Finding Land for your House is about how an Architect and his Real Estate Broker wife went about finding the land for their forever house.
If you ever intend to have a custom house designed and built for you and your family, you’re bound to go through some of the things that Rand & Merry Soellner recently went through.
Rand is the Senior Staff Architect of HOME ARCHITECTS ®, the company whose website you are presently viewing this article. Rand & Merry live in a gorgeous area of the United States, in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains, about 1-1/2 hours north of Atlanta and about 3-1/2 hours west of Charlotte (depending on how fast you drive). Finding the right property for you and yours can be an exciting, chilling, interesting and sometimes exasperating experience. And there are certain things that you had better investigate before closing on your land purchase. Read on to find out what:
First and foremost, if you really want enjoyment for the rest of your days, you may want to focus what is undoubtedly one of the most important site characteristics: the VIEW. If this is going to be your forever house, or even an interim house that is custom designed and built, what you are looking at while living there has got to be a factor.
Unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth or have more money than deity, you are probably somewhat concerned about what you have to pay to buy your land. Word to the wise: always negotiate and get your best deal, but don’t walk away from what you really want for a few thousands of dollars more, if that’s what it takes to close the deal for what you really want. In case you don’t realize it yet, you WILL be spending a lot more on your entire house project than you ever imagined. That’s how it works: you will always want more that you want to pay for, but you will find ways to get what you want.
Normally this will be accomplished through a psychological conditioning process where you are at first shocked by the price of what you want, then gradually become accustomed to the fact that you have good taste and to get what you want you are going to have to pay for it and at prices that are probably more than you planned. See: Psychology of Construction Cost Denial for more about this interesting and peculiar facet of how humans think regarding their residential projects.
Also: it is better to pay more for the land you want, especially if it has the views you want and is gentle in slope (nearly level) and has all the necessary utilities nearby and is physically located for your convenience. All of these factors can make a huge difference regarding less expensive construction costs and your future convenience and time involved in commuting for your daily travels. The worst thing you can possibly do is to buy a lot because it is cheap, small, has a steep slope, has a mediocre view and isn’t in a very convenient or desirable area. You will be shooting yourself in the foot when it comes time to build and live there and even worse when you try to sell that dog.
Real Estate Brokers (including Merry Soellner) have a saying about what it’s all about: Location, Location, Location. And you’re going to have to pay for that privilege. No: you do Not have to be in the most expensive neighborhood, or in the snootiest, or the most exotic. However, you would do well to thoroughly explore properties that have good and honest “core values” that speak to you. It it impresses you, likely it will impress others as well. Trust your eyes and heart.
4. DUE DILIGENCE
Do not fall asleep at the wheel when you sign the contract to buy your dream property. Doing so can turn your dream into a nightmare. You need to always have a “Due Diligence” time period, typically of about a month before the sale is closed, in which YOU need to investigate certain critical matters. Do NOT assume that what the MLS Listing or what the seller or his/her agent tell you are true. Because they may not be okay at all. You are responsible to investigate and get rock solid answers. If any of your questions remain unanswered or if you feel uneasy because of remaining questions, you can always ask to have the Due Diligence period extended. If the seller is unwilling to do this, then you should drop the hammer on the deal and exercise your right to terminate the agreement. You should ALWAYS have a Due Diligence period in your contract to buy land. If the seller doesn’t agree to that, then run, don’t walk away from that deal, because something is wrong that will bite you in the butt.
What things should you investigate? In addition to others that may be unique to your circumstances and location, these are some good issues to begin verifying:
a. Utilities: drinking water source (include GPM (Gallons Per Minute) flow and pressure), Sewer or septic approvals and hookup locations, commercial electrical power connection/transformer/route/length to your site and house, phone/DSL (yes: you may think that your cell phone is all you need, but you may wish you had DSL, which often accompanies the land line serving a neighborhood).
Those are the main utilities. If you don’t have the water, septic/sewer or power you are not going to be able to function. Find out what utility companies serve that neighborhood. Take photos of any utility connection boxes, power poles and obtain copies of septic improvement permits and the like. Personally phone the companies and county/other agencies that you will have to contact later for hook-ups when you want to build your house.
