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What do I need to know about buying a bunch of land & putting a house on it?

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
After my dh's recent nervous breakdown due to extreme job-related stress, we're considering selling our home in CT and moving to VT (where I'm from) and buying a large piece of land (10-20 acres) with my sister and BIL & putting a house on it (or buying land w/an existing house if we can find something in our price range).

Our goal will be communal living for our two families (the ideal would be a house w/common areas and private family spaces as well. They don't have kids yet, but want them). Eventually we may also build a 2nd house on the property, etc.

While I don't find buying or moving to an existing house (regardless of condition) overly stressful, the thought of buying 20 rural acres and putting something on it is overwhelming to me. My dh is excited by the idea, but I'm scared.

I know we'd have to put in septic, well and get power out to the site. How long does that all take and how much are we talking about? What considerations do we have to think about when picking property? My dh wants a stream on the property, he'd love to be totally "off the grid" (except for high speed Internet of course, LOL).


In terms of a house on the land, we're not really willing to live in a tent while it's built, etc. My mom is willing to let us live with them if necessary before the house is livable, so it's not really an issue.

But how long does it usually take to get a prefab house or log home put on property? Are we talking years? Months? How many months? Winter in VT is not something I want to fool around with, with no place to live, kwim? I know we'd have to have the foundation put in (along w/the above well, septic, electric, etc). Is that a difficult thing to have done? Costly? Very costly? I just have no idea. I'm not worried about the finishing work. I've lived w/out walls for long periods of time and my dh is handy, so he and BIL can do the inside stuff.


Our goal is to have enough land to have chickens, some other animals for meat and wool, trees for firewood,etc. DH & I want to have as little mortgage as possible and think we can do this mostly w/the proceeds from selling our current home. BIL & sister will take out a mortgage for their part.

What are the things I should know and be thinking about? Help!! I'm excited and nervous at the same time!!
post #2 of 11
Although we are still at the stage of looking for out piece of land I can tell you the points we have discussed & think are important.

-As we have a heavy winter we want to make sure we are on a road that is plowed throughout the winter (or arrangements can be made so)
-Money can be a key issue when it comes to how fast it takes to put up a livable house. If you are going through financing they usually have certain points in the process where they will require inspections & certain conditions to be met before they release the next bunch of money. This can really slow down the process. Therefore the bigger percentage of the amount needed you have in cash the easier/faster it can be to get through the building process.
-The whole thing can be put in amazingly fast - definitely in the summer/non-winter seasons. The kits make this process even faster as everything is (generally) pre-made, assembled & disassembled elsewhere & then brought & put into place like a big jigsaw puzzle.
-A lot of things can happen concurrently (ie.septic & foundation) which can speed up the process
-We have started a list of things that do not need to happen before we move in (or perhaps a list of musts before we can move in - lol).
-For our land the things we know we want are: a source of water, a lot of privacy, higher land overall (to avoid flooding) but definitely a high area for the house), reasonable accessibility to a town, minimal need of additional clearing (so much of the land in Ontario has already been cleared we like to avoid further deforestation) dh wants access to highspeed internet. But we realize we probably won't find the perfect place & are willing to compromise.

I am curious to read the other replies as I bet there will be some really helpful advice.
post #3 of 11
It sounds like a really cool idea. I would love to share land with others some day. In our experience with re-modeling (you may know this already), projects always take longer and end up costing more than you planned. Things always come up. So, my advice would be to keep a significant buffer of time and money set aside. If you don't use it, great. But I bet you will.
Also, I just read "Little House on a Small Planet" and I would recommend that before you build.
All the best to you!
post #4 of 11
ctdoula, where in VT are you planning to move, if you don't mind me asking?

We are planning to do a land-to-tent-to-cabin-to-house project once we sell our current house - we need the house profit to buy the land. We are looking for a similar sized parcel in the Brattleboro area. Our basic plan sounds very similar to yours, except for our temporary housing situation, our timeframe, and possibly our budget (we can't carry two mortgages so we have to shed the current one first, and we don't have someone to buy with who can help with financing).

