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Spiral Stairs
03-24-2007, 03:41 PM
My wife and I are city folks who fantasize about buying a relatively small plot of mountain land -- probably 3 to 6 acres -- for the purpose of later building a vacation home. (We cannot afford to buy and build at the same time. But we could afford to buy the land now, and save up to build later.) The ideal plot would be relatively secluded, but it would be fine to be within (loud) shouting distance of the next house. Hills and woods are a must.

As certified city folks, we know very little about what we should look for. I would hate to buy some land and then meet with a builder who says, "Oh, you want a house on THIS land? Are you sure you need indoor plumbing?"

Anyone have any words of wisdom? I know we would need a septic system, but what are the variables that affect the cost and ease of installation of such systems? How about land covenants and the like? Any that we should avoid? Or that we would want?

(For anyone in a position to give geographically specific advice, we would likely buy in the panhandle of West Virginia; near the town of Berkeley Springs would be ideal.)

troubledwater
03-24-2007, 10:19 PM
Will you be wanting electricity? Consult with the local utility and at least get a ballpark estimate for the cost of bringing power to your property. Check and see if the land between you and whatever else you need is owned by any governmental entitiy - it can be very difficult to obtain easements to bring utilities across such properties.

John Carter of Mars
03-24-2007, 11:53 PM
You MUST have : Water, sewage, electricity, access to a public road.

Learn about water wells in the area, how much they cost, reliability, etc. Check before buying.

Septic tank can be a problem if the county health officer doesn't like the drainage your land affords. Check before buying.

Electric utilities are usually required by law to provide electrical service to a full-time residence, maybe to vacation homes too. Check before buying.

Be certain your land will either have frontage on a public road or has a deeded right-of-way to a public road. Check before buying.

Good luck!

DMark
03-25-2007, 06:53 AM
All good advice - and buying land is rarely a mistake. Buy it and hold on to it - even if you change your mind, you most likely will make a profit selling in the future.

My suggestion is to try it out - rent a cabin or house in the middle of nowhere and see how you like it.

We live in a busy suburb and still have had some city-folk visit and freak out because it is "too quiet" for them.

You like bugs? Need to have a Starbucks ten minutes from home? Nervous when the wind slams your door shut? And what exactly was that other sound?!

It all seems really great tp get away from it all, but ya know, not everybody is ready for what they think they want.

enipla
03-25-2007, 07:22 AM
By all means, talk to the county planning department. In our county there are parcels that are unbuildable due to access. If emergency services can't get to it, they won't let you build.

That's just off the top of my head. I do live in the mountains and own two pieces of property.

A.R. Cane
03-25-2007, 07:45 AM
Raw land isn't necessarily a good investment, especially in remote areas. Many jurisdictions have a higher tax rate for non-agricultural land. There may also be other restictions, such as clearing underbrush periodically for fire prevention. You need to investigate carefully.

PunditLisa
03-25-2007, 07:58 AM
The problem with buying 6 secluded acres anywhere is that this type of land usually comes in 2 packages:

a) Tons of acreage at a relatively low price per acre (because of access, lack of utiltiies, etc.); or

b) Acreage subdivided as part of a bigger development, at a relatively high price per acre because the developer wants to recoup the money they doled out to build up the infrastructure).

For the reasons named above, I'd be very reticent to purchase mountain acreage in an undeveloped area; the cost of bringing electricity and water to a remote location can be crippling. And building on rock and/or a significant slope can be very difficult and costly.

I'd lean towards the second scenario. Find a realtor in the area that you'd like to buy in and ask if there are any new developments that offer what you are looking for. Ask if the developer will allow you to buy the acreage without immediately building.

Good luck in your search and in building a vacation home.

Muffin
03-25-2007, 08:20 AM
With respect to well water, don't take the vendor's word for it. Inspect the well(s) for quantity and quality.

With respect to road access, don't take the vendor's word for it. Perform a survey.

Also check to ensure that you are buying all rights to the property (sometimes people sell off the logging rights separately)

Muffin
03-25-2007, 08:28 AM
"Electricity"? What be this "electricity" of which thou speak?

It is getting easier to go "off the grid" these days, but it still takes some forethought and more money at the front end.

Beaucarnea
03-25-2007, 08:50 AM
You MUST have : Water, sewage, electricity, access to a public road.

Learn about water wells in the area, how much they cost, reliability, etc. Check before buying.

Septic tank can be a problem if the county health officer doesn't like the drainage your land affords. Check before buying.