Verify that they will provide you with the services you need. Do Not assume that just because a neighbor has these utilities that you will also. There could be something you don’t know about (such as bedrock closer to the surface on your land) that can be a show-stopper. Beware, be paranoid and be prepared. Do your research and do it fast. Do not wait until the last day of your Due Diligence and do not assume that “everything will be alright.” No, it will not. Verify, verify, verify. And document what agencies and utility providers tell you back to them in emails and writing. Get their names, official titles and contact information.
b. Community Fees: get the name of the HOA (Home Owners Association) President. Ask them what fees you will have to pay every year there and if there are any current or upcoming special assessments for new road paving, well repairs for community water, gate replacement and other items, all of which are typical.
c. Water fees: some communities that have their own potable water wells are a very good deal for the people that live in that community. But it may or may not be covered in the annual community HOA fee. Find out if there are any other charges.
d. Impact Fees: many communities (most) will charge you an HOA fee when you are beginning to build your house. This is because the heavy trucks and machinery and number of construction vehicles to build a home take their toll on a road. The HOA will usually charge you for your abuse of the community road, because such abuse will contribute to an earlier repairs/repaving in the future. This may be economically troublesome for you when you have to pay this, but be glad it’s there, because if this wasn’t in place, your community road replacement cost would be very expensive if these amounts were not held in reserve by the HOA.
e. Transfer Fee: some communities (not all) also have a fee when one owner sells their land to someone else. There’s not really good reason for this, other than to provide additional funds to the HOA.
f. Taxes: find out what the yearly taxes are on that ground. Make sure you’re comfortable with that amount and know that when you build your house that will substantially increase your tax burden.
g. Easements: some other land owners or power companies or even mineral drilling companies may have rights on your land that you don’t know about. Make sure you look carefully at the deed and research any easements of any kind on that property. For instance, nearby neighbors may have the right to trim or cut your trees as part of a deeded view easement. Make sure you’re okay with that. And other neighbors may have their septic field on your land because theirs didn’t work for a septic system. There may be a deeded major power easement that now has or can have in the future, huge power support structures and high voltage power lines crossing your land. Is that alright with you?
h. Number of contributing people/owners in the HOA: if you are looking at land in a community with relatively few owners and has a long entry street, you could end up facing huge future assessments to repave that street, because there aren’t that many people in the community to share that expense. This happens all the time. Watch out!
i. Income Level of HOA members: if you are person of modest means, you may want to think twice about buying land in a community mainly composed of well-to-do people. Why? Because those wealthier people have different standards about what is important to them and they really are not going to care if you can’t afford what they decide to do to “improve” the neighborhood. For instance, this author has personally witnessed wealthy HOA members voting to spend thousands of dollars to change the color of rocks in drainage ditches and to have all members of the HOA pay a portion of a special assessment to do so, even if some members in that HOA were financially hurting and were more concerned about putting food on the table. Be very careful where you are and what your income is and what others who earn more or have more could do to ruin you financially and not even care. As long as they get the color of rocks in the drainage ditches that pleased them. This is real and not invented. It happens.
