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Sold sign by Robert Linder from Unsplash

From Robert Linder on Unsplash


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 new in most desirable neighborhoods, the only solution is to tear down a 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 talking easily about an $800,000 investment, and more likely over $1,000,000 in the better neighborhoods of Miami, half for the lot and the other half for the

actual house.  Often even more.

Miami is becoming a very expensive market.  The average price of a house in Miami now as I write this is $415,000 according to

What do you get for $415,000?  Often, you get an old house (and not in a prime neighborhood) which needs much work. You need to redo the kitchen, the bathrooms, the floors, the windows, the electrical, 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 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 are things the present owners are hiding from buyers? And are there other issues, that you should know about?

If the house you want to buy is in a flood zone, FEMA and the county or city (which implement the FEMA laws) only allows 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 a near impossibility without tearing down the whole house.  You can read about it here:

Why is it important to know whether or not a house is in a flood zone?  Let me give you an example.  I had a client a few years ago that had bought an old house on Hibiscus Island on Miami Beach.  They had a beautiful view from

View of Miami from Key Biscayne at shore

Photo by United Architects


the backyard of both the City of Miami and the City of Miami Beach.  At sundown, it was amazing!  However, it was an old house and they brought me in to remodel and add to it.  Because of FEMA regulations, they were very limited on what they could actually do.  There are some workarounds, but you must know what you can do.  If given a choice, and I know that sometimes there is no choice, try to buy in an area that is not a flood zone.  It is just easier to remodel and add to the house in the future.

City of Miami seal by George Pagan from Unsplash

Suppose your intent is to convert the house into a duplex in the future.  Can you do that legally with the present zoning?  There are areas in the City of Miami which allow this.  You can read which zoning allows ancillary units (granny flats) and which allow duplexes here: or the entire Miami 21 code here:

The county has a new program designed to allow duplexes on single-family zoned lots, but the property must meet some requirements, and it is on a case-by-case basis.  You can read more about this here: The intent of this program is to create more workforce housing.  However, be aware that you will have to sign a contract with the county to make the new unit workforce housing for a period of time.

By George Pagan on Unsplash


What about non-conforming structures in the City of Miami?  Can you add to them?  What if it is partially destroyed by a hurricane?  Can you rebuild it?  Only under certain circumstances.  And if the structure has parts that were illegally built without a permit, will you be able to keep them while you build a new addition or do a remodeling to part of the house?  Read about this here:


Is the house you are considering buying on a septic tank or sewer line?  Now, why should you care?  It is very difficult to build an addition to a house with a limited lot on a septic tank.  This is due to the fact that to execute with any size addition to a house will require that a larger septic tank and drainfield be built. Thirty years ago, there was only the requirement of a drainfield, now there is the requirement of a drainfield and a reserve drainfield.  The reserve drainfield is only a grassed area, but it is as large as the required drainfield, and this takes a lot of space in a yard.  It may not be feasible to enlarge the septic tank, drainfield, and then have space left over for a reserve drainfield.  So, you want to know ahead of buying a property whether it is on septic tank or sewer.  You can read more about the state of Florida septic tank regulations here: 

Septic Tank Cleaning from The Spruce with a link below

From:  The Spruce


Now what about orientation?  What is the best orientation for a house?  Now, for the answer to these two questions, you are going to have to call me. The Miami-Dade County area has 34 municipalities.  Each of which has its own complicated zoning laws and many bureaucratic building departments. In addition, the county has its own zoning laws as well.  A knowledgeable architect/realtor will help you buy the best property for your intent.  Maria Luisa Castellanos, a realtor and Miami architect, president of United Architects, with offices in Coral Gables, can help you when you are ready to buy and remodel or buy and build new, especially if you are coming from outside the area.

Decisions on buying a property are best made with as much information as possible, if your intent is to expand the property or build new.

I can help you do both and make your life much easier! 


Call us before you buy the property to make sure the plans you envision can be actualized.  Contact Maria Luisa Castellanos, R.A., LEED AP, the principal of the firm at 305-439-7898 or email at  She is both an architect and a realtor, so if you need help locating a property, she can help you find it and buy it by becoming your real estate buyer's agent.  Or, you can hire her to just analyze it from a zoning perspective.  Or, if you like, click on the arrow below and go back and read more about investing in income producing properties in Miami.

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