Good luck!

Seconded. I have lived all over Virginia, and karst (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karst) and clay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clay) are common ground/soil types. Both can cause problems with septic tanks and foundations. Health Departments are in charge of checking land to see if it "perks" (drains properly) for septic. Well water in karst areas frequently contains too much sulfer, and is bad to drink and smells awful. Spring water with a proper filtration system may trump wells- and is cheaper to install and maintain.

Musicat
03-25-2007, 09:07 AM
By all means, talk to the county planning department. In our county there are parcels that are unbuildable due to access. If emergency services can't get to it, they won't let you build.Absolutely. In my neighborhood, the county planning department holds a dictator-like grip on what you can do with your land. They can provide a letter for a small fee that briefly describes the limitations, or if it is zoned, you can look up the regulations.

Other county, state and federal departments may have some say as well. In Wisconsin, we have a DNR (Department of Natural Resources) that will tell you that you can't build where they say it is wetland, and if it has a puddle of standing water one day a year, that is wetland (seriously).

The problem you might have is that while it may be buildable NOW, it might not be in 20 years when you want to build. I don't know how to tell you to keep track of developments, but if you don't, you could find your dream house has vanished and your property become worthless. Just beware, and try to keep up with changes.

chappachula
03-25-2007, 01:39 PM
taxes....taxes....taxes...
You'll be paying for the land even if you never use it.

FairyChatMom
03-25-2007, 01:57 PM
My inlaws built in Sylva, NC, on a lot that ended at a ridge, so they were way up there. They had to deal with such things as dynamiting the lot to get a level spot to build, trying to find locals who'd come when promised and do what they said they'd do, and not being able to put their driveway where they wanted due to the terrain. The second thing was the worst that they faced - since they were outsiders and they were building on old hunting land, they dealt with a certain amount of hostility. Once the house was in, they also had to deal with the occasional hunter who damn-well was gonna hunt where his daddy and granddaddy hunted! No matter that the land was bought and parceled some years before.

I don't know that their experiences were typical, but it's something to consider.

And for the record, they no longer live there. My MIL's knees got so bad that she couldn't handle the slopes, so they went back to Florida.

Caridwen
03-25-2007, 02:44 PM
I have friends that have been buying land in Wyoming for years. They build a house on the property a couple years ago and last year moved out there permanently. I think the land was pretty inexpensive from what they said. From what I've heard it's very beautiful but remote.

Muffin
03-25-2007, 04:30 PM
And then there is the Sasquatch factor.

Sublight
03-25-2007, 05:41 PM
You will need a round American woman. You will raise rabbits, and she will cook them.

You will need a pickup truck. Maybe even, a "recreational vehicle".

Spiral Stairs
03-25-2007, 06:31 PM
Thanks for all the tips. As for Sasquatch, rabbit-eating, and the like, we won't be THAT far out. The Deliverance factor will be minimal -- it's very important to us to be within a few minutes of a town we like. It's also very important to us that we are no more than 2 or so hours from home. I want to be able to leave work on Friday and be comfortably relaxing in the country that night. We've done some exploring of the West Virginia panhandle; unfortunately, unlike houses, it's very difficult to learn much about specific properties without the aid of an agent (which we're not quite ready for).

We will, very likely, buy land in a subdivided development. Something along these lines (http://resource.realtor.com/display/default.asp?sect=13&page=mylisting/listingDetail.asp&id=15136222&listingid=1057561744&rt=192826).

When you see some 5-acre plots for $20,000, and some 5-acre plots for $70,000, and you have no idea why there's a difference, that's when you know you need to do a little more research.

Left Hand of Dorkness
03-25-2007, 06:35 PM
Now that you've gotten some of the advice you're looking for, may I make a plea on behalf of mountain locals? Don't build on the ridgeline, and be respectful of the folks who have lived there all their lives. Their community has a deep character that is part of who they are, and when folks from the city come in and develop the land for vacation spots, it can be deeply upsetting. Be modest and respectful in how you do this, and try to minimize both the impact on the wildness of the land and the impact on the local community.

Daniel

Spoke
03-25-2007, 10:34 PM
Don't build on the ridgeline, and be respectful of the folks who have lived there all their lives.

Good point. And if you do feel compelled to build on a ridgeline, at least have the courtesy to build a low-profile house that conforms with the colors and contours of the land. Too many ridges in these parts are sprouting rows of "teeth" -- big, boxy houses that destroy the beauty of the ridges when viewed from below.

