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  • Writer's pictureMaria Luisa Castellanos

What do you need to know before buying in Miami, before you make a mistake?

Residential addition by United Architects

Miami is bordered by water on the east, the Everglades on the west, Ft. Lauderdale on the north, and the Keys on the south. With limited land to build, the cost of land is high. Today, in Miami in most areas, the cost of land is the same as the cost of buying an existing old house. They are priced this way because most people realize that there is no land available. To build a new house in the most desirable neighborhoods, the only solution is to tear down an existing house.

And if you want to buy a house to tear down and build a new one, we can help with that too. In this case, we are easily talking about an $800,000 investment or more. Half for the lot and the other half for the actual house.

But for many people this is unattainable. The median sold price of a house in Miami now as I write this is $480,000 according to

What do you get for $480,000? Often, you get an old house that needs much work. You need to redo the kitchen, the bathrooms, the floors, the windows, the electrical, the sewer line or septic tank, and sometimes even the roof.

But what is it that many people do not know? Is it in a flood zone? Does it have the right zoning for what I want to do? Is the house on a septic tank or sewer line? Do I have enough land that I can add to the house later down the road, say in 2 years? Is everything in the house permitted or are there things the present owners are hiding from buyers? In addition, there are other issues, but I don’t want to overwhelm you.

If it is in a flood zone, FEMA and the county or city (which implements the FEMA laws) only allow you to build ½ of the cost of the actual structure (not including the value of the land). If you go over this budget, you must bring the entire house floor to 1’-0” above the designated minimum flood elevation. Normally, this means tearing out the roof, if it is a one-story house, but if it’s a two-story house, this is going to be an impossibility.

Let's suppose that my intent is to convert the house into a duplex in the future. Can I do that legally with the present zoning? There are areas in the City of Miami that allow this. And the county has a new program designed to do exactly this (for workforce housing), but the property must meet some requirements, and it's on a case-by-case basis. You can read more about this here.

How can I find out if the house is on a septic tank or sewer? Now, what about orientation? What is the best orientation for a house? Now, for these, you are going to have to call me at 305-439-7898 or email me at Maria Luisa Castellanos, the principal of United Architects, is a Miami residential architect with over 25 years of experience in residential projects. And as a Realtor as well, she can help you select the right site for your project.

When you are ready to buy and remodel, especially if you are coming from outside the area, call me. The Miami area has complicated zoning laws and many bureaucratic building departments. I can help you do both and make your life much easier.

Maria Luisa Castellanos, reg. architect and Realtor

United Architects, Inc., and Hudson Capital Realty, LLC

Miami, Florida.


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