The most time consuming step that I had was identifying land. And it wasn’t just as simple as throwing a bunch of information into Redfin, and seeing what I liked. There was quite a few learning elements along the way.
Drawing up my requirements was pretty simple, but finding land to suit wasn’t.
- Two hours(-ish) from Washington DC
- Under $50k
- At least 7 acres
- Ability to work the land the way I want
- Ability to setup a small retreat for myself and friends
- Ability to get to the land
There are a few bits of jargon I had to figure out along the way “Bring your four wheeler”: road is completely broken. “Access is along the river!”: You will be fording a river Oregon Trail style. “Rustic cabin”: You may need to demolish this cause we don’t have time. “The center of it all!”: Road signs point to everywhere you aren’t.
There were three primary challenges to my goals:
- The land being too mountainous or rough to be able to work
- Inability to get to the land because the roads were too poor
- Property Owners Associations (POAs) – these are similar to home owners associations.
Unfortunately, 1&2 were really difficult to work with. The only way to find out if they were a problem was to drive out there and check out the land. I probably put in a couple thousand miles (literally) going back and forth to West Virginia to check out various properties at a time. Many times I would find the land to be built directly up against the mountain and at too steep of angles to be able to work with. Other times, I could only drive so far until the road broke down because it was completely rutted out and required 4WD access and high clearance to get to the top. In fact, it was this second reason why I almost didn’t buy the land that I did as it was an extreme challenge to get my station wagon to the top.
However, I was able to get rid of a large number of properties with POAs and keep the distance to two hours from DC using filters in Redfin. Redfin was one of the very few tools that allowed me to draw out a map of an area where I was searching. Additionally, I was able to filter out HOAs and POAs pretty quickly as well. Here are a few of my filters:
These filters took me from several hundred properties to look at, down to a much more manageable few to look at.. in this screen shot its down to forty two properties.
If you look at the hearts and Xs, well, those are properties I was specifically looking at and disqualifying. One of the nicest properties I looked at got disqualified because the neighbors kept a significant number of roosters. So, it didn’t make the grade as a retreat. X it got. Some of the hearts I really liked the property, but it just didn’t work out or they were kept as backup properties.
All in all, I spent eight months evaluating the market, looking at land, determining value, and finally getting serious on three different properties.
The first one fell through because a real estate agent wasn’t knowledgeable about writing contingencies. You would think this would be a thing they would know, but yet there I was trying to explain how to write a contingency, and beyond that… how to use Microsoft Word. The contingency had to do with a defunct POA. So get this… if you want to buy land, that has a POA, that POA exists until it formally folds. In my case, there was a piece of land that I really liked, and had formal rules in the POA. However, the POA had gone bankrupt, but it was never dissolved. One of the rules in the defunct POA was that they stated that the minimum house size had to be 750 sq foot… that is larger than a cabin or yurt that I wanted in my mind. So I wanted a contingency written that the owner try and get the POA rule changed. But how do you get a POA changed when there is no POA in existence. Yea… challenging. The owners finally just gave up, and even pulled the property off the market.
Another piece of property was something that was not quite as nice, but had beautiful views and I know I could make it work. Plus, the road access was pretty incredible. However, to avoid the issue with the previous real estate agent, I wrote my own letter of intent. Unfortunately, the other party was somewhat irrational. The other party decided to redraw the property lines, but not pay for a survey to determine how much land was being removed. Additionally, they were unwilling to remove certain “significant clutter” from the property because they were active duty deployed in the military. While I understand and respect that, they also felt that it was unreasonable for me to ask for a lower price so that I could handle the removal. Finally, I got this from their real estate agent. ““The seller called me to say the buyer would have to make a more reasonable offer.” I finally gave up on this land.
On another trip out to West Virginia to look at another piece of property, I finally decided to look at the property I did buy. It was a total whim to add it on to the trip, but made all the trouble worth the effort. The land had the beautiful scenes I was looking for, poor (but doable) road access, a mixture of pasture and deeply wooded land. The only thing that the land did not have was water access, but that would be mitigated by water hauling in the short term, and building a water catchment system in the long term.
Additionally, I was incredibly impressed with the responsiveness and professionalism of seller’s real estate agent. Barbara (Barb) Swick, of Classic Properties is extremely knowledgeable about the land, area, and the legal intricacies of buying West Virginian land. I am traditionally very opposed to dual agency deals, but she was incredibly fair, maintained my interests and the seller’s interests, and really brought the deal together quickly. 10/10, would work with again.
I apologize in advance. I have been on the road extensively, and working on the land quite a bit lately. This post feels a bit rambling, but its going up as is as I haven’t got an update up in a while. More to come as things slow down.
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