j. ARC: Architectural Review Committee: many neighborhoods have a group of people that are ostensibly there to insure the quality of their neighborhood. And in fact, sometimes they are. This sounds like a good idea and it can be that. However, in some communities, these people can be off on a course that is more invasive than they should be. Some members of such committees can inject their personal and arbitrary feelings about the angle that you place your house (and not care what that does to your desired view), the height of your foundation wall (and not care what that does to your budget), and many other things that can seriously impact your site planning, enjoyment and cost of your proposed house. Do NOT believe that the nice people you have met so far in the neighborhood are the same people (or they might be) that are actually going to allow you to build your house in the shape, orientation, size, height, style or location that you want. They have the implied authority to impact and change what you want to do. Sometimes they are seeking a compromise. Do you really want to compromise your view? Or allow them to make your house cost more to build, just to make some committee happy? You better find out what they have going on in their minds. They should be there to prevent someone from painting their house purple or building a monstrosity. But they can go beyond this and try to dictate other features where they should not be meddling. You should create a site plan sketch indicating the angle, height and location of your general house arrangement and get the ARC to sign off on that, in writing to you, before you close on your land. If they won’t, or if they try to get you to compromise, walk away. This situation happened to Rand & Merry. They were amazed at how nice a particular HOA appeared to be, yet how damaging they could be when the ARC insinuated itself into the planning process. Doesn’t sound fair or reasonable, and it isn’t, but your deed probably gives them that authority over you and your land. But don’t let this ruin your life or your planned future house. Discover if this is what you have facing you BEFORE you close. Word to the wise: your Architect can help you deal with this.
Beware of buying land “out in the country” if you are going to have to commute daily into town. We have conducted distance/mileage/cost studies that have shown that a 15 mile distance, twice a day, for 30 years can result in enough miles to take you to the Moon (actually 225,000 miles), and cost you more than $50,000 in fuel costs (based on today’s gasoline costs, which are sure to increase over time). If you look at your ability to earn money and are at all concerned with the long-term costs of your lifetime, this could be a very real factor. Minimize your travel. If you don’t have to be in town very often then fine, live wherever you want. Just realize what you will have to pay over decades for the pleasure.
6. SIZE OF LAND
If you are okay with having neighbor’s houses within 20′ of yours, then you are going to be happy almost anywhere. However, if you want some more elbow room and at least the illusion of a more naturalistic setting, you may want acreage. That’s land an acre or more in size. Rand & Merry discovered that’s what they wanted, while they were looking for their property. They ended up with over 5 acres. That’s pretty hard to find, along with the other parameters in their equation. But they did find it. It was the ONLY acreage that also satisfied their other desired characteristics within a 30 mile radius.
7. ROAD NOISE, NEIGHBORS
This is closely tied to the Acreage section above. More room usually = more privacy, both visually and acoustically. But not always. You could have a large piece of ground right next to a major highway. Don’t buy your mountain land from your armchair in another state. Get over there and stand and walk around. Listen. What do you hear? Nothing? Good. That’s going to be a nice, private piece of ground. If that’s what you want. Be careful of buying land with too much road noise; that can make your future house hard to sell or force you to sell at a lower price than you might otherwise command.
8. NEARBY FEEDER STREETS AND COMMUNITY STREETS
While on the way to one community, Rand & Merry noticed that for more than 2 miles, a main feeder street that you had to drive on to get to the community where they were seriously considering living, was one lane, narrow and full of twists and turns. After driving along this a couple of times, and after meeting an oncoming vehicle, it became obvious that this is a dangerous situation and the likelihood of having an accident on this narrow road were high. Beware of such circumstances.
These are the list of site characteristics that Merry and Rand keep inputting into the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) for what they wanted (the search engine find land with any of these features, not all of these features):
a. 3+ acres.
b. Paved access to the land, and be at least 2-lanes up to the community entrance.
c. Great, Panoramic View (mountain, lake)
d. Water (drinking): at street, shared well, community, commercial, shared spring.
e. Sewer/Septic: Septic permit, septic evaluation, septic system, shared septic.
f. Price: fill in what works for you, just realize you will spend more than you think and you can buy the land for less than the listed price, usually (often 80% or so, depending on the economy and your search area).
g. Location: select the cities/areas that are acceptable to you. And close-in, yet feels remote (that’s tough to find).
h. Nearly level or very gently sloping (this impacts your foundation cost a great deal: up to 6 figures!).
Have your real estate broker adjust these (and other) parameters to suit your taste.
If you need help finding your land, you can engage this Architect to assist you: Rand@HomeArchitects.com 828-269-9046
tags: finding land for your house, mountain, Cashiers, Atlanta, Hendersonville, Sevierville, Alabama, Cherokee, Highlands, Glenville, Lake Toxaway, Sapphire