Renee
03-26-2007, 12:08 PM
taxes....taxes....taxes...
You'll be paying for the land even if you never use it.
Yeah, but that varies. We had 5 acres in Arkansas in a good, populated area that cost 15 dollars a year in taxes.

Spiral Stairs
03-26-2007, 12:21 PM
Now that you've gotten some of the advice you're looking for, may I make a plea on behalf of mountain locals? Don't build on the ridgeline, and be respectful of the folks who have lived there all their lives. Their community has a deep character that is part of who they are, and when folks from the city come in and develop the land for vacation spots, it can be deeply upsetting. Be modest and respectful in how you do this, and try to minimize both the impact on the wildness of the land and the impact on the local community.

Daniel
A fair plea on behalf of a good principle. We will keep it in mind. (I'll note, because it probably isn't clear from what I've said so far, that we are people of limited means and would be building only a small house/cabin. Maybe just a little A-frame thing. Nevertheless, even a small house can be destructive, so your advice is well-taken.)

Edward The Head
03-26-2007, 02:49 PM
I can answer a bit about this since I live in the DC area and I have land in West Virginia. I bought a house in the Romney, WV/Cumberland, MD area two years ago. We bought in a subdivision with the lots being around 5 acres. Usually if there's any kind of HOA, there is with ours but it's cheap, the lots need to be perked before they can be sold. I believe this means there has to be a way to get electricity, water, and septic on the land. I know in the area we bought in there are plenty of places that people buy land and never do anything with it. Our taxes are around $300 a year, that's with us not being from the state.

That being said, I will advise you to think about where you want to buy. Berkley Springs is going up in price because people want to do the same thing you are, buy land and put a house on it. Plus people are willing to commute that far to work in DC, as there are a couple in my office. What you will want to look out for though is getting out there. We live in Montgomery county so we have to go up I-270, on Fridays this can be a killer. Normally it takes us 2:15 to make it out to our place, but I've been in the car for a lot longer then that to just turn around and come home. Coming back on Sundays can be the same way. This can be frustrating and isn't a lot of fun sometimes. We have learned to leave on Saturday morning, but then you don't get the full weekend.

You might be able to find a house prebuilt that would be cheaper then having one built. If you go further out you will find cheaper land, not because the land is not good, but because people don't want to travel that far. I tend to use homesdatabase (http://homesdatabase.com/) because we are hoping that the land around our house will come up for sale so we can have even less neighbors.

Just so you know, in my area 5 acre lots go for 20-25k. Though people have been asking for more, none have sold that I've seen.

Spiral Stairs
03-26-2007, 04:08 PM
Edward the Head, thanks for the ridiculously on-point advice. So "perked" means that it will be possible to get electricity and water to the property, and install a septic system, but not that any of those things are already present?

I mentioned Berkeley Springs because it is a town I know and like (based on limited experience). But we would settle for anywhere that is within a 15 or 20 minute drive from a town that has some attractive and redeeming qualities (restaurants; shopping; history; etc.) Do Romney and/or Cumberland fit that description?

Part of the problem is that it is very difficult for us to explore all the areas out there. Would you recommend that we find a real estate agent and throw ourselves into his or her hands?

Spoke
03-26-2007, 04:09 PM
Usually if there's any kind of HOA, there is with ours but it's cheap, the lots need to be perked before they can be sold. I believe this means there has to be a way to get electricity, water, and septic on the land.

You are talking about a percolation test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perc_test) or "perc test," designed to determine whether the soil drains well enough to accomodate a septic system. This can be a problem in rocky areas or areas with a lot of clay in the soil. Nowadays, counties in these parts require a more comprehensive soil analysis (beyond a simple perc test) before a building permit will be issued. A purchaser would be wise to make any deal contingent on the land being suitable for a standard septic system.

You are also going to want to inquire about water. Is there city water, or will you have to drill a well? If you have to drill a well, inquire among the neighbors whether the well water in the area is good. (Some areas tend to yield iron water or sulphur water. There are filtration systems you can buy, but they can be expensive, and they require maintenance.)

Quartz
03-26-2007, 04:15 PM
One necessity I haven't seen mentioned: good internet access. :)

Edward The Head
03-26-2007, 05:32 PM
Edward the Head, thanks for the ridiculously on-point advice. So "perked" means that it will be possible to get electricity and water to the property, and install a septic system, but not that any of those things are already present?

