Buying land in the mountains
Asked by: mickieh-ga
List Price: $10.00
15 Aug 2002 14:48 PDT
Expires: 14 Sep 2002 14:48 PDT
Question ID: 54999
We are considering purchasing a lot (1.7 acres) in the mountains of Colorado. What important things should you consider? For example: 1. How do you find out if drilling a well for water is a problem? 2. How do you find out if the soil is solid for future home building?
Re: Buying land in the mountains
Answered By: alienintelligence-ga on 16 Aug 2002 01:56 PDT
Hi there mickieh Let me start with this: Land is considered typically an investment. That means it involves money/finances. While answers.google is an excellent research source, all of the information you gather from us should be used as a guide only. You should seek some type of professional when you finally decide to invest. Just want you to be safe, you'll see why in my answer. I'm glad I got to research this for you. I will include general land buying info and also any specific Colorado info I can get. Such as this nice document: [ http://www.resource2.com/c_butte_gunn/articles/Buying%20a%20Home%20or%20L.pdf ] It mentions Septic, Water, Utilities, Grading and Soil. ==Septic== You need to determine if you are on a central sewer system or if you will need to install a private septic system. ==Water== Make sure you have some! Again, if you are on a central system you should determine if the metro district serving your property is in good shape. You should find out rates and if there are any restrictions during the year, such as limits on watering the yard. ==Utilities== Find out what utilities are available and how close they are to your lot. If you have to bring utilities a long way in to a lot it can be expensive. If you know the footage it should be fairly easy to find a contractor or excavator who can give you a rough idea of the cost of bringing the utilities to the building site. It is important to realize that this can be dramatically more if you are in a rocky area. ==Grading== This is perhaps the hardest area for the potential buyer to evaluate. A perfectly flat site is always cheaper to build on than a steep one, but there arent very many perfectly flat sites in the Rocky Mountains. As a rule of thumb, a house site that has an elevation difference of three to five feet is pretty average. ==Soil== There are many types of soils in Southwest Colorado. They can range from silty loamy to clayey to solid shale or rock. Each of these types of soils have their own characteristics that will affect the foundation design and construction of a home. Always perform a Soils Investigation prior to foundation design. This provides the necessary information to make the appropriate design decisions. Some more nice pages relative to Colorado, mountain, and lot purchasing: Web Hints for buying a vacant land in the mountains [ http://www.coloradodreams.com/landhint.htm ] Buying Rural Land: The Pleasures and Pitfalls [ http://www.ruralproperty.net/buying.htm ] Water Rights Considerations and Constraints, Land Acquisition Cost Analysis, and Conversion of Fee Simple Farmland [ http://www.uc.usbr.gov/special/alp/fseis/pdf/vol2/vol2-att-d.pdf ] What Buyers Should Know about Land [ http://remax.realtor.com/Basics/Land/ShouldKnow.asp ] What about Zoning Restrictions? [ http://remax.realtor.com/Basics/Land/Zoning.asp?poe=realtor ] Land Assessment [ http://www.permaculture.dhs.org/DesignCourse/DesignText/land_assessmenttxt.htm ] Vacant Land [ http://www.rightwayhome.com/html/vacant_land.html ] -------------------------------------- You didn't mention what the land will be used for. That would be one of the main items to take into account when purchasing the land. Are you going to purchase and hold as an investment? Are you going to build a dream home on it? Maybe a farm? Wanting livestock or horses? The answers will help determine what you need to test and check for. -------------------------------------- This page has alot of good points to follow: [ http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:dIlcJNW9zxYC:www.netside.com/~lcoble/dir9/buyingru.txt+%22buying+land%22&hl=en&ie=UTF-8 ] I left it as a google cache document so it would highlight "buying land" "We have just ended (I hope) the search for our place. (Submitted a contract). The thing that helped us the most was getting a copy of the soil survey for the counties we were looking at. The Federal Soil Conservation people publish them. So I would think that all counties would have them available. We saved ourself several wasted trips by knowing about soil type, pipelines and transmission lines. Oh that's another thing. Worry about easements. Public easements can be widened without your consent. They can do what ever they want with your property in the easement. Especially avoid easements that go all the way thru your property. If you are looking at truely rural area, keep in mind that farmers make noise. Dogs make noise. Crops get sprayed. That sort of thing." ~~~~~ "Also. If you ever want to get a loan, buy land with access on a county rd. Veterans and FHA no longer do loans on land which is not on a public rd. Period. You can get conventional financing, but you need a road maintenance agreement. These are new rules, at a national level. Don't let anyone tell you different. We lost one piece of property over it. And it makes selling more difficult." *x*x*x*x* "You