Recently, Log Home Living contacted Jim Young, President of PrecisionCraft Log Homes & Timber Frame for his advice to future log home owners on buying land. This interview, packed full of good land buying tips, is featured in Log Home Living’s 2010 Annual Buyer’s Guide. Below is the original interview in its raw format.
Log Home Living: Really briefly, can you give me your list of 5 attributes that you look for in a good piece of land for building a log home, and why these are important.
Jim Young: Aesthetics, Proximity, Buildability, Utilities and amenities and Resale.
Aesthetics – Most log home buyers build a log home because of the look, feel and beauty of the log home. Log homes have an emotional appeal and the building lot must complement and enhance the emotional impact. The design of the home and the building location are married such that it meets the Owners aesthetic vision. It’s a good reason for the Owner to get the architect involved on the front end of the building project – preferably during the lot selection.
Proximity – Proximity of the building lot to the Owners interests and/or activities is critical. This might be a ski-in, ski-out location or golf course lot or isolated in the forest. I’ve had clients happy with their home but it location is inconveniently located far from the nearest town and day-to-day services like grocery stores and restaurants. On the other hand, my family has a cabin in Idaho’s wilderness area and the remoteness of the location is the primary attraction. Buyers should also consider proximity to neighbors and other buildings or future buildings in the area. A building lot may have a gorgeous view but may also be located where the view will eventually be obstructed at some point by future building.
Buildability – The building lot should be evaluated by a building professional for buildability before purchasing the lot. I cannot emphasize the importance of this point. Too often, Owners are surprised by additional costs they were not aware of before purchasing – such as the cost of retaining walls, roads or driveways, utilities, special permits, etc. We’ve had situations where the Owner’s building lot was located on an ancient Indian burial site and unable to build. Another case was a site designated as a protected wetland. Probably the biggest factor adding unexpected costs of construction is the slope of the lot.
Re-sale – Every Realtor will tell you its location, location, location. Of course, this is true if you are considering re-sale. Re-sale is certainly a consideration but log home buyers tend to have a broader vision in mind. This is their dream home or perhaps a family retreat. It is my impression that most log home buyers intend to own their home indefinitely or this is the home they plan for their retirement. This being said, log home buyers should still keep an eye on the re-sale value of the home and lot.
Amenities and Utilities – If the building lot is in a developed subdivision, more than likely it will come with more amenities and utilities at the building location such as water, power, sewer, cable, etc. Developed subdivision often times offers clubhouse amenities, swimming pools and other features. This is extremely important and can add considerable value to the lot. On the other hand, undeveloped lots come with considerably more expense when adding amenities and utilities.
Log Home Living: What should you look for in terms of the overall location? i.e., what are some signs that it’s a good piece of property for you in terms of proximity to neighbors, number of trees, how close it is to critical goods and services, how close it is to water, etc.?
Jim Young: In addition to the considerations mentioned above, Buyers should understand the zoning at and around the potential building site. It is a good idea to consult with a professional builder to inspect access to utilities such as water, power, sewer, etc. Buyers should also consult with the local building departments, title companies and neighbors to understand any factors not readily apparent.
Log Home Living: How important is the slope of the land in this discussion? Is there a certain degree of slope that is too steep to build on? What should you be looking for here?
Jim Young: It is possible to build on lots with very radical slopes. I’ve seen projects that I swear are on shear cliffs. But, it’s expensive. Again, buyers should consult with a professional before purchasing especially if the lot is sloped. It’s hard to judge the actual slope of a building lot without a topographical survey. A lot that appears relatively flat by the naked eye can be deceiving. It is worth the money to have a survey of the lot and to discuss the building ramifications with a building professional before purchasing the lot.
Log Home Living: What’s a perc test, and how important is it? What should you be looking for in the perc test of the land?
Jim Young: A perc (percolation) test is done to evaluate the appropriateness of the soil condition for a septic drain field. If the prospective building lot does not have sewer access and thus requires a septic tank, then getting a perc test before you buy the lot is a good idea. Also, find out from the building department where the septic tank and drain field can be placed and determine any issues or requirements prior to purchasing the lot. This might depend upon the results of the perc test and is a good reason to have it done prior to closing on the lot.
Log Home Living: Any other tests that should be conducted before you decide to buy?
Jim Young: If there is any question about the soundness of the soil, buyers might want to consult with a geo-technical engineer.
Log Home Living: If good views are important to you, do you want them facing in a certain direction (E, W, N, S)? Why or why not? If you need to remove some trees, is this a deal-breaker for some people because of the cost, annoyance? Or is that a relatively simple task that shouldn’t make or break your deal?
Any other considerations to keep in mind when choosing a piece of land based on the views?
Jim Young: Most of the time, the view will dictate the direction of the building but, if there is a choice, I prefer to situate the kitchen and/or great room East for the morning sun and to avoid afternoon glare and heat. On the other hand, some people would like to see the sunset in the primary window location.
Log Home Living: What should be available for utilities on your land? How will having available utilities on that land make building easier?
Jim Young: Water, power and sewer or septic can be very expensive. Drilling a well and installing septic is commonplace. But, the buyer should have a good understanding of the potential costs. If there is no power to the site, it is important to contact the utility company and find out the cost of installing power to the site. Off – grid power is also a consideration with the use of generators, solar and wind power but cost and reliability are issues and must be fully understood.
If there are no available utilities, how does that affect the cost and convenience of the building process?
Buyers should consult with a building professional to inspect the lot and get good estimates of installing the utilities before they purchase.
Log Home Living: Are there ever instances when a piece of land cannot have utilities? What is it important to look for here before buying?
Jim Young: Again, it is extremely important that buyers consult with a professional before buying a lot especially if the land is undeveloped. Installing utilities can be tricky and may not be feasible in some locations. Buyers should understand the potential costs of drilling a well, installing septic or bringing power to the site. It is not uncommon that costs will exceed the value of the land.
Log Home Living: Any other important land considerations before you buy?
Jim Young: Buyers should be fully informed of easements, access, setbacks, zoning and other legal considerations and should consult a lawyer if there appears to be anything unusual. Title insurance is critical.
Log Home Living: Finally, what are your top 5 warning signs that it’s a bad piece of land that you should steer clear of? Why are these signs problematic?
Jim Young: Soggy soil or underground water can cause a tremendous amount of grief. If you are looking at the building lot at the driest time of the year, be sure you understand what the building lot looks like in the spring and winter. Understand where there is potential runoff. If there is any question, have a soils engineer look at the site.
Be very cautious of unfulfilled promises by the developer. If the developer has not yet completed installation of road, utilities, etc., then you might want to consider how you will be covered in the event the developer defaults.
Again, any legal irregularities in the title can become a horror story. Make sure the title is clear and you understand all easements and access requirements. It’s a good idea to talk with the local building jurisdiction and see about the requirements for building permit on that specific lot.
Being aware of development activities around the lot are important. It would be heartbreaking to learn about a new sewer treatment facility going in next door after you have purchased the lot.
Find out why the seller is selling. Make sure you get full disclosure.
Learn how Mountain Architects ensures your home is designed to match the contours of your land and meets any jurisdictional requirements and regulatory codes with our Onsite Design Review & Meeting.