I must be a bit wrong on exactly what it means, but I believe you have to have the land tested for at least septic before it can be sold. At least that's what I've been told, but I've been lied to before as well by realtors. As I said, if there's a number of other people around then you should be able to get what you need. There are power lines that run through our neighborhood.

I mentioned Berkeley Springs because it is a town I know and like (based on limited experience). But we would settle for anywhere that is within a 15 or 20 minute drive from a town that has some attractive and redeeming qualities (restaurants; shopping; history; etc.) Do Romney and/or Cumberland fit that description?

Well Romney is not that big of a town, does have history, but I don't really know much about it. No real shopping, unless you like the Family Dollar, which we do. There are resturants, but we don't go that way much so I don't know about them. Cumberland is a much lager city, does have history, C&O Canal, railroads. It's a normal city, 20,000 people or so, but I don't know about the shopping.* They are both 15-20 minutes from me along a good road.

Part of the problem is that it is very difficult for us to explore all the areas out there. Would you recommend that we find a real estate agent and throw ourselves into his or her hands?

I wouldn't throw myself one any of them, but I will admit that we looked two or three times and always talking to someone different with no problems. I'm sure you can find maps and directions on the net no problem to see how far you want to drive. It takes us, with little to no traffic, 2:15 to go 115 miles.

I don't know much about other areas, but you might be able to find something a bit south of Bearkly springs for cheaper. If you don't mind the 20 minute drive they might be a lot cheaper. I never looked in that area and we got lucky when we found ours and loved it right away.

*I think of shopping as buying stuff you don't need, I don't buy antiques or stuff like that so places like the Dollar Store are good for me.

Dinsdale
03-26-2007, 07:56 PM
Yeah, I've always understood "perking" of property to refer to percolation tests. Nothing to do with utilities.

Atrael
03-27-2007, 09:26 AM
Something else to keep in mind. Depending on where you're at, and what the local health codes are, a septic system may cost a lot more than what you might imagine. In a lot of places, the days of putting a tank in the ground with a simple drain field for $6K or so are gone. Our septic system cost us around $19K...and we had no say in the matter. Whatever the engineer from the city or county comes out and says you have to have, that's what you have to put in. Also there is a limit to how close your well and septic can be to each other...so make sure you find out where on the land you can put stuff. If your land has any sort of stream or creak going through it, I would anticipate an expensive system.

Good Luck!

mack
03-27-2007, 10:34 AM
We have a small log home about 2 hrs from NYC, in the Catskills. It's in a hollow, so there aren't sweeping mountain vistas to be had, but it's a nice quiet spot with a field (my so-called lawn), a creek on one border and across the creek is state land.

When we bought the vacant land the seller had already perc-tested it, and while it's a 4 acre parcel in a 5 acre zone, the seller got a variance.

We bought the land and paid it off over 4 years, then built the house. Over the course of those years we came up during all seasons and had a good idea about how where we wanted to put the house when the time came.

We had to put in a driveway, septic, electric, phone, and a well. The whole shebang. No cell reception in the holler.

One thing that made it work was we had a budget and stuck to it. When talking to people who built, one of the take home messages was don't make any changes to the plans once building has started. So we planned carefully and didn't have to make any changes to the house itself. We did however, have to change the drainage plan on the property, but a lot of those costs were reimbursed by the city, since the land is on NYC watershed.

One thing about picking a spot of land is you don't want to pay too much, of course, but at the same time you don't want to be in an area that's terribly run down.

mack
03-27-2007, 10:57 AM
A couple of other things to keep in mind:

While the vacation home itself might be simple, you're still running two households. It can be a bit much sometimes.

Unless you enjoy spending your time doing yard work (I do, to a point), keep the landscaping simple to maintain. You don't want to spend too much time 'working' at your 'vacation' home.

If you buy vacant land and build on it, don't plan on realizing any profit anytime soon. I would only do it if I planned on keeping it for a while.

Mortgages on vacation homes usually come with a higher interest rate, so plan on that.

control-z
03-27-2007, 01:27 PM
Land in WV eh? Be aware that many areas are extended-family areas where everyone is related (including government officials) and you might find it hard to fit in, and you might find yourself in the middle of family squabbles (like hunting rights and gate abuse.) If people have been using or hunting on your land for generations, it may be hard for a city slicker to move in and tell them they can't.

Also, as I believe was mentioned before, be sure you are aware of any right-of-ways on the land, a relative of mine bought land on a mountain and now has logging trucks going down his driveway to get to trees further up the mountain. This shouldn't last but so long, but will probably recur every so often.

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