must consider its financial or economic life from an investment standpoint. Too much emphasis, therefore, can not be placed on the importance of care and caution in choosing the plot on which your house will stand as a monument to your judgment, good or bad.
The importance of the site and its location might be further emphasized by referring to the procedure for mortgage risk-rating contained in the Federal Housing Administration's Underwriting Manual. One out of every five rejections of new-construction mortgage insurance applications is attributable to the neighborhood in which the property is located.
But you no doubt can probably better visualize the importance of these points right in your own home town. Just drive around any neighborhood that has started to decline in value and character, and see for yourself the transition that has taken place. Probably, only a few years ago, this neighborhood and these houses were highly desirable properties and well worth the value placed on them at that time. Yet you yourself would not pay anything like that cost for these houses today.
Inasmuch as this book attempts to create not only a consciousness for better small housing, but also to instill further a full recognition of all allied values in good housing, it becomes essential that LAND be earmarked consideration Number One.
RELATIONSHIP OF LAND TO HOUSE
What proportion of the total property investment should be allocated to the purchase price of a plot or plat? No absolute percentage can be applied in every instance. The false standard of one-fifth has long been proved an untrue theory. Obviously the lower priced house should, and, in most instances does, use a proportionally lower percentage between land and house values. A nation-wide analysis by FHA showed the following relationship of Land to House:
Land as percent of Property
Under $5,000 11%
Over $15,000Over 18½%
Ordinarily land outside metropolitan districts averages about 2% less than inside metropolitan districts, in comparison to the relationship of land to property valuation.
Hence it is readily seen that the price of an improved lot should conform to a percentage classification of total property valuation.
SIGHT THE SITE RIGHT
The availability and price of suitable building lots is pushing house construction more and more toward the fringes and outskirts of our cities and towns. Certain generally accepted principles should control the judgment of the prospective owner in choosing the site for a new home. All too often a big elm, a tiny pool, or an envisioned garden becomes the deciding factor of the home seeker's choice, and much too often regret becomes the penalty for not having given sounder reasoning to choosing the site.
Clear title to the property is of prime importance. The purchaser should insist on title evidence, customarily acceptable in that specific area, guaranteeing that the parcel has a free and unencumbered title. Certain exceptions may be part of such guarantee, and, in such instances, these exceptions should be noted and mutually agreed upon. Boundary lines should always be carefully checked, and, if boundaries are questionable, a land surveyor should be employed.
In many developments and subdivisions, privately devised agreements and covenants are written into the deeds. Ordinarily this gives added protection to the future value of the property, and it is wise to check previous recordings of the plot for any restrictive covenants.
The legal aspect of purchasing a piece of ground is only a small part of the land buying program. Many important factors should be considered and weighed before a final decision is reached. Both the natural and the man-made features which exist in the vicinity should be investigated. For example, swamp-like land which might flood, or rivers which might overflow, should be avoided. It's also a good idea to steer clear of rocky or rubbish-filled land which is likely to add to the cost of building, and may make it difficult for you to grow a lawn or garden.
The presence and type of industries in the neighborhood where you contemplate buying your plot must be considered and evaluated carefully. Nearby heavy industry may be a source of objectionable noise, smoke, dirt, and odors—both from the factories themselves and from the railroads which serve them. On the other hand, light industry may be an asset to a community in that it provides nearby work in pleasant surroundings.
The adequacy and availability of transportation services should have some influence on the home seeker's selection of property. The cost of these services, the distance from your land to the transportation facilities, and the condition of streets and roads in the vicinity will affect the utility of your new home. Today, when so many people use the automobile as their primary means of transportation, it is vital that the prospective owner investigate the quality of roads and streets in the neighborhood from the standpoint of condition, upkeep and repair services, and distance to major traffic arteries.
Choosing a proper site is not only important from a security of investment standpoint, but equally as important to your social, recreational, and daily routine activities. Look carefully into not only what the school situation is, but also in what school district your property is located. Too often the attractive new school to which you had planned to send the children, and which partly influenced your purchase of the property, turns out to be just outside your school district. School attendance being a major activity for your children makes it essential that you investigate the educational facilities first, and so prevent a disrupted school schedule later on.
