Luxury Insider: What Comes First, The House or The Lot?

Does it ever happen to you that, when driving through an exclusive neighborhood and focusing your eyesight on a spectacular home, the first question that tickles your mind is: “What’s wrong with this picture?” You know what I am talking about… Yours eyes see a beautiful & impressive house, but your mind screams from inside your ears that it does not marry well with the lot on which it sits, or with the immediate surroundings or within the local environment.

The house may very well be striking and the lot/location as good as it gets, but when you put the two together on the same photo, it looks like a big pimple on a cheek. Something does not belong. Right house on the wrong pad or wrong house in the right place.  Not a great combo, especially if and when the homeowners are looking to sell.

This scenario is not uncommon at the high-end. Far from it. Often, before they know where they will end up buying, some people of substantial means have a precise idea as to what type of house they want to live in. Perhaps they are set on a three-level Tudor with so many bedrooms, bathrooms, etc. So now that they have firmed up the style of the house, all which is left for them to do is…find a lot on which to build it.

Any lot, anywhere, does not do. It has got to make sense and be visually and functionally attractive. The house shows best when it dresses up the site harmoniously and enhances its natural beauty.

I once had a house in a village by the name of Valbonne, in the South of France, a short bird-flight from Cannes. A quintessential Provencal village, nestled on a hill and resting by a romantic river running through the woods. The movie “French Kiss” was filmed there. Believe it or not, the municipality found it appropriate to build a new Town Hall that looks like a huge cubic pile of grey cement, something that Stalin in his glory would have been proud of, but something that looks like an eyesore in this fairytale scenery.

Beauty, as we say, is in the eye of the beholder. It’s OK to mix styles, to deliberately impose contrasts and create daring but harmonious mélanges. Pei’s ultra-modern glass pyramid, smack in Le Louvre’ courtyard in Paris, is a good example of artistic chemistry. The exception, however, does not make the rule. It is safer to stick to common sense when it comes to marrying house & building pad.

We cannot build a castle on the stamp. Towns, which are imposing tough rules when it comes to how much square footage can be built considering lot size, slope density, etc., will see to it that the end-result is a win for all concerned. Yet, regrettable personal taste sometimes stands in the way of beauty. I have seen mountain chalets built by the ocean!

Of course the size of the lot increases greatly the style options, since the house is secluded enough from the next homes that you can create your own environment. A couple of weeks ago, I visited a gorgeous “hunting lodge-type home” on the Southern border of the Silicon Valley. Out-of-place? No, kind of picture perfect in fact, because it is sitting on nearly 200 acres of rolling hills. You would think you are in Idaho and yet minutes away from the buzz of the hi-tech capital of the world!

If you are asking me what comes first, the house or the lot, I would have to say the lot. I am talking about the high-end here. The location is always more important than the structure on top. The house may go, the lot will not. In most desirable zip codes, the value ratio between the two is at least 60/40 in favor of the land. It can go as high as 100% if and when the buyer decides to get rid of the existing house to build his new signature-house.

Think about the following question when contemplating building your very personal dream home: is the house likely to add value to the lot…or would the lot be actually more valuable without the house?