might need an environmental site assesment. You need at least a check of the ownership for the last 100 years to see if the site might have been used for any industrial use which would have produced hazardous wastes. Also, you would need an expert to do an visual inspection/walkthrough of the site. Doing this seems to be the minimum. Doing more, like actual sample testing will get very expensive. Even farms need to be checked, for things like old gas tanks. Removing a tank is now quite expensive, requiring an EPA certified remover, hauling the soil to a hazardous waste site, etc., about $25000. The current laws are that the current owner of a site is responsible for any prior hazardous wastes, so you want to make sure it is clean. Generally, you can put passing the inspection as a condition in the purchase contract." *x*x*x*x* 1. Verify the land meet zoning requirements to build. a. set-back b. minimum acreage. c. minimum frontage. d. what is it zoned for (if its zoned) 2. Find out what utilities are available. a. Electric b. Gas c. water d. sewer 3. Is the land suitable for a normal septic system. 4. Is the well water acceptable and at what cost. (how deep?) 5. Is the soil suitable for a foundation. (bedrock?, humus clay?) *x*x*x*x* "All possible advice to you can best be summarized thusly: Get a good lawyer. ( End of Advice ) Seriously. Realtors are incompetent, especially when it comes to buying raw land, land which is in no way guaranteed suitable for human habitation, and they ( the realtors ) cannot conceive of any thing more complicated than their next commission check." That's just an abstract of the good info on that page. -------------------------------------- The first point you brought up was water. This is DEFINITELY one of the top things to concern yourself with. Not only with your particular piece of property, but also for regional concerns. I have seen on TV that there are water restrictions throughout the state of Colorado. [ http://www.ci.fort-collins.co.us/news/index.php?ID=072002070213001 ] [ http://www.kktv.com/home/headlines/63464.html ] [ http://22.214.171.124/search?q=cache:33p3hwGIoxUC:www.cml.org/pdf_files/WaterRestrictionsMay2002.pdf+water+restrictions+Colorado&hl=en&ie=UTF-8 ] [ http://126.96.36.199/search?q=cache:Od3T-MaafisC:www.guaranteedweather.com/guaranteedweather/content/news/2002/news/may/05142002news.html+%22soil+percolation%22+FAQ+Colorado&hl=en&ie=UTF-8 ] Also the place where your waste is going to go. Is the land plot far away from city resources? Rural property will require a well to be dug, a septic system to be installed, and the land able to support water drainage. So one of the first tests you want is a percolation test [ http://sis.agr.gc.ca/cansis/glossary/percolation.html ] How to do a "perc test": Soil percolation tests require that you dig three (3) holes minimum, 36 inches deep and four (4) to twelve (12) inches in diameter in the last 18 inches of each hole. The holes need to be spaced six (6) to eight (8) feet apart in the general center of the proposed absorption area. Fill the holes with 18 inches water 8 to 24 hours before the scheduled perc test. You will need to have three (3) five (5) gallon buckets of water available for the perc test. The profile hole is one (1) hole in the general center of the absorption area eight (8) feet deep (dug with a backhoe). Stop digging if you hit ground water or bedrock before eight (8) feet. This hole will need to be at least eight (8) feet from the perc holes. -from INDIVIDUAL SEWAGE DISPOSAL SYSTEM PERMIT (ISDS) Gunnison County Environmental Health Office [ http://www.co.gunnison.co.us/Planning/ISDSsteps.html ] This document also states, after the perc and profile tests are done, the Environmental Health Specialist will calculate the size and type of system necessary. Some more soil info: [ http://dir.yahoo.com/Science/Agriculture/Crops_and_Soil/Agronomy/Soil_Science/ ] Slow loading, but good info, from Malaysia, but they have soil there too ;-) [ http://www.agri.upm.edu.my/jst/soilinfo.html ] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Guides / Subjects Natural resources and environment [ http://www.fao.org/ag/guides/subject/p.htm ] -------------------------------------- If you don't have access to water utilities, then this well info is for you. [ http://list.realestate.yahoo.com/reinfo/usinspect/wells.html ] "One of the most common concerns involving a home's water well is the water's potability. Water that is not potable may pose serious health hazards." -Types of Wells- Irrigation wells Community wells Springs Driven Drilled Dug Some of the things that dictate the depth of the well are: -The level that the aquifers are located in the ground. -The amount of storage that the well contractor calculates is necessary. -The type of soil and the level of activity that the aquifer exhibits. -The depth that the casing is embedding into bedrock (5 to 10 feet, depending on the municipality). -------------------------------------- At least one county in Colorado has a septic permit application that costs $175 (Custer County) [ http://www.custercountygov.com/Septic%20Permit.pdf ] More fees: [ http://www.co.gunnison.co.us/Planning/ISDSsteps.html ] mentioned above Another Colorado application [ http://ww2.co.jefferson.co.us/ext/dpt/health/ehs/isdsapplication.pdf ] And here I just learned something... septic systems