Just starting in Seattle area

nirohaFebruary 8, 2013

Hi all. I am new to all this, so be gentle.

The idea of building our own home is overwhelming. I'll start by explaining what we want, what I know, and what I don't know. I'm hoping you all can help fill in some of the gaps on stuff I don't know. Not knowing is what makes this prospect scary to me.

We're looking for 1-3 acres outside of Seattle. If anyone on here is in the King County area, we're looking east, towards Issaquah and Fall City. Needs to be at least partially level, or made partially level. Need approx 1 acre cleared, the remaining can stay naturally treed. Looking to build an approx 2500 SF home, 3 bed, 2 bath. Once we buy land, we don't plan on building for another 2 years after that, hopefully no more than 3 years later. I have a pretty good idea of what I want my house to look like.

What I know: I know we'll most likely be in a septic system and drilled well. I know electricity in the street is a must. Gas in the street is hit and miss depending on where we look. Land loans are tough to get, minimum 30% down, 50% better. Interest rates are higher, and water must be on the land or accessible some how. So if I need to drill a well, the purchase has to be contingent on getting the well drilled before loan is finalized. That sort of thing. I know perc tests are required for septic systems. I know custom built homes are more spendy than non-custom.

What I don't know: I feel like I am not sure how to connect the dots. If I put in an offer, I know the offer needs to be contingent on things. Water, perc/septic approval.... and? I know various permits (not exactly sure which permits are required) would be a good idea but I don't plan on building for 2 years after the land is bought. How long are permits good for? Should I still get these permits even if I am not going to build for several years later? Is King county going to give me any issues wanting to clear trees off the land?

I have spoken with a couple of builders about budgets to see what various budget levels get us.

I plan on heading over to Department of Permitting and Environmental Review in Snoqualmie on Wednesday to ask about a couple lots we are looking at. I really have no idea what to ask them except "Tell me what you know about these tax parcels"

If there is ANYTHING I am missing, please ask or tell me.

Thank you.

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Have you looked at King County Parcel Viewer web site? You can get most information on parcels there... So, that is one place I'd start. Also, do you have a real estate agent, who specializes in E King Co land, looking for you?

And, if you are looking E King, you are probably also going to be dealing a lot with the county, not necessarily a municipality--esp if you are expecting septic and not sewer. King Co permitting can take a long time--you have to do it mostly in person, and they are furloughed A LOT! It can be annoying (so I've heard). So, expect permitting to take a long while.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 1:30AM
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kirk, by King County Parcel Viewer, do you mean imap?

If so, then yes, I have been on there a lot. It has helped steer me clear of flood zones and heavily sloped lots. I've looked up the latest tax assessed value. Is there more that I am missing?

My realtor knows the area well, however they don't sell a lot of land. Most people want to buy ready-built houses, I suppose.

I've noticed land stays in the 'pending' stage or a long time compared to houses once someone makes an offer. I assume it is because of how long those permits take :(

Here is a link that might be useful: imap

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 1:38AM
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Is what I was thinking. Not sure if that is the same as iMap or not (I think not). You can type in an address, and then, be sure to open all the different tabs for things. Initially, you might think there isn't much info there, but if you look through all the tabs on a property and all the links they have in there, there can be quite a bit.

I think "property" takes a long time to go from pending to sold because people do their due diligence during that time. It isn't just permits (or rarely permits at all). We have acreage immediately behind us (3.5 ac) that was pending for over a year. The buyer was a developer and he was doing land surveys, tree assessments (we are in a tree-loving city on the eastside), soils analyses, etc and talking with the city and making sure the city would allow and accept his plan to put 18 houses on it, before he'd "buy" it. So, it was pending a long time. He now owns it. They haven't gotten their permit yet, but have gone through the public comment period, etc.

Yours would be different and I think land-buying in general is a different ball game around here. Which is why I suggest you might need to find someone who does more land sales...

Here is a link that might be useful: Parcelviewer

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 11:41AM
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About five years ago my parents bought a home in southeast King County - my dad needed a large shop built prior to moving, so he hired a very experienced builder who told him it would take about 1 year to get a permit. My dad decided to become a "squeaky wheel" and proceeded to call and visit the permitting office several times a week to see why it was taking so long to process the permit - he was able to get it in three months - his builder was amazed!

Hubby and I are planning a build up in Island County and we found permitting information through the county website - I'm guessing King County has the same thing. Up in Island County, if I remember correctly, a permit is good for two years and you can apply for an extension of another year if needed. They also had information as to the costs of permits and calculating permit costs. (Cutting down trees would require a clearing and grading permit.) While you would think the downturn in building would mean permits could go through faster, due to budget cutbacks they have cut office hours, so it still takes months to go through the process. We're fortunate we aren't in a hurry to build - we are learning we will need a lot of patience as we go through this journey! :-)

Take the time to educate yourself on wetlands and creeks (the county website should have resources with information regarding environmentally sensitive areas) and take the time to carefully walk the parcels you are considering looking for signs of these things. I've heard several stories of folks in the area who buy something that originally looked good on the county maps, but later the county comes in and "discovers" a new wetland. Our real estate agent shared the story of a couple who bought a parcel near Lake Sammamish that included building permits, but King County later revoked the permits due to newly discovered "wetlands". :-(

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 11:56AM
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I used to live in king co. and all the posters are very correct in their info! Personally, I don't think king co. is a real "build friendly" county and is just getting worse! The wetland and sensitive areas can really be concerning especially in the areas you want to build. Can you find a parcel that already has water? I would be very careful.
Good Luck!

