We just moved to 13 acres and I have to admit that I like it even more than I thought I would.
From the Suburbs to the Country
For the better part of 20 years, we lived in cul-de-sac on a 1/2 acre lot — the classic suburban experience. We raised 3 daughters, bought a dog, finished the basement and the third floor, and filled our garage with too much stuff to ever park a car in it. Our house was about 7 minutes from two grocery stores, 10 minutes from the schools, and 12 minutes to I95. In other words, it was a really easy place to live at a time in our lives when convenience mattered a great deal.
But as we are now transitioning to semi-empty nesters, we decided it was time for a change. We looked at the City and we looked at the country and and guess what? The country won.
So if you are thinking that a little more space is what you need, here are some things to think about.
‘Price per Acre’ doesn’t really matter: If you are a land developer, then price per acre matters greatly. Often times, land development contracts will be written such that the usable (or developable) acreage is what drives the price. It makes sense, as more useable land can yield more apartments, houses, retail square footage, etc.
But for a large lot that will only provide a setting for one house, the price per acre is far less meaningful. Don’t let a seller tell you that a 10 acre lot is twice as valuable as a 5 acre lot, when that’s not necessarily the case.
Shape matters, as does the building site: A 20 acre lot whose logical building setting is at the rear of the lot will have a huge driveway expense. Likewise, if the soil necessitates an alternative or special drain field, which then means placing the home in a less than perfect spot, the land is worth less.
Furthermore, a 10 acre parcel that is relatively square can feel far larger than a deeper and more narrow 20 acres. So make sure that you get a good study period to get your builder and/or architect to walk the property and do preliminary siting to get a sense of what the lot really provides and how much it will cost you to do what you want to do.
Contractually, you buy land differently: In most good land contracts, you should be conditioning for a drain field that will allow you to build the size home you want. The soil that comprises your lot will determine a) how large of a home (by bedroom count) your county will allow you to build and b) if you are required to use a conventional or ‘engineered’ septic system.
Land contracts will typically include language the allows the purchaser to ‘study’ the land for a period of time to vet the issues associated with undeveloped land.
And don’t accept old soil study paperwork. Regulations change.
You Finance Land differently, too: Unlike the typical home mortgage where you can get away with a very down payment and have about 20 different mortgage products to choose from, buying land is more cash intensive and the terms are not as friendly.
When you purchase land, you need to not only be thinking about how you plan on financing the lot, but how you plan on financing the construction of your home. The ‘construction-perm’ is generally the most common, but there are other ways, too. Just know that land is a little trickier and takes an experienced loan officer who understands the process.
Wooded or open?
Privacy? Sunsets? Vistas? Woods? You decide …
Open land can provide an amazing visual, but it also means someone has to take care of the open acreage. Private and densely wooded lots can provide a tremendous amount of privacy but they tend to block the sunsets and can be a nuisance during the inevitable hurricanes of the fall or the storms of the summer.
Think through what you really want.
There are a lot of other factors to consider — zoning (when raw land), neighborhood restrictions (when located in a large lot neighborhood), timber or farming values, wells, water treatment systems and generators, and of course, cable/intenet — so spend some time with a pen and paper, listing out what it is that you really want.
I think it is also important to note that each day, as one more parcel of land is sold, it pushes the next home that much further out. In the past several years, land prices have skyrocketed and finding quality pieces within a reasonable distance to the urban core has become increasingly difficult. If you find something that suits, you should move quickly.
But the value of leaving work, making a few minute longer drive, and turning your car into your long and rolling driveway, knowing that your place of peace is only movements away, is extremely powerful.
Available Building Lots
Curious as to what is available? Check out current lot inventory in City and surrounding counties of Richmond.
- City of Richmond
- Chesterfield County
- Goochland County
- Hanover County
- Herico County
- New Kent County
- Powhatan County