at altitude can be a problem sometimes: [ http://www.nesc.wvu.edu/nsfc/forum/300160217.html ] "I have a cabin with a septic system. The cabin is in Colorado at 9,400 ft. elevation. The cabin is built on and the septic tank is set in rock tailings jutting out over the side of the mountain. The septic tank froze. It is only a 1000 gal tank. The tank it turns out was set only under four inches of this loose rock and only a foot away from the slope of the edge of the tailings exposing it to the penetrating strength of our often 100 mph winds. The installer tells me that it froze because it is new and because it is a weekend cabin doesn't have enought decomposing matter to create enought heat. The septic service guy to thawed it out tells me given the elevation and exposure it will continue to freeze up no matter how much use it gets. He tells me it should have been set much deeper given the location." Wow, huh? Some general septic info here: [ http://www.nesc.wvu.edu/nsfc/forum/Index.html ] A FAQ here: [ http://ww2.co.jefferson.co.us/ext/dpt/health/ehs/ehs_isds_faq.htm ] "Im considering building a new house in the mountains, how much property do I need to install an septic system and well? It depends on the zoning of the area and when the lot was subdivided." "Can I install my own system? Yes, however you must demonstrate your knowledge of the Individual Sewage Disposal System Regulations to the satisfaction of the inspector." "How do I obtain a permit to replace/install a septic system? You will need to obtain an engineered design from a registered professional engineer and then submit an application for a permit. Currently the fee is $600. You will need to obtain an engineered design from a registered professional engineer and then submit an application for a permit. Currently the fee is $600. Jefferson County Application for ISDS Permit" << more good info on the site >> -------------------------------------- You will have to consider the CCR's (Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions) and any federal or state restrictions to the property you are interested in. CCR's are items that not only restrict your use of land but they protect you from abuse or land by neighbors. <<What exactly are Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions?>> Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CCRs) are actually a set of "rules" that attach to the land to protect your property from unwanted use. They let you know how you can use your property and, more importantly, how your neighbors can use theirs. CCRs are especially important when buying vacant land since, in most cases, the parcels around you are vacant as well. You would otherwise have no idea of the type of neighborhood you are buying into. For this reason, properties with CCRs tend to hold their value much better than properties without. CCRs can vary quite a bit and should be reviewed before you decide to purchase your property. source: [ http://www.4seasonsrealty.com/faq.htm ] but if you try to read it, the background will make you crosseyed. You may encounter land use and development rules such as this, where you wish to live... [ http://www.slv.org/saguachecounty/landuse/article02.html ] -------------------------------------- This brings us to the actual land. I found an article that references Expansive Soils and mentioned Colorado. [ http://list.realestate.yahoo.com/reinfo/usinspect/soil.html ] "Expansive soil expands and contracts due to changes in the moisture content of the soil, causing structural problems through differential movement of the structure. If the moisture content and or soil type differs at various locations under the foundation, localized or non-uniform movement may occur in the structure. This isolated movement of sections of the structure can cause damage to the foundation and framing, evidenced by cracking of the slab or foundation, cracking in the exterior or interior wall covering (indicating movement of the framing)" You will have to take into consideration contaminants that are either natural or preexisting, such as radon. [ phttp://water.usgs.gov/pubs/wri/wri99-4222/ ] "Abstract Water-quality samples were collected in the summer of 1997 from 45 sites (43 wells and 2 springs) in selected alluvial aquifers throughout the Southern Rocky Mountains physiographic province of the Upper Colorado River Basin study unit as part of the U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment Program. The objective of this study was to assess the water-quality conditions in selected alluvial aquifers in the Southern Rocky Mountains physiographic province. Alluvial aquifers are productive aquifers in the Southern Rocky Mountains physiographic province and provide for easily developed wells. Water-quality samples were collected from areas where ground water is used predominantly for domestic or public water supply. Twenty-three of the 45 sites sampled were located in or near mining districts. No statistical differences were observed between the mining sites and sites not associated with mining activities for the majority of the constituents analyzed. Water samples were analyzed for major ions, nutrients, dissolved organic carbon, trace elements, radon-222, pesticides, volatile organic compounds, bacteria, and methylene blue active substances. In addition, field parameters consisting of water