The majestic mountains surrounding Asheville are the main attraction for so many who choose to live here. However, the mountainous terrain often makes it difficult to find land that is suitable to build on, largely due to steep slopes or natural landscapes, such as boulders, creeks, etc. I've been known to advise buyers that I can find them a flat, easy-to-build lot for their house right in between the unicorn and the leprechaun in the woods! While this may be an exaggeration, the fact remains that as building continues across Western NC, much of the land will require extensive site work to make it suitable for a new home.
Since I began my real estate career, I've heard from many buyers that their agent doesn't "do land". "What? Why?!" was my immediate reaction. I now realize that some real estate agents are hesitant to be involved in land sales, because they haven't had the chance to learn the basics of what's involved. Of course, I don't blame these agents for their own reluctance. There is critical knowledge to learn in order to fully advise buyers on a land purchase.
Some Realtors® choose to pursue further education and become Accredited Land Consultants (ALCs). However, it's not necessary to have advanced education to have a good understanding of what's important when choosing a piece of land. I personally believe that finding land is definitely complicated - but doesn't have to be!
What's Your Plan for the Land?
As we learned recently, new construction is a popular choice for homebuyers in today's market.
In Western NC, there are many large tracts of land available for recreational purposes - camping, hunting, off-road vehicles, etc. A lot of these listings are marketed for outdoor recreation, because the land is not able to be developed. One major reason why land will remain undeveloped is the inability to drill a well and / or to "perc" for a septic system. While there are specially-designed septic systems that can be built, these can be quite expensive and just can't fit in the budget for most people.
The most common inquiries on land I receive come from those looking for spot to build their new home. Buyers often want to show me all of the wonderful inexpensive land that is available for sale. Unfortunately, after much research, it turns out that cheap land is usually priced low for a reason! Like all housing decisions, choosing your piece of land will inevitably involve tradeoffs. Some beginning questions to ask when considering a piece of property include:
- Is it located in an HOA or have other restrictions for use? Neighborhoods can vary widely on both amenities and restrictions. For example, many only allow for 2 pets in each home. Some have minimum square footage requirements for new houses and many have architectural review boards, created to maintain the "look and feel" of the neighborhood.
- Is the road public or private? If your land is accessed by a private road, it's a good idea to check if there is a road maintenance agreement (RMA) on file that defines responsibilities of the owners for maintaining the road. Your Realtor® should be able to easily find this information for you.
- Is it located near an EPA Superfund site? Again, not a dealbreaker for some, but it's important to learn about the environmental quality of the area in which you choose to build.
- Is it located in a flood plain? This may be unavoidable if you want riverfront property, and doesn't necessarily mean that it's not the land for you. However, if you are borrowing money for your purchase, lenders will require you to carry flood insurance, which can significantly affect your monthly housing costs.
The Importance of Site Work
Site work is by far the largest variable when it comes to the total cost of building a new home. In other words, the amount of site work necessary should be factored into the overall budget, in addition to the cost of the land and the price of the home, including:
- Survey - I always recommend obtaining a new survey to my clients. Although there already may be one recorded. There are very good reasons to have a survey done on any land purchase.
- Clearing and Grading - trees and brush need to be removed, and the land must be made flat to build a foundation. Crawlspaces and basements can be used when building into a hill, although this often will increase the cost to build.
- Water / Sewer - in our area, wells and septic tanks are very common. There is also land available with access to public water and sewer. If the land you're considering is on city water and city sewer, there is simply a tap fee to pay to hook up to these utilities.
- Electricity is available in most places (other than in far remote areas). These days, it's common to see "underground utilities" advertised in subdivisions. This is a great choice, but often the cost of the land will reflect this benefit.
- Internet - People moving from other areas may not realize that high-speed internet service is not available everywhere! While there are satellite internet options in the mountains, often times there are data restrictions that make a "streaming" existence unaffordable. My best advice is to always be sure to research your internet options and check your phone service while you're ON THE LAND that you're considering.
As I've said before, buying land can be complicated but doesn't have to be. Choosing to work with a reputable builder and a knowledgable Realtor® can not only make the process easier, but can also make it fun!