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What Zoning Laws Have to Do with Your New Home Purchase

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Shopping for a home can take a long time. When you finally find one you love, there's a good chance you begin to imagine how you want to decorate and improve it. As a home shopper, you likely checked out all the important things, like the heating system, windows and the basement. However, before you make things official, it's important you check the zoning laws in the neighborhood.

According to, people who overlook this step may end up disappointed in the long run.1 A commercial zoning area could mean future stores, restaurants and other businesses are allowed to be set up in the area. Other zoning laws restrict the type of renovations you're allowed to do. If you move to an area that isn't zoned for commercial use, you won't be allowed to open a business out of your home.

Zoning Laws, Explained

Useful Community Development explained most cities in the U.S. have been employing zoning laws since the '30s to make sure certain areas retain their value.2 Some businesses in the wrong area could bring down property values and cause people to relocate. said there are five basic zoning categories: commercial, residential, agricultural, recreational and industrial.3 Each one dictates what the space is to be used for, what the buildings are to look like and what functions the buildings can have. If you find your future home is in a zone that isn't conducive to what you're planning to do, such as raise chickens in your backyard or begin a small business in your garage, you can request a zoning change. However, these are hard to accomplish and can take a long time.

Do Your Research

There are several ways to find out what zoning ordinances are in place in your new neighborhood. Nolo said people can check with their local municipal planning and building department to learn about regulations. Having your property surveyed can also help to determine where the property line is and how close to it you're allowed to build, according the Washington Post.5 Knowing this may impact future plans for swimming pools, expansions and additional buildings.

If you live in residential zoning area, you likely can't start a business from your home. Entrepreneur explained that this is mainly to keep traffic and noise in the area down.6 People also want to keep their neighborhood free of large, obnoxious signs, excessive amounts of people in the area at certain hours and potentially dangerous items being sold. However, many businesses are conducted online today. However, an online business won't likely cause these nuisances to occur, so check with local zoning department to find out the rules, restrictions and exceptions, if any.

However, the residential zoning area might be just what some people are looking for. You may not be interested in opening a home business and may just want to move to a quiet neighborhood. A residential zone would protect your neighborhood from unwanted businesses in the area.

Nolo explained many zoning categories have subcategories, though. The most common residential zone is a single-family residential, but if your neighborhood is a multi-family residential zone, it is perfectly legal for someone to build an apartment complex on your street.

Zoning laws don't just apply to the type or use of the buildings allowed in an area. They also dictate how you can use your land. Parking restrictions may tell you to bring your boat or motor home elsewhere. Other laws may prevent you from having a chicken coop in your back yard.

Historic Zones

Other cities may have historical zones. The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County explains the Metropolitan Historic Zoning Commission for the county helps to keep growth and change under control so as to maintain the historical integrity of the city of Nashville. According to the MHZC, more than two thousand towns have historic zoning regulations to preserve the history and architecture of certain neighborhoods.

If you are planning on moving to one of these neighborhoods, be aware that there will be restrictions on the types of changes you can make to your home. In Nashville, homeowners who wish to build on their property, add to their home, take down or move a structure or repair or alter the exterior of their property must obtain permission from the MHZC through an application process.

Moving to a historic neighborhood might be up your alley. The rich past of a neighborhood is fun to learn about and all the homes are beautiful. However, if you plan on adding onto your home, there may be some extra steps you have to take that you wouldn't in a single-family residential zone. Or, in some cases, you may not be allowed to realize your vision for your home.

Be sure to do your research before finalizing your home purchase. If the neighborhood's zoning laws restrict your future plans, you might be better off continuing your home search.


2 Useful Community Development
5 The Washington Post
6 Entrepreneur

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