temperature, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, and alkalinity were measured at all sites. Specific conductance for the ground-water sites ranged from 57 to 6,650 microsiemens per centimeter and had higher concentrations measured in areas such as the northwestern part of the study unit. Dissolved oxygen ranged from 0.1 to 6.0 mg/L (milligrams per liter) and had a median concentration of 2.9 mg/L. The pH field values ranged from 6.1 to 8.1; about 4 percent of the sites (2 of 45) had pH values outside the range of 6.5 to 8.5 and so did not meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency secondary maximum contaminant level standard for drinking water. About 5 percent (2 of 43) of the samples exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended turbidity value of 5 nephelometric turbidity units; one of these samples was from a monitoring well. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency secondary maximum contaminant levels for dissolved solids, sulfate, iron, and manganese were exceeded at some of the sites. Higher dissolved-solids concentrations were detected where sedimentary rocks are exposed, such as in the northwestern part of the Southern Rocky Mountains physiographic province. The dominant water compositions for the sites sampled are calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate. However, sites in areas where sedimentary rocks are exposed and sites located in or near mining areas show more sulfate-dominated waters." I really love the info you can find on the net... Selfbuild Foundations [ http://www.selfbuildit.co.uk/foundations.htm ] "It is important to investigate the ground quality of a plot before you purchase. Check records and ask around locally to make sure that it doesnt have an unsavoury history. For example, an infill site may be an expensive option because it is like that it will require piles. A proper survey with test bores holes - to assess the type and quality of the ground - is sensible precaution and should ensure that there are no surprises when the digging starts. As you think about the subsoil you should also look at the landscape of the plot. Trees close to a substructure can affect foundations, while a slope may mean additional work in levelling off the site, or a decision to build with more expensive stepped foundations. Tree roots may damage foundations as they grow. Certain species are potentially worse than others. The enormous amount of water that a tree takes out of the land around it can change the balance of the subsoil. If it is necessary to fell a large tree before you build, you should allow at least one year for the land to settle before you start work on the foundations. Where possible, try not to remove established trees and shrubs - they will add enormously to the character of your garden once the house is complete. You may find that you are not allowed to remove them anyway, as many are protected by Tree Preservation Orders controlled by your local planners. Dont forget to plan access for your services - water, waste (foul and surface) gas, electric and telephone ducts - before you start work." "The first thing you can do is clear the plot. After all, you don't have to have much expertise to tidy up the site. Before felling any large trees, make sure it is okay with the local planners. Some are protected. Also try to understand some of the "locals around your plot". If you upset them or they find out that you are going to cut down some of the trees, there will be a Tree Preservation Order TPO on them very quickly." This site is ¿interesting? [ http://www.geoforum.com/knowledge/texts/broms/index.asp ] The American Institute of Architects Denver Chapter Committee on the Environment Architects, Designers, and Planners for Social Responsibility Colorado Chapter [ http://www.aiacolorado.org/SDRG/div02/ ] This gives an environmental perspective to site preparation. "The preparation and development of a building site creates numerous adverse environmental impacts. Large projects or those in an environmentally sensitive area generally require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Smaller and medium-sized projects dont generally require an EIS unless they are located on environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands." SUMMARY -Preserve and protect the natural condition of the site as much as possible. -Specify native vegetation to conserve water. -Use trees, shrubs and earth to protect the building from sun, wind and noise. -Test for Radon gas. -Use local materials for site improvements. -Specify site furnishings (benches, etc.) that are made from recycled material. -Re-use concrete as backfill, road base, or aggregate. -Recycle demolition debris (refer to Division 1 for further information). A land purchase checklist (for a cedar home company) [ http://www.cedartimbers.com/html/checklist.shtml ] This is something you might have to sign? [ http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/wq/PermitsUnit/rfactor.pdf ] STATE OF COLORADO 4/02 STORMWATER RAINFALL EROSIVITY WAIVER for Exclusion from CDPS Stormwater Permitting for SMALL CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS (LESS THAN FIVE ACRES) This Rainfall Erosivity Waiver Form is for use by all Small Construction Projects regulated under the Stormwater Program where the project R Factor is less than 5, as determined