Some areas here don't have high speed Internet yet.

You might find land that already has septic/power/well/driveway. I think sometimes people buy land thinking they're going to build, and prep the site, then change their plan. In my very rough understanding, those things can easily cost 50K or more. Foundation maybe 20-50K? It depends on the size of your house, the length of your driveway, etc. If you buy land with those things already done, you tend to get them for "free" (i.e. the owner takes a loss on that work when they sell the land, because it's not considered in the value of the land). Also, it sounds like you'll need two septics, two foundations, etc.

Even if you're planning to be off-grid, you might want to use grid utilities at first to make building easier. But if you're waaaaaay in the woods, it might be cheaper to set up an off-grid system than to bring power lines to your house site. Think about what kind of off-grid power you want. They are expensive - another rough guess, $10K+ for solar. Southern exposure is a really good idea for passive solar and gardening, even if you're not using solar panels. Southern exposure lots might be hard to find (depends on the topography) and are likely to cost more.

The folks at First Day Homes (Google 'em) would be good to talk to about timeframe, if you want to do the work yourselves. If the primary builders in the family are also working fulltime, it will take longer. If you're hiring it out, it will take less time and more money (of course). I don't know about log cabins, except that if you have the idea that you'll be using wood harvested from your land, it will take at least an extra year or two to harvest and cure the wood.

What will you all do for income when you move? That is a huge consideration up here. The economy is difficult and tourism is down.

If you buy in the spring, you'll have spring/summer/fall to complete the site work and building. Selling your house first might be challenging in the current market, so that is something to consider. We're putting our house on the market first thing next Spring and hoping it will sell and that we'll find good land at the right time. Fingers crossed.

You probably want a woodlot, right? Look for hardwood trees, not just softwoods.

Consider what happens in mud season, and how mucky the ground will get (ask local people!!!). You might have trouble perking for septic, so get those tests done before you buy (or make your offer contingent on that). I think now we're required to have two perks on a lot for the banks to carry a mortgage on it.

Consider how much clearing the land will need for access and building. That will take more time and money.

If the land doesn't have a stream or pond, maybe it has a hidden spring that can be tapped?

Consider whether airplane traffic goes right over the land. Visit the land at different times of day, and in different seasons if you can.

That is all I can think of. Post more questions if you have them, and keep us posted about your plans!
post #5 of 11
Thread Starter 
Thank you Amanda. We're looking in the Brattleboro (surrounding) area too. I grew up there and my whole family is there. I'm related to half the town, and my mom knows the other half, LOL!

I was thinking the same thing about finding land where someone had started, and not finished the process. We just started this process, so we're still considering a lot of things.

I'm hopeful our house will sell quickly. (MAJOR fingers crossed). It's a 4bd room "antique" house w/an awesome big yard in a very good town in CT, but would be priced at the lower end for the town, so I'm defiantly hopeful. We have work we need to do first (finish sheetrocking living room & bathroom), but I want to get it on the market asap. If we don't my dh will have to go back to work until it sells and it may throw him over the mental health edge. We'll see. (anyone want to buy it??... comes w/garden, fruit trees, play set, awesome neighbors, awesome schools, chicken coop... optional, we may want to take that, LOL).

As for work, I will keep my job which is very part time, but pays very well. I'll just commute the 2-3 evenings/week I work. It's less than 1hr away (and I love the job). I can also see what is available closer once we get there. I also have a sewing business w/my mom & sister already, so I can expand that. My dh is currently in IT, but wants to get away from that. I'm not sure what he'll do for a job, but he's very employable, and if we do it the way we want, he won't have to get anything too stressful, kwim? My BIL and sister are both employed (my sister is self employed w/my mom & I can enter the family business in the future as another option if I want).

