This title is pretty hilarious considering some of the things we experienced both during our search for land as well as the hardships we faced after purchasing. We are over the moon about the land that we purchased and can’t wait to enjoy it every day once our home is built. However, there have been some major issues throughout the process as well, and having a bit of extra knowledge could have prevented some of them. But, we live and we learn so I guess that makes me somewhat qualified to share some insight on the topic of finding and purchasing property to build on.
OUR SEARCHING PROCESS
We’ve gone through this process (at least partially) two times now in our lives. The first time we started searching was about five years ago, when we planned to move my childhood home to some acreage and then renovate. It never happened, but we searched for land for several months and had a good idea on what we were looking for. On this second round of searching, we did many of the same things to find the right lot. We spent every week scouring the internet for new listings and planning our route. Every weekend we then drove for hours crossing them off or spending some extra time discussing the features of our favorite ones. This became much more difficult with a kid in tow, which meant the number of properties we could look at each week was very limited unless we had a babysitter. We often drove on our own until we found some we really liked. At that time we would notify our realtor to get more information. Doing it this way allowed us to cover a lot of ground but occasionally we ran into some issues of getting lost and dealing with safety issues, like when we accidentally trespassed on a lot that Google inaccurately took us to. Raw land can be tricky to find so you have to be very careful about how you find it.
Prices were so much different five years ago when we looked for land — we could easily find 10 acres of raw land for 30-50k. Getting over the fact that land at this time has doubled if not tripled in price, was a little hard. But it’s never a good idea to beat yourself up over the “would have, could have, should haves” as my sweet mom says. So this time around, we found ourselves expecting and prepared for a much larger price, but our goal of a minimum of 10 acres was still set in stone. Of course we would have been happier with more acreage as well, but that typically meant a longer commute to find something within our budget.
Commute times and general location are always a key factor in purchasing land (or a home). A good location to us had to fit within the following guidelines: no more than 40 minutes from downtown (where we work), good schools (even though we might consider homeschooling, this is still important in case that doesn’t work out for us), and 10-20 minutes from basic amenities like grocery shopping, etc. Beyond that, we didn’t have a preference between north, south, east, or west of our city, so we still had a lot of areas to choose from. The property we purchased exceeded these expectations by far… we ended up 30 minutes from downtown, 3 minutes from town with our favorite stores, and in one of the best ranked school districts. The location still feels rural and private, with 10 acre parcels all around us as well.
ACREAGE & SHAPE
You may ask why the 10 acres was an important number for us. We determined pretty quickly that we are not people who enjoy living in neighborhoods. We like our space, our privacy, and peace and quiet. We want land that we can do as we please, with no expectations or judgment about when we choose to mow our lawn, what we choose to do with our land, and no eavesdropping ears when relaxing in our backyard. We looked at lots with a few acres, we looked at lots with 5 acres, and neither were enough. Many of these parcels were awkwardly shapes – long skinny rectangles that once you build on, you find yourself right next to your neighbors despite all your acreage. This is true even on larger parcels, and with 10 acres, we still had to look for something that was a wider rectangle versus a skinny strip of land. You always have to keep in mind the possibility of new future neighbors building on undeveloped land around you. It’s the risk you take, so there is a benefit in having the adjacent properties already being developed so you know who sits where.
The property we purchased is raw land, which means no water, sewer, or electrical have been set up. These will all be completed as part of our construction loan. Not having completed this part of the process, I can’t speak to too much of it yet. We’ve received estimates on all of them though and knew what to expect based on previous research of costs, so it came as no surprise that a large portion of our budget would be set aside for this. One thing to keep in mind is the further your property is from the road, the higher some costs will be. Electrical and gas are all priced per linear foot. Our property is far from the road which provides a lot of privacy, but higher expenses up front for getting settled in with utilities and a road. Wells and septic systems will vary in price depending on location. Septic system pricing all depends on your soil type, and the price of wells depend on how deep you need to drill (priced per foot), so it’s good to know what other wells are like in the area you are looking. Some rural areas do have access to city water, but there can be hefty fees for hooking up to it. It can be nice knowing that you always have water accessible and no chance of your well drying up in the future. Costs of land jump dramatically when utilities are already available, but there is certainly peace of mind in having these ready to go.
USABILITY & MISC. FEATURES
Is the land covered in trees that may require some clearing? It is flat or steep or somewhere in between? Is it rocky? Is there water, ponds, wetlands, or streams causing potential flood zones (think of insurance)? We looked at a variety of land types in our search and were quickly able to eliminate parcels based on their usability. We found properties as steep as a mountain, covered in water, or totally inaccessible by road. You also have to consider their accessibility and use in different seasons. Some roads were hardly developed and while we made it to the final destination, we had to consider that during winter, we probably wouldn’t be able to get in or out. The land we chose was open with minimal trees, some flat areas for easy building, and some rolling hills which lends itself to a beautiful view. My dream was to have water nearby, whether a pond or stream or really anything for outdoor play for our daughter. I was sure we’d never find something within our budget with this, but we did! Our property has a little stream running through it which was a huge selling point for us. However, with this amazing feature comes a few things to consider – the responsibility of maintaining a bridge, safety issues with having children (thankfully the stream is very far from the majority of our property), and we will have to provide proper paperwork that our home is not anywhere near the flood zone in order to eliminate the need for flood insurance.
Depending on how you plan to use your land, it’s important to know what kind of restrictions might be in your area. How many buildings you can put on each parcel, what kind of buildings (manufactured vs. stick frame), agricultural restrictions (some places don’t allow roosters and/or limit the number of animals), and more. As another example, we have CCR’s that say trailers and motorhomes cannot be parked on the property unless placed within a shop. We know many people who live in an RV on their property while a home is being built, so this could be a huge issue for those unless they are prepared for the expense of building a large enough shop/garage to contain it.
Easements can restrict your property use as well and it’s important to know if you have easement access or if others have easements through your property. On our property, we have one of each type. Unfortunately, what we didn’t know is that in one of these agreements, a construction agreement was buried into it which would require more than basic maintenance of the road. The previous owners had agreed to paving or chip sealing the road by a certain date, failed to do so, and decided not to share this information with us as we went through the purchasing process. We are now responsible for completing this.
PROPERTY LINES & ENCROACHMENTS
It’s important to be sure that the property you are purchasing is surveyed, or to complete one so you know exactly where the boundary lines are. Looking for encroachments onto your potential property or items on the property that might encroach on someone else’s property can save you from some serious headaches down the road. We experienced this in a strange way as well. While we were under escrow with the property, the neighboring parcel put in a road that crossed the property lines substantially. It tore up a large portion of the land, and we didn’t find out until after we signed closing papers. We paid for a survey right away and was able to prove that the new road was now encroaching on the land. Unfortunately, we also had to pay to fix this both in the survey costs as well as labor/equipment costs of removing the road on our part of the land. These costs could have been disputed in court, but sometimes you have to pick your battles.
Again, we couldn’t be more thrilled about the land we ultimately chose. I’m happy to be able to learn from our mistakes and share them with you. We are excited to move forward on our dream home and break ground in the near future. I look forward to continuing to share the process and our experiences on this journey. If there’s something in particular you’d like to know about the process, be sure to let me know so I can include them in future posts!