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How to Pick the Right Piece of Property

Scouting your property early in the process can uncover hidden costs and design challenges. Here’s how to prepare.

 Photo: Colin Maynard / Unsplash


Everyone envisions his or her timber home on that perfect piece of property with that magnificent view. But beauty is only skin deep, and, when buying land, you’ll not only need to know what’s beneath the surface, but what it will take to access it. Once you know the land is sound, you’ll want to select a safe, comfortable spot for your home — someplace that offers ideal protection from the elements. This is, after all, the whole point of shelter.



You’ve found a gorgeous piece of property, but will it work for you? Think ahead; extending power lines for your personal use and blasting unforeseen bedrock can be huge budget busters. Before you actually make an offer on a parcel, know exactly how you are going to handle:

  • Water (either from a public water company or from a well)
  • Waste (either septic or public sewer)
  • Power (public utility or off the grid)
  • Gas (either from a utility company or from a propane tank)
  • Phone and internet service 

For a remote location, power will be a primary concern. If you are far away from other homes or from the utility provider, you may be charged a hefty fee to bring the utility access out to your property. Extending new power lines can cost as much as $100 a foot, so if your property is 200 feet away from the nearest utility lines, you may need to pay $20,000 to tap in. Call the utility company and get a quote on the costs before you buy the land. The same goes for nearby natural gas lines and “tap fees” for city water and sewage services; know what’s available before you buy the lot.


See Also: Keys to Buying Raw Land


Know What You Actually Own

Natural Resource Rights can get complicated, and the rules will differ from region to region. There may be certain rights on the lot you’re interested in buying that are held by a third party, which you may not even be aware of. If you buy a parcel in a forest, will you own all the trees around your home? There may be some circumstances where a third party owns the timber rights to your property and will harvest the trees when they mature. The same applies to mineral and access rights.

Water rights are particularly important in the western United States, where water can be scarce. Just because your land has water on it in the form of a stream or even a small pond, doesn’t necessarily mean that you actually own the rights to the water. Have a title company research the plot you are considering and determine if there are any easements or access restrictions.


Subsurface Concerns

The site you choose could be ideal in every way until your excavator runs into solid bedrock while installing the foundation. Blasting costs can mount quickly, so visit neighboring sites to discover if builders encountered bedrock.

If tapping into municipal waterlines is off the table, well water will be another subsurface concern. Water tables vary with the topography of the land and the soil composition so there is no way to predict how deep you will need to drill.

Your building site also will need to pass a percolation or “perc” test. This test determines whether the land will readily accept waste water in a septic system. A building inspector will pour water into a hole in the ground and the water will have to drain from the hole within a specified time period, dictated by the local building code.


Plotting Your Home

Spend some time with your land. Walk on it, sit and listen. Pitch a tent and spend the night on your personal slice of the Earth. Show up at different times of the day and year to mark the rising and setting of the sun, turning of the seasons and weather patterns.

Ask neighbors how they prepare for the changing seasons, what they find most memorable about the weather, the available daylight and the notable natural events.


Access points.

The placement of driveways, walkways and porches will help define your home site.



Within the access-point boundaries, figure out the basic shape of the house and the direction it will face. Passive solar design can be beneficial; orient the longer axis of your home east/west so the longer dimension faces sunny south.


Room placement.

Your frequently used rooms go on the side of the home facing south. Rooms that require little heat and light (utility rooms and garages) should go on the cooler north side. Consider what rooms should have a view and how they’ll flow into one another.

Use the terrain for inspiration. Paying attention to the natural surroundings will make it seem like your home grew right out of the ground.


See Also: What to Look for When Buying Land

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