Sunday, October 9, 2022 / by Amy Brown
Finding land in the mountains:
1. Why is land in WNC so expensive? There are certain areas of the country where the cost of land is much higher. Here, the reason for that is the topography. Even though we have land available, a lot of that land is not suitable for practical use. The Blue Ridge Mountains are unlike other mountain ranges in the nation. They are packed tightly together with very few valleys and plateaus. This makes access, utilities, and building extremely difficult due to steep slopes and rocky soil. Also, the region has a steep slope and ridge protection ordinance prohibiting building in some areas to protect the mountain landscape.
2. Why are land parcels so small? Since we are an old city, the majority of usable tracts were bought up long ago and the tracts that are left are very small infill lots. Those infill lots sell for a premium price since we now have a scarcity of supply.
3. Why aren't city utilities readily available? Asheville itself was built on one of the few plateaus where the French Broad and Swannanoa Rivers meet. Utilities were planned for inside of this plateau area but are only just beginning to span out into more rural sections as technology improves. Therefore, you will see a lot of homes fairly close to the city limits that still have wells and septic systems. While these are not bad options, they make for a more expensive final build cost.
4. If I don't build in a subdivision, then I can do what I like, right? Unfortunately no. Other than local zoning laws, some parcels have restrictions that follow the deed. What that means is that somewhere in that parcel's history, an owner has placed a sale restriction that follows the deed in perpetuity. In order to get that restriction lifted, an attorney must find the original person who placed it, request that relief, and have a legal agreement signed and filed with the courts. If that person is deceased with no living heirs then that will make lifting restrictions almost impossible.
Checklist for securing the ideal parcel:
1. Location - Make sure that it is in your desired area but be flexible. The area that you love may not be conducive for building.
2. Topography - Have your realtor consult topographical maps and surveys to determine the degree of slope for road access and foundation type. Also, make sure that all or a portion of the land is not included in the region's steep slope or ridge protection ordinance.
3. Architectural type - Consult with your builder to see if the land is suitable for the type of home that you want to build and make sure that you discuss the costs associated with making that happen. A one story house on a ridge may be lovely for the view, but may not be possible and much more expensive to build than a 2-story home on a flat city parcel.
4. Infrastructure - Talk to your realtor about what utilities are available in that area. City utilities require a tap fee but digging a well and septic system will be much more costly and time consuming. Also, discuss the cost of the road or driveway. A driveway cut into a steep slope will require a more expensive building technique to prevent erosion and also may not be possible in the desired area of the land due to grade.
5. Communication services - Again, while the mountains may be beautiful, they make for spotty cell service. Not all areas have reliable cell service, even within the city limits. You will also want to check if that area has high speed internet if that is a requirement for you. Fiberoptic cable and internet services are not consistent throughout the city. Also, the farther out in rural areas that you go, your only choice may be satellite internet service.
Experts to consult:
Land sales requires a special set of skills. Not all realtors are well versed in the research required to locate a piece of land and determine whether that would be a good fit for their clients. Also, the realtor that you work with will need to have reputable contacts for you to consult throughout the due diligence process. They should be able to refer you to a builder, geotechnical engineer, surveyor, site grader, well/septic expert, and an architect. These relationships are formed through that agent's book of business and are invaluable to you in your process. Make sure that you interview your agent before signing a buyer's agency agreement to ensure that they are an expert in land allocation, have a proven track record, and the resources necessary to make the process happen in a comprehensive manner. Lack of understanding of the process, not knowing how to conduct the research, and not having a team of experts at the ready can cost you thousands of dollars in lost deposits, time, and frustration.
Call me if you have any questions about how to find the right land parcel. I am happy to help!