using the State approved method. This includes sites otherwise required to apply for, or maintain, coverage under CDPS general permit COR-030000, but only if they meet the definition of Small Constructions Projects given below. Small construction projects are projects that result in land disturbance of equal to or greater than one acre and less than five acres. Small construction activity also includes the disturbance of any area less than five acres of total land area that is part of a larger common plan of development or sale, if the larger common plan will ultimately disturb equal to or greater than one and less than five acres. Boulder County Comprehensive Plan Geology Goals, Policies, & Maps Element [ http://www.co.boulder.co.us/lu/bccp/geology.htm ] " In view of the geologic diversity of Boulder County as described in the Geology Element and the multiplicity of existing and foreseeable land uses, it is intended that the land use policies presented here shall provide clear direction in the formulation and implementation of the county Land Use decisions so far as geological factors are concerned." Landslide info: Frisco, Colo.: Zoning Code, Chapter 180-20-O Development on Steep Slopes [ http://www.townoffrisco.com/180devsta.pdf ] CLEARING, GRADING, AND LAND DISTURBANCE [ http://www.douglas.co.us/DC/Planning/documents/Zoningres/section31.htm ] More links regarding landslides and land development [ http://www.planning.org/landslides/docs/links.htm#_Ordinances,_zoning_codes ] Alphabetical Listing of WRP Publications on Management, Planning, Land Use and Resources [ http://www.wrpllc.com/books/8manage.html ] Ultimately the suitability for building and land inprovements will depend on the results of the site inspection. A thourough study of the property will provide all you need to know about development on the property. It's a requirement for them to tell you as part of the inspection. -------------------------------------- This company lists all the different inspection services for potential buyers the provide: home inspections, radon testing, termite inspections, structural inspections, septic inspections, specialty inspections, reserve studies [ http://www.usinspect.com/content/inspectiontypes.asp ] -------------------------------------- -search techniques- "buying land" [ ://www.google.com/search?num=20&hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=%22buying+land%22 ] "buying land" colorado [ ://www.google.com/search?num=20&hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=%22buying+land%22+colorado ] radon land colorado [ ://www.google.com/search?num=20&hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=radon+land+colorado ] "buying land" tests [ ://www.google.com/search?num=20&hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=%22buying+land%22+tests ] important info buying land [ ://www.google.com/search?num=20&hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=important+info+buying+land ] There is alot of information, I hope I gave you what you were looking for. Just ask if you need a clarification on something. -AI
Re: Buying land in the mountains
From: huntsman-ga on 16 Aug 2002 16:46 PDT
Mickieh, We have purchased two small mountain acreages in Colorado, and have built a home on one of them. Some the things that we have learned so far are offered in the sections below. First of all, some basic questions for you: 1. Where is your prospective lot in Colorado? What county is it in and what city/town is it closest to? 2. Have you actually visited this property and walked on it? 3. Are you planning a vacation home or a permanent home? The single most important thing to know about purchasing mountain land and building a home is this: it WILL take more money and time than you think. Be ready to spend plenty of each. It's a great way to spend them, though. Good Luck, Huntsman -------------------- Being There - Don't try to do this long distance: be there in person as much as possible. Never, ever buy any piece of property that you have not seen and walked on repeatedly. The primary people that you want to talk before buying a lot include: - Neighbors. - The head of the homeowner's association (if there is one)*. - Local real estate agents. Visit several and pick their brains. - The owner of the property. Why are they selling? *Get a copy of the association's covenants, read them thoroughly, and share a copy with your lawyer. Is there an architectural control committee that has to approve your building plans? Do you know what the area is like throughout the year: spring, summer, fall, and winter? Take time to explore the surrounding areas and home developments. How does your area compare? Do the homes look nice? Are they well-maintained? If things look old and run-down, chances are no one likes to live there very much. What is the altitude? Does anyone in your family have health problems that might prevent then from being this high? Can you access the property year-round? It may be easy in July, but can you get to it in the middle of snowy February, or in wet and muddy May? What kind of main roads lead in to your property (dirt or paved)? Who plows these roads in the winter and repairs them in the spring/summer? -------------------- Long and Winding Roads - If you have not been in Colorado or any of the larger mountain states very much, daily travel becomes more of a concern