The facility and convenience of a neighborhood shopping area saves many a trip back to town. Recreational areas for both children and parents alike are also becoming a more and more important factor in choosing a residential site. With shorter work weeks, fewer work hours, and daylight saving time all adding extra leisure hours, everyone finds more time for recreation.
Build your new home in a congenial, healthful neighborhood which parallels your own interests and financial standards.
ORIENTATION of your house upon your property must be carefully planned so as to take advantage of such things as direction of the prevailing winds, sunlight, trees already on the plot, street and traffic noises, outdoor living, and desirable views. The larger your property, the more choice you will naturally have in the placement of your house, but even the smallest lot may be developed for maximum use and enjoyment. Careful planning is necessary. You should not expect to plan your home and then purchase a piece of land to put it on. Rather, the property should be selected first, and then the house planned as a part of the property, with the grounds but an extension of the plan of the house. Various areas should be considered for their special uses—play, garden, work, service entry, and front yard.
Knowing where the sun will be every season of the year means that you can locate your house on the plot so as to take advantage of shade trees and sunshine. Preferably, the windows of the living room should face south and should be protected by overhangs so the hot summer sun does not penetrate this room. However, the winter sun, which is lower in the sky, will still be able to enter deep into the house and to produce a most pleasant warmth which actually assists the heating plant in heating the home. Special consideration of the trees and shrubbery will influence the location of the house. In most cases, leaves begin to fall from the trees at the season of the year when more sunlight is desired in the home, and in the spring the leaves return with the warmer weather.
With the trend today toward outdoor living, special stress upon provision for utilization of yard and garden will add extra living space to the home. Areas in the landscape plan are like rooms in the house plan, and the actual house site should be selected with a view to creating the best arrangement of usable outdoor spaces. Play yards for the children, outdoor fireplace and picnic possibilities, clothes drying equipment, tennis court, swimming pool, badminton, croquet and other games, sunbathing—all these potentialities suggest ways of adding to the livability of your property. For young children, the protection of a decorative fence will not only enclose an area for their recreation, and keep growing youngsters away from the dangers of street traffic, but will also increase the attractiveness of the property. Also, a fence will provide screening from the inquisitive gazes of passersby, and create an air of privacy and intimacy for the outdoor gardens and entertainment features.
Before the final decision is made on both plot and house plan, the prospective owner should evaluate his desires and hopes for outdoor recreation, and plan accordingly. If an outdoor fireplace and eating area is wanted, this should be considered in the overall planning, and not added haphazardly in some awkward corner after the house is completed. Similarly, the clothes drying area should be planned adjacent to the basement or utility room entrance, and at the same time removed from view of the street. Monday morning's wash, flapping across the front entrance walk, is hardly either attractive or desirable, and is unnecessary if forethought is used in the original plans.
In recent years there has been a trend toward placing the principal living rooms toward the rear of the house, where they may perhaps open out upon the garden or recreation area, overlooking a particularly attractive view that can be captured by a picture window on one side of the living room. Privacy for family social life is attained from large open porches or terraces on the side or toward the rear of the plot. Attractive fences and hedges will cut off a direct view from the street and eliminate the "life in a fish bowl" condition that frequently exists in carelessly planned properties.
Wherever your home is to be built, remember the weather and make it function for you as much as possible. Breezes are necessary to summer comfort and ventilation should be provided to let in those summer winds. It is important to open the house on the opposite side from the direction of the breeze, which will then tend to exhaust air from the house and create a welcome air movement. Since, in most sections, winter winds are from the north, this side of the house can be arranged with few openings for protection from the cold. In localities where snow storms are part of the winter scene, care must be taken in placement of the house so that snow drifts will not obstruct doorways and necessary windows which are needed for light, and so the garage doors will not be blocked by piles of snow in bad weather.