This whole thing came up very fast and I'm a bit crazy in the head about it right now, LOL. We haven't told dh's parents yet, and they're going to Freak.Out!
post #6 of 11
Hi,

There are so many things to consider with a project like this! I am several years into a raw land project, and if you are looking to reduce stress in your life, I'm not sure I would recommend this path for you, unless you are a roll with it kind of person.

Anyhow, if you pursue it, definitely consider your perk testing and water source first as you can't go much further without these things. To give you an idea of costs, we had a perk test/soil test (required by our county) done, installed an off-grid alternative energy system (solar), and put in a half mile of road and created a water system for about $28K. We then put up a yurt with a full kitchen and woodstove, a bathhouse, and a shed, over three years, and they're still not all the way finished (none of them), but total investment up to this point is about $70K+. We are just starting on our real house. I also think considering solar exposure is one of the top three things to look at if you are wanting to grow food, reduce energy consumption, and have good mental health. Look for a south facing site without a lot of non-deciduous growth blocking your southern exposure.

I would recommend most of all to continue living in an established house, renting if need be, until your work at your site is done, especially with winters how they are in VT. I live in CA, and the winter is mild, and we have gotten away with lots of "camping" essentially, over the years, but at times, wish we'd just continued renting until our scene was comfy and livable. Would've been a lot less stress for me!

PP is right, the projects ALWAYS take WAY longer and cost more than you anticipate. Inflate your estimates of time and money and you will feel more relaxed in the end!

Ultimately, the logistics are a little complicated for this type of lifestyle, but worth it in the end. If this isn't for you, then find a property with the existing infrastructure that supports you and your family, and go with that.

Best of luck
post #7 of 11
Amy, I'm posting this quickly but wanted to say I am looking forward to meeting you. If you happen to find a nice piece of land that is 10 acres bigger than you need or want (more or less), please PM me. Maybe we'd make good likeminded neighbors. It sounds like you are hoping to end up with exactly what we're hoping to end up with, and in the same area to boot.

I don't know how long it's been since you've been here, but we moved here since 2003 and are hooked into the homeschooling community and LLL. Heck, PM me anyway and let's talk more. I'm excited for you and for your plans!
post #8 of 11
We are about a year into building on raw land ourselves. We are in the Midwest, and things seem to vary *so much* depending on your location, like the zoning rules for your county, the price of installing different systems, etc. But here are some things we've picked up along the way.

The first list here are questions you might want to ask of your local zoning board before you purchase a property you are interested in. You'd be surprised how much is regulated on "your" property.

1. What septic systems are allowed in the county if there is no sewer hookup? (If only a traditional leach-line system is permitted, this could deem some parcels “unbuildable.”)

2. If there is sewer, water and/or electric hookup at the street, am I required to tap into them for new residences? (helpful to know if you want to be off-grid)

3. If a sewer line is run down the street in the future, am I required to tap in. If so, who pays for tapping in?

4. Am I allowed to have solar panels on my roof?

5. Am I allowed to have a windmill on my property? If so, what are its limitations, if any (such as height, number, distance from neighboring properties, etc.)?

6. What is the smallest dwelling I am allowed to build? (our minimum size for a residence is 950 square feet)

7. Do you have any options for temporary dwellings while I am building my main house? If so, how long can I stay in the temporary dwelling? What do I have to have hooked up in my temporary dwelling (septic, water, or electric)?

8. Am I allowed to camp on my property? If so, for how many days each year? (We are only allowed to camp or stay on our property 14 days/year without a septic system.)

9. How many separate residences are allowed on my property? (We are only allowed one residential structure per deeded parcel.)

10. If I want to sell part of my property down the road, how much road frontage or acreage will each parcel need? (Note that if you are only allowed one residence per parcel, this could be a way for you to put 2 residences on, if you deed both parcels to yourself -- but you have to have enough road frontage for each parcel.)