because facilities are spread out more. Unless you're a crow, the geography may require you to take a long, roundabout path to your desired destination. In miles and/or time, how far away is your lot from grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and other shopping? It's hard to satisfy that Twinkie urge when it's a half-hour drive (one way) to the nearest store. One other word of advice about those long grocery runs: get a good insulated cooler. Ice cream melts, and you will spoil your dinner trying to eat it on the way home. Are schools necessary? How far away is the school and the nearest bus stop? We lived near one Colorado mountain town where it was 60 miles (one way) to the nearest schools. -------------------- Those Last Few Feet - A driveway is a small thing, easily taken for granted in the city, but it can be a major pain in the mountains. How long, steep, and wide will your driveway be? Can construction trucks (think cement) easily make it into (and out of) your building site? Will rain make your driveway too muddy and slippery in the spring and summer? Who will clear your driveway of those billions of beautiful little snowflakes in winter? Can sunshine melt snow off of your driveway easily, or will it be shaded by evergreen trees and turn into a skating rink? I used to love snowfalls until we got several of them in a single week. One back-saving construction note: make sure the roof lines on your house don't dump a load of snow in front of your garage doors, and try to lay out your driveway so it can be easily plowed. Put enough money in your building budget to pave your driveway. Concrete is harder, lasts longer, looks better, but is more expensive. Black asphalt is cheaper and melts snow faster. Both are easy to plow snow off of, although you do get better traction on gravel. In addition to its lower cost, another advantage to a gravel driveway is that it absorbs snow melt and rainfall. Runoff from long stretches of concrete or asphalt can cause erosion problems. -------------------- Doing It In The Dirt - How do you know that you can build a house on your lot without actually testing the soil? If there are homes on adjacent lots, chances are pretty good that your lot is buildable also. Local conditions over the span of a few acres or so usually do not vary that much. Talk to your neighbors, the building department, or local soil engineers. Rocks are generally a bigger problem, particularly on higher mountain slopes. I always had nightmares, never realized, about an "iceberg rock" right in the center of the spot we picked for the house. This appears to be a small rock on the surface, but it's really the upper tip of a house-sized boulder buried deep in the ground. Time for a suitable application of high explosive... Soil tests (for the foundation) and percolation tests (for the septic system) are required by the County and must be done before the house can be built, but there's little point in doing this before it's necessary. Let the general contractor for your house take care of these arrangements. -------------------- Building the Dream House - In my opinion, don't even think about building your house yourself, particularly if you want to stay married. There is no glory in concrete, shingles, or drywall, and you will not do as a good of a job as quickly as a professional builder. While driving around, you will see many Colorado mountain dreams that were started by homeowners with great enthusiasm, but remain unfinished after years of work, with many barefooted children running around. Save your marriage, your thumbs, and your back by making money at your regular job, then give that money to deserving local builders. You can still do the fun stuff: designing, planning, picking out fixtures, go-fering, etc. Find and hire a local builder to act as a general contractor and let keep herd on all of the sub-contractors. While planning your house and searching for a builder, look for homes in the area that appeal to you. Stop and talk to the owners: find out who put in their driveway, drilled their well, excavated their septic system, built their house, and so on. If you see a house under construction, and there are people working on it, stop and strike up a friendly conversation. You may end up meeting your future builder. Visit the County's building department, find out which inspector covers your area, and introduce yourself. Ask if they know of any particular problems in your area, or of any good builders. Get their business card and email address for future reference. Buy a copy of the local newspaper: most local builders will advertise in it. Order a copy of the local phone book (in Colorado, call QwestDex at 303-636-8000). When it come time to finance your home construction, try to do it through a local bank. They will probably know the builders and contractors you will be working with. Only use local builders and contractors that are familiar with the area. Get references and talk to their previous customers. In smaller mountain communities, builders may be jacks-of-all trades that do can several things for you. They will also know contractors (good and bad) that they have worked with in the past. Use a written building contract. Even if your builder doesn't use normally use one, insist upon it. Your lawyer can write up a straightforward one for you, and you might want to put