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Discovery Idea:

Interpret Your Report

The idea behind Zonability is to provide a "first look" or to help "get you started." The report is limited because there are so many factors that may apply that aren't factored into the report. Also, there may have been a change to the property that isn't in the report.

Still, there are some basics to help you interpret what you are seeing in a Zonability report.

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Opportunity Zones & Zonability

Zonability map

Do you see the adjacent properties colored the same or different? Is the property's lot shape regular or irregular? When you look at the map marker, notice how many zoning regulations are showing and understand that the nearby properties may or may not have the exact zoning, even if the map shows the same color. Why?

Zonability uses a method to color code the base zoning by group. There can be many zoning districts that fall under the categories. Each "residential" zoning district, for instance, may have a different set of requirements which make that zoning district unique. Sometimes it is regulation around the minimum lot size, other times the differences are in the types of housing structures (a single family house vs. duplex, a detached home vs. attached).

Basics Section in Report

Look at the current property information regarding its lot size, existing use and year built.

Lot size

These matter because a lot size may indicate potential such as having enough land area for a two-family use.If you read the definition for the zoning, you may learn there is a minimum lot size for that zoning district. Is it possible to subdivide the lot if the lot size is 2x the minimum lot size? Maybe.

Existing use

The existing use may be in alignment with the current zoning or not. If it is not, it is possible that it is "grandfathered" which allows it to continue to exist under certain conditions (these vary by city but often include a condition around not making significant changes to the property).

Year built

The year built may also be a factor to consider as older structures may be viewed as historic. Or, they may be so new that making changes doesn't make sense financially.

Current Regulations

Do you see only one zoning district or are there multiple? This can add complication to understanding a property's potential.

There is base level zoning, the primary zoning which we color code in Zonability. There can be additional zoning added over time, this is called overlay zoning.

These base and overlay zoning districts are regulations possibly impacting a property's potential. Some overlay zoning districts may have no effect on a property. This is possible when the regulation is for say a specific use or situation. In instances when the use or situation is not applicable, then that overlay zoning is no longer an issue for the property and its current owner. It could, however, become an issue in the future for a different owner if they have a different vision/plan for their property.


To better align your needs with Zonabililty reports:

1. Is your data the same as the city's data? The data we work with is from the individual city but we don't get automatic updates from the cities. Therefore, our data may be dated.

It is good to know that while we update our data for property parcels and ownership using the certified roll annually, we update the mapping data for zoning more frequently, especially for the major cities like Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio. However, there could be a change in zoning that isn't in the most recent update.

To verify the current zoning, you can call the city listed in the report and ask if the zoning for the address is still showing as the regulations listed in the Zonability report. If the city planner seems to have the time, feel free to ask other questions such as:

  • Does the current building (or buildings) look to be compliant with the zoning?
  • Is there an upcoming zoning change planned for the property and/or nearby area?
  • Does the property have a zoning restriction that would keep it from being a candidate for redevelopment?

2. We don't know your plans. Zonability reports provide general information about a specific property but without being able to also factor in existing conditions such as: soils, topography, trees, private deed restrictions. Furthermore, unlike a building report which lists the problems identified as being out of code or in need of repair, Zonability is about the potential, something that you can't see at this time. The potential needs to be drawn out and numbers provided to understand the costs relative to the potential benefits. Those are the kinds of details that a feasibility report might provide and would require a local expert to talk with you and walk the property.

Other questions we've received:

Is an ADU an option? ADU stands for "Accessory Dwelling Unit" and these vary by definition by city. Some allow for an ADU over a garage or in a basement or attic. The combination of configuration and the need to work within required setbacks are two of the primary reasons we don't list them in our reports. We do, however, try to list "duplex" and "two family" in our reports which are two units on the same lot that are similar in size. A duplex usually shares one roof, a two-family may be a separate structure.

Why isn't the HOA's restriction on keeping all homes one-story noted? We don't have the regulations found in a private deed restriction or CC&R document (that is the Conditions, Covenant and Restrictions). For those you'll have to ask your title rep to tract down the deed restrictions and your agent to get a copy of the current CC&Rs.

If a property has an older building on it, Zonability will add a "tear down" risk badge, why? In many cities around Texas, a structure that is older than 50 years in age may require additional research by the city before a demolition permit is given. We'd rather err on the side of caution and let you know that it might be a hurdle than not. One idea to help you - or your clients - when that situation arises is to understand why the property might be historic. Contact the local Preservation society and ask how to research the property. You are looking for famous persons how might have lived there, the architect's name and status and if others have tried in the past to get a demolition permit.

Why isn't every city in the metro area available on Zonability? The two primary reasons are a) not all cities have available digitized mapped data and b) not all cities are incorporated. There are places like Spicewood, TX that people know but may not realize is not incorporated as a city. If you type the name of the city into a search engine you can find out its status.

Other Tips

The Zonability report is designed to help you understand what are some of the basic existing conditions and then the potential, what is found under Zotential and Zotelligence.

You won't find either of those words in the dictionary because we made them up as part of the premise for possibility, rather than definitive. We tee up the potential for a property where we can for height, size and use. Then we layer in Zotelligence to help with those thinking about change.

The risk potential items reflect the zoning (as per our most recent findings) in conjunction with the property's attribute from the basic's section which come from the local county assessor's certified roll in the fall.

If the property looks to be vacant, there will likely be no "year built" or "building size" so a risk for vacant land is returned. If there is a "year built" that looks over 50 years, we'll return a potential risk for "construction" as it relates to tearing down.  There are instances where a parcel has been split subsequent to the certified roll. In those cases, the zoning should still be ok, even with our more frequent updates of the zoning, but the parcel will not reflect the current status.

Contact the city

Learning you can do your own research can be empowering to many agents and brokers.

You can use the internet to get information or pick up the phone to call (or visit in person). The great part about Zonability is that we have the full name of the zoning district so just by highlighting that plus the name of the city you are likely to find something of interest.

In addition to finding the city's website, you may find interesting blogs written by locals about properties in your community.

Again, you can opt to contact the city and talk with them about the property and zoning. Here's our list of handy links to city planning departments (link).

If assurance about the zoning (not relative to a potential project), a city may provide documentation. There is usually a fee for the document, and it may be called a "zoning verification letter." These are usually ordered through the city's Planning Department.

If the property appears to be located in the ETJ, it isn't the city with zoning control, not yet at least. Those are locations where the city may wish to annex in the future. For now, properties outside the city limits do not have zoning. Exceptions may apply to those adjacent to the city limit line. You can use the handy links and search within the city site for fire to place a call or write an email.

What do I write or ask? Confirm the zoning (verbally this does not offer protections as a formal submittal with a "zoning verification letter"), ask if there is a future land use or plan that impacts the property. You can review Zonability to compare what you are being told.

If you learn of a discrepancy, ask if there was a change in the last 6-12 months and please contact us so we can schedule an update.

Look for a private source

For those who either have a need to understand the property potential relative to a planned project such as tearing down to build new or have a client with a pressing need to understand the ramifications of the zoning relative to their interest in moving forward on a deal, a private source to get questions answered may be the best route.

Similar to finding a good general contractor, it helps to get recommendations. In fact, if you've worked on a remodel or new construction, you may start with your contact to see who they know. Architects, engineers and designers are all possible contacts. It really depends on your specific needs.