In by-gone days, it was customary to place the barn as far back as possible on the lot, since the odor from the stables was obviously not relished by the occupants of the home. With the horse and buggy era long since over, today the garage becomes more serviceable when attached to the house, either directly or connected by a porch or breezeway. This garage should be as near to the front as possible in order to shorten the drive and conserve this area for other uses. Since the house is usually approached by automobile, it would be well to try to place the garage at the side of the house with the drive going past the entrance, thereby letting the driveway serve as a walk as well.
Orientating your house, therefore, should be a forethought and not an afterthought. Whether you already own your land, or are just planning to buy it, sit down and mentally visualize the house of your choice throughout all of the calendar months of the year, according to the various elements peculiar to your local climatic conditions.
ARCHITECTS AND ARCHITECTURE
ARCHITECTS are persons grounded, schooled, and, in most states, licensed to practice their professional skill in their chosen field of endeavor. Architecture, varied as it is, shows the trends in American progress or regress in the housing field.
Today, more than ever before, both architects and architecture are divided and subdivided according to the often heard professional expression, "Form follows function". It is a perfectly logical axiom, and is by no means limited exclusively to modern designers and modern houses. When one studies the old houses of Cape Cod, Williamsburg, or Charleston, there are few forms which can not be traced to fit the needs of a particular function.
The Houses-of-the-Month shown throughout this book were all designed by leading architects in the small house field. No rigid rules were placed as obstacles in the paths of these various architects as to how each house should be planned. To maintain a comprehensive review of houses, it was, however, necessary that an advance program be worked out so that all houses would not follow one' stereotyped plan. One-story, one and a half- story, two-story wood, brick, stone and stucco were all needed to round out a nation-wide fashion show of houses. Cape Codders, Colonials, Regencies, Georgians, Ramblings—and a few slightly in the Modern trend—were all essential elements to the overall pattern. No one architect could design all of the House- of-the-Month series. Each architect was chosen with care, and the type of house for which he was most noted assigned to him. Every house did, however, have to be designed to comply with the standards and construction requirements of the FHA. Limited to what is generally termed the small house field (700 to 2,500 square feet), each House-of-the-Month was "formed to function" under today's living conditions of the average family.
Surveys conclusively prove that the large majority of prospective buyers definitely prefer the so-called standard type of architecture that was prevalent before the war. All of the text and pictures devoted to dream-houses and magic- houses during the war years is apparently having little influence upon today's prospective home buyers. House design has always been a slow evolutionary process, and both home builders and mortgage lenders have been ultra cautious in accepting overnight every new house fad with which they have been confronted. And their caution is well-founded, for it is the public acceptance and the resalability of a house tomorrow that the lending agency must consider.
It matters little which style house you choose as long as it is suitable for the conditions peculiar to the area in which you build. Be careful not to choose a style of architecture that will appear inappropriate in your neighborhood and that will not harmonize with the styles common to your community. If you lean toward the Modern, remember that simplicity of line and mass requires skill in this design, unusually fine workmanship, as well as the best grades of material, if the result is to be effective and remain in favor over a long period of time. Also remember that as far as can be seen today you must anticipate a very limited resale market for Moderns. No records are available to prove whether the Modern house is to be an accepted style of tomorrow, or possibly turn out to be a passing fad.
The architects who designed the Houses-of-the-Month are cognizant of both the livability features required, for the average family, and the financial investment of the purchaser. They have chosen tried and proven styles of house design that meet these basic principles. But neither they, nor any group of outstanding architects, could design houses that would meet every desire, whim, and fancy of every home owner. Nor did they intend to do so. Basically, each House-of-the-Month was carefully planned and executed to give it maximum livability features, good construction, and long life at minimum cost. Mrs. Jones may want a separate dining room, while Mrs. Smith prefers to utilize one end of her living room for main meals, with a snack bar in the kitchen for breakfast. Dad may have become a victim of the periodicals advocating basementless houses. Whatever the exceptions may be, logical or even illogical, no one can better advise the prospective home buyer than the local architect.
Excerpted from Small Houses of the Forties by Harold E. Group. Copyright © 2007 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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