in a cash incentive to get the builder to finish your house early. Find a builder that you are comfortable with and listen to their advice. Consider yourself married to them for the duration of the construction. Talk to them often. Review the work on your house during (and immediately after) every stage of construction: ask dumb questions of your builder at every opportunity. If at all possible, show up at the end of every day, just before the subcontractors go home. Let them know you're the owner. Stay out of their way, but poke around a bit and inspect things. Unless someone is about to about to drop a tree on your car, don't order subcontractors around while you're on site. Make a note of the problem and call your general contractor ASAP: it's his job to keep everyone in line. Be very familiar with your home plans and measurements, and carry a decent measuring tape. One day after the interior framers left, I checked the clearance between two bathroom stud walls and discovered that it was too narrow by about an inch. There was no way the bathtub would have fit, and no one would have noticed this until after the walls had been permanently set (and the plumber started roughing in). I called my general contractor, he spoke to the framers, and the problem was fixed the next day. In the Colorado mountains, summers are short (very beautiful, though) and winters are long, long, long. Most building occurs in warm weather between May and September, and local contractors are very busy with several projects during this time. Be patient: they will get your work done, but they do like to go home once in a while. There will be long pauses when nothing is being done on your house. Stay calm. Unless you have money to burn (or if you're a wealthy art collector, Monets to burn), don't do anything exotic when building your house. Stick to standard, time-tested building materials and techniques that local builders and contractors are familiar with. Use lights, plumbing fixtures, furnaces, water heaters, and other hardware that are locally available and easily serviced. Don't buy that great-looking European shower head from outer Elbonia: it will break and you will get shtinky waiting for a replacement. -------------------- Energy Slaves Are We - Is electrical power already in your area? How close is the nearest power pole to your lot? Are power lines underground? Find out where the rural electrical company is, visit their office and talk to them. If power is not close to your lot, it may take several months (and much money) to get it installed. You should do this before any construction starts on your home. Ditto for your phone line. Can you get a decent cell phone signal? Can you access the Internet easily/quickly on your land line? Talk to your neighbors. On more remote mountain lots, I have seen owners set up a sturdy, lockable garden shed containing a few tools, lawn chairs, a folding table, a phone, and an extension cord that can be run to the power pole. This works well as a temporary office before your house gets dried in. If you don't have city natural gas available for heating, you will need to use propane. Visit your local suppliers for price comparisons: the size of tank you need depends upon how many people will be in your house, and how long they will be there. In your house plans, be sure to locate the propane tank where it can be easily refilled. -------------------- Water, Water, Everywhere? - Talk to your neighbors about their wells. Ask for a drink so you can sample the water. Does their water flow at the same rate all year round? How hard/soft is it? Have they noticed any problems with drinking, bathing, or washing dishes/clothes? Local well drillers (check the phone book and county newspaper) should be able to tell you the average depth, flow rate, and cost per foot for wells in your area. Whatever they say, expect to go deeper and spend more: you won't know how much more until they actually hit water (see "Mr. Blandings" below). The driller may offer a complete well package including drilling, testing, and a pump, but you may have to get some of these items from other suppliers. When the time comes to actually drill the well on your lot, be there in person. Unless you strike oil, it's not very exciting, so bring lunch, cold drinks (no beers for the driller!), a book or two, and a lawn chair so you can sit in the shade. Local excavators will install your septic system. Talk to your neighbors and get their recommendations. The same guy will usually do your driveway and home excavation. -------------------- Shock Therapy - Be prepared. Remember that nice little meadow where you so carefully staked out your home site, the one with the long grass, nice little aspen trees, and lovely wild flowers? Well, it will look like a bunker-buster bomb has exploded a crater in the middle it after the excavator has finished digging your foundation. Fortunately, dirt can be pushed around and natural grasses come back the following spring. If your lot has trees (something you pay extra for on mountain lots), you will probably lose many of them in order to clear a space for your house. We took out about 30. It's impressive, but sad, to watch them being felled: I sure hope it doesn't hurt. If you can have campfires on your lot, save a few cut logs for seats and benches around the fire. For better fire safety, You should