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 12:39PM
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Incidentally, you might should find your builder, or interview a few, and have them help you find land... They know how to get it and the process.

For example, I know the developer who bought the land behind me offers spec homes (the 18 they are planning) but also building services for custom homes. Being that they are familiar with land sales, and are licensed REA, something like that might work to help you find your land. You could later decide to use them or not for your actual build.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 1:18PM
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Thank you everyone for your helpful information.

imap has been good for helping me see creeks, rivers, lakes, and flood zones. It has been hit and miss for wetlands. I found one 2 acre plot that was level and perfect. imap showed no wetlands but a survey on record showed it heavy with marked wetlands. I had a general contractor friend walk it with me and he didn't see anything particularly markedly wetlands-ish ... but it was more likely the last undeveloped lot in the area so they came down on it harder. Something about needing or wanting a certain % to remain wetlands? Either way, we left it behind.

I'd love to find a plot with water readily accessible but that brings the lot closer to Issaquah/Sammamish proper and that tends to push it beyond my price point. There is one lot that is coming on my radar with price drops that I *think* has water in the street. I have my realtor looking into it. A little more sloped than I'd prefer but not bad, and I think I can make it work. If it does indeed have water hook up available that will make it easier to get a loan on.

Speaking of loans, if you bought land in my area do you mind sharing who you got your land loan from?

Once I put in a bid, I'll make it contingent on perc testing for septic (if applicable), drilling well (if applicable)... if water/sewer is available I'll contact the city and find out costs for bringing the water/sewer to the house. Land survey, and of course I'll have it eval'ed for wetlands. Thanks for giving me the name of the permit for clearing trees (clearing and grading permit) - definitely will need that.

With building permits, can they be generic? Like a permit for a basic footprint of the number of beds/baths/SF? Or do they need specific plans to approve? If they don't need specific plans it may be a good idea to get the permits there and extend them as needed.

At least one builder has asked me to have them look at any prospective lots before we make a bid. I plan on chatting with 1 or two more builders in the near future.

Am I missing anything?

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 3:10PM
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I just have a couple of suggestions. I am in the process of getting permits to build our custom home in Sammamish. First, when we were looking for land, you MUST use a realtor who specializes in land. Regular real estate agents do not know where the land opportunities are. Second, when you find the land, you put your deposit down and have a feasibility period to determine whether you can build on that land and where the sensitive and wetlands and any other restrictions, costs or amendments the City or County requires. It's the piece of land that you choose that will drive these specifications. So, you have to find the land first. That is also why it's important to use a realtor who knows land because they can help with those things. They also know people at the City or County offices to get answers from regarding the low. Usually, if the land is already somewhere that has electricity and water, many of these reports have already been run by the owner to enhance the ability to sell the lot.

We hope to break ground sometime late next month.
Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 1:48PM
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We are building in Kitsap. We used Washington Federal and the process has been very smooth. Kitsap is not the same as King but we live in a very picky area and we were worried about permits as well and it take take twice as long as expected. Not sure if you have a builder, but ours has an office in Redmond I believe and they use a panelization system and we have loved the process so far. Our builder came out with us to our site multiple times with us, once before we closed on the lot. It was nice to have his input.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 3:17PM
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We submitted for our building permits in Rural King County in November of 2008 and they weren't approved until August of 2010... just to give you an example of the timeline to get building permits approved.

Also, we put our offer on the land in October 2006 and didn't close until July 2008... we just kept getting the feasability extended as we hit road block after roadblock (CAO, Wetlands studies that cut up 5.5 acres into a very small buidlign area, buffer averaging, winter water review for septic, class b well system approved, etc...) as we discovered these roadblocks, we got an extension on the feasibility sturdy and a price reduction from the seller since we were taking the risk on building. We ended up paying 17% less for a lot that what our original offer was. But we also paid for all those studies during feasabitliy which is why we felt warranted to offer less.

We pushed off picking up our permits from the County for 2 years (due to the economy, the county was willing to allow this). We paid for the permits in August 2012 (essentially staring the clock) and we have 3 years to finish building (paying for 2 permit extensions) until they expire. We're planning to break ground in June. It's been a fun but sometimes stressful experience and I wish you the best of luck.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 4:54PM
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We just closed on a lot in King County. We used a fabulous realtor who not only does raw land deals but also does some development on the side. If you would like her name I would be happy to pass the info onto you. We did have to extend our feasibility like a previous poster but only for a total of 4 months. Permits can be obtained in 3-4 months easy right now if you have all your ducks in a row and clean, possible less time than that.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 10:04PM
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