11. What kind of livestock can I raise on my property?

12. Can I hunt on my property, and if so, am I required to abide by the usual state limits if I'm on my own property?

We were very surprised that our quite rural county had so many specific rules & ordinances for “our” land. But, if we’d known the answers to these questions, it could have saved us the disappointment of realizing our original plans of having a small cabin bed & breakfast on the property would never be permitted.

We have looked into options of temporary housing both on & off the property & we ultimately decided putting any money into temporary housing could be better used on our permanent house.

Here's what we've paid or been quoted for the lot improvements so far:

Septic tank with 3 leach lines -- $6500 (we found an elevated spot on the property so that we wouldn't have to pay for a pump)

Driveway (gravel) -- $1000/per 100 linear feet, this is a 20-foot wide driveway

Pull-off, including culverts -- $1500 for 20 linear feet, this was 30 feet wide at the road

Fast-growing pine trees to line the side against our neighbor's cornfield & to provide a windbreak -- $5/tree plus shipping

Electric hookup -- $100 to opt-in to the co-op. If we plan to go with an all-electric furnace, this will be our only cost. They estimate your usage over 3 years & if you don't meet a certain amount ($4000?), you pay that amount upfront.

Water hookup -- we will probably build a double cistern for rain collection but we'll have city water as a backup when it goes dry in July & August. The water hookup at the street will be $1000.

We're looking at log cabin kits in the $50,000 range. We'll start small & then build on as we have money. We would like to be as mortgage-free as possible. We'd also like to be off-grid eventually, but we'll probably start with the cheapr on-grid options, then retrofit later.

Finally, I once shared a 2-family home with my best friend before we both had families. She took one unit & I took the other. We actually had my uncle (an attorney) draw up a contractual agreement & it made our living arrangements SO much easier to have everythng agreed on upfront. He told us, "Pretend like you absolutely hate each other & then draw up in your agreement anything that you think the other person should or shouldn't be allowed to do."

Putting it that way was kind of silly to us (an attorney's way of looking at things, I guess), but there were times we argued & there were times we disagreed & although we were both very fair people, we didn't have to worry about most things because they had been agreed on upfront.

Like, we had to give each other a year's notice of our desire to sell the property. (My friend ended up buying it from me & still has it as a rental.) We weren't allowed to take out any equity loans on the property without the other's permission. If we rented out our portion, the other had to agree to the proposed tenants. Stuff like that.

We had the same arrangement you all will. I paid in cash & she carried the mortgage for her half. It worked out great for us!

Good luck on your search. We have had so much fun so far!

-Julie
post #9 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by alivia View Post
Finally, I once shared a 2-family home with my best friend before we both had families. She took one unit & I took the other. We actually had my uncle (an attorney) draw up a contractual agreement & it made our living arrangements SO much easier to have everythng agreed on upfront. He told us, "Pretend like you absolutely hate each other & then draw up in your agreement anything that you think the other person should or shouldn't be allowed to do."

Putting it that way was kind of silly to us (an attorney's way of looking at things, I guess), but there were times we argued & there were times we disagreed & although we were both very fair people, we didn't have to worry about most things because they had been agreed on upfront.

Like, we had to give each other a year's notice of our desire to sell the property. (My friend ended up buying it from me & still has it as a rental.) We weren't allowed to take out any equity loans on the property without the other's permission. If we rented out our portion, the other had to agree to the proposed tenants. Stuff like that.

-Julie
Julie,
What a great piece of advice. I have experience with that kind of contract, too. An attorney gave us a sample one and we went through it line by line and adjusted it to fit our needs. It was so much easier to talk about those tough "break up" questions when we were happy and excited and really liking each other than it would have been if we were already finding ourselves in a disagreement.
post #10 of 11
bump
post #11 of 11
I also just read "Mortgage-Free" by Rob Roy. His suggestions are creative ways to build a home without borrowing huge sums of money from a bank or without having a traditional mortgage. Also tips about how to search for land and what to watch out for before you buy. Some really valuable tips in there. I borrowed the book from the library.
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