also talk to your local fire department for advice on thinning trees and brush around your house. It is amazing what an incredible mess home construction is. Electricians and drywallers are the worst. Keep a sturdy push broom, shovel, and trash can around and clean things up after the subcontractors have left. In a small but obvious way, this lets everyone know that you care about your house. It is also safer for all concerned, and makes the building inspector's job easier. Ask your general contractor to keep the lot picked up and as clean as possible: hopefully this message will get passed along to his subcontractors. -------------------- Emergencies - Bad things happen. Where is the nearest doctor, ambulance, sheriff, and fire department? What will you do until they can get your house? Our neighbors were out of state one night when they got a call (on their cell phone) from their security company. Their house alarm had gone off, possibly indicating a break-in. The neighbor called our county sheriff, then called and asked me to check their house out. I did so immediately, but a sheriff's deputy didn't get there for about a half-hour. At the time, we were the only two homes on the "block", and there are no street lights. Without moonlight (or starlight, if it's overcast) it gets DARK. Have several good, heavy flashlights around. To protect yourself or your family members , would you be willing to own (and to learn to properly use) a gun? Although most crime takes place in large metropolitan areas -- one reason why we all want to move away -- bad guys have cars and like a nice drive in the mountains, too. If there is a forest fire, as almost happened to us this June, can you evacuate quickly and easily? What are you willing to leave behind? Are you prepared for the increased possibility that your mountain home might burn to the ground? We are fortunate to have fire hydrants, but they would be of little help if the whole forest was on fire and coming over our ridge. I'll admit this threat took some of the romance out of our mountain retreat. No small risk remains: this continues to be the driest summer Colorado has had in many decades, and our surrounding Ponderosa Pine forest is tinder-dry. -------------------- Lions & Tigers & Bears - You will see many animals in the Colorado mountains, and perhaps some of them a little closer than you prefer. We live in a well-developed subdivision of wooded one acre lots, and we regularly see birds (over 40 species: hummingbirds are the best), chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, porcupines, many deer, some elk, and a few brown bears. The bear part is disturbing, though. Right now they are looking to fatten up before they hibernate in mid-October, and there is a lot of scrub oak (with acorns) in our area. Many residents, ourselves included, have feeders and water dishes out for birds and smaller animals, and these attract bears also. Only yesterday -- no kidding -- a young brown bear, looking for lunch, tried to come in through one of our open front windows. He had torn the screen halfway off when I heard the noise from a back room and came out to investigate. I yelled, he took off, and I called the Colorado Division of Wildlife. It turns out they received several other complaints about li'l Smokey and will try to trap him. Although they can move a pesky bear to another location, if it becomes too curious or aggressive doing what comes naturally, it will be killed. Just before we moved in, a mountain lion killed a deer and left the half-eaten carcass on an empty lot about a block away. Pet cats and dogs often disappear in our area, although I don't know of any attacks on children or adults. The possibility exists, however. A neighbor found a timber rattlesnake sunning itself in his driveway a few weeks ago. Until we all move off-planet, animal-human encounters, not all of them pleasant, will continue. -------------------- For More Information - If you need more answers, just post lots of new questions on Google Answers! ;-) You can also visit your local library and book store. The most practical book I have found about selecting land and building a house is: Your Engineered House by Rex Roberts M. Evans & Company, New York (1964, 1987) If you can't find it locally, search for it online at: ABEBooks Book Search http://dogbert.abebooks.com/abe/BookSearch To see what life is really like for home builders and contractors, read the Fine Homebuilding "Breaktime" discussion forums available on the following Web site: Taunton Forums Fine Homebuilding - Breaktime http://www.taunton.com/pages/forums.asp And for a few good laughs, rent or buy the 1948 movie, "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House", starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy (http://us.imdb.com/Title?0040613). It's the closest and most entertaining thing I've seen about building a country home. The 1986 film "The Money Pit", starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long (http://us.imdb.com/Title?0091541), makes a great second feature. Have fun!
Re: Buying land in the mountains
From: alienintelligence-ga on 16 Aug 2002 16:58 PDT
Thanks for the additions huntsman. That's what I meant by there is ALOT of information out there. It's rather hard to find a stopping point for its dissemination. -AI
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