What is a variance in real estate?

What is a variance in real estate?


In the world of real estate, there are various terms and concepts that can be confusing for both buyers and sellers. One such term is “variance.” A variance in real estate refers to a legal permission granted by the local government that allows a property owner to deviate from certain zoning regulations or restrictions. This article will delve deeper into the concept of variances in real estate, explaining what they are, how they are obtained, and their significance in the industry.

Understanding Variances

A variance is essentially an exception to the rules set by zoning ordinances, which are regulations that govern how land can be used within a particular jurisdiction. Zoning ordinances are put in place to ensure that land is used in a manner that is compatible with its surrounding area and the community as a whole. These regulations typically dictate things like the type of structures that can be built, the height and size of buildings, setback requirements, and the allowable uses of the land.

However, there are situations where strict adherence to these regulations may cause undue hardship for a property owner. For example, a property owner may want to build an addition to their home that slightly exceeds the maximum height limit set by the zoning ordinance. In such cases, the property owner can apply for a variance to seek permission to deviate from the established regulations.

The Variance Process

Obtaining a variance is not a straightforward process and typically involves several steps. The property owner must first submit an application to the local zoning board or planning department, depending on the jurisdiction. This application should include detailed plans and justifications for the requested variance, explaining why it is necessary and how it will not negatively impact the surrounding area.

Once the application is submitted, it will be reviewed by the appropriate authorities, who will consider factors such as the impact on neighboring properties, the character of the area, and the overall intent of the zoning regulations. The property owner may be required to attend a public hearing to present their case and address any concerns raised by the community or the zoning board.

After careful evaluation, the zoning board will make a decision on whether to grant the variance. They may approve it as requested, approve it with certain conditions, or deny the application altogether. It’s important to note that the decision-making process can vary depending on the specific jurisdiction and the nature of the variance being sought.

Significance of Variances

Variances play a significant role in real estate by allowing property owners to overcome certain restrictions and pursue their desired land use. They provide flexibility and accommodate unique circumstances that may arise in the development or use of a property. Without the possibility of obtaining a variance, property owners would be strictly bound by zoning regulations, potentially limiting their ability to make improvements or adapt to changing needs.

However, it’s important to recognize that variances are not granted freely or without careful consideration. The purpose of zoning regulations is to maintain the integrity and character of a community, and variances should only be granted when they do not undermine these objectives. The decision to grant a variance is typically based on the principle that the requested deviation is a reasonable one that will not have a detrimental impact on the surrounding area.


In summary, a variance in real estate refers to a legal permission granted by the local government that allows a property owner to deviate from certain zoning regulations or restrictions. Obtaining a variance involves a detailed application process and evaluation by the zoning board. Variances are significant in real estate as they provide flexibility for property owners to pursue their desired land use while still considering the overall objectives of zoning regulations.


– American Planning Association: www.planning.org
– Investopedia: www.investopedia.com
– National Association of Realtors: www.nar.realtor