When you buy a home, you need to be aware of the various things that can limit your control over the property. This is as true for finished lots and single family homes as it is for townhouses, condos, and apartments. It's a good idea to understand these limitations before you buy, so that you can decide whether you're willing to live with them or not. After you buy, it's too late; you're stuck.
In most jurisdictions, zoning limits how a piece of property can be used. There are many variations of residential zoning. In some, no business activity is permitted. Some allow business activity but no signs. In some, no commercial vehicles can be parked regularly.
Some residential zones permit only a single dwelling per quarter acre, per acre or per ten acres. Most limit the owner's ability to subdivide land. Some allow only single family dwellings while others allow high rise apartments. Still others allow apartments, but limit the height of apartment buildings. Many do not allow mobile homes.
Some jurisdictions have "overlay districts" in addition to zoning. These are common in areas with many older buildings and a community desire to preserve them. Additions to homes of this type are obviously restricted, but restrictions regarding the location, style, height, and even whether they're allowed at all or not, also applies to fences, sheds, walks, gates, and similar ancillary structures.
Fredericksburg, Virginia has a forty block "historic district." Residents of this area must follow normal zoning rules. However, they must also submit an application to the Architectural Review Board for any changes to the visible exterior of their homes. This can be a surprise for some new homeowners in the area.
You can find detailed information about zoning, overlay districts and the like fairly easily. Simply visit the courthouse for the county in which the property is located or ask your real estate professionals for assistance.
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