Doing Homework on the Land

by generalmom

Land to build on comes in two forms: raw and subdivided. The difference on which one to buy rests on how much money you have and how long you want to wait to move into your new house. We have always gone with buying subdivided land and can’t imagine buying raw land. We investigated a parcel back in 2003 that had a house on it and we went to an attorney to see if we could subdivide it and sell a few acres off. We couldn’t. It was under a law in Illinois from 1974 that prohibited multiple subdivisions. Here in CA I think there is something similar called the Williamson Act. Anyway,you will hear people tell their long and expensive stories about improving their raw land to get it ready to build on. Here in California, that costs up to 100K and up to 6 years just to get it to the building permit stage.

So, we ended up finding 13 acres within a gated subdivision. It’s a lovely rolly neighborhood of 12 parcels with 6 houses built currently. So our research was essential before buying land. I went down to the County (city/ county planning offices) Planning Office to pull any and all archived files related to our new land address. The picture is the in the elevator of the county building office. I wanted to see all that developer went through and if there were any hidden issues.

I did find out that our subdivision is part of protected habitat(S). Yes, multiple habitats show up on the county GIS map, namely the Dudleya (a succulent plant), the Bay Checkerspot Butterfly and Oak Woodlands. So, more investigation if we will be impacted for our lot. There are hefty rules, regulations, mitigation measures and fees on encroaching these habitats by building near them. Two weeks went into this investigation. I called the County and talked to several planners that looked at maps, we read through files of homes built in the subdivision, pulled the archived subdivision files, spoke with program directors that over these species and finally concluded that we won’t be impacted. We will potentially need an Environmental Assessment but that could or could not be tripped when we submit for permits based on if we are disturbing/removing too many trees, dirt, and if our Civil Engineer can argue that the lot already underwent Environmental Assessment when it was subdivided. I hope we can squeak by on this since it could save us ($3134) just for the assessment fee plus the reports needed by a biologist and arborist ($3,000). This could also save us two months time which is like gold. As it stands our lot has to undergo a design review Tier 1 ($3516) which is for 5000 total square feet including garage. If you have 5001 square feet, then you have to do a Tier 2 Design Review (5K) or Tier 3 (7K) and do these crazy story poles to show what the house will look like on the land with these huge sticks and orange nets for everyone the get the “idea” of what it will be like. I think this is so crazy! I will post a picture of a house I saw being remodeled and made bigger with these story poles.

So doing homework on the land is essential to costs and surprises. I want no surprises on this project.