How to proceed

aj33May 13, 2011

Hi All,

Soliciting suggestions to resolve a situation I am in. We are in the process of buying 10 acres of land (9 acres is wetlands) in NJ.

In 2001 there was a 20 acre parcel which the owner subdivided and subdivision was approved by the township. It allows for two homes on each of 10 acres. First 10 acre parcel was sold in 2006 (owner bought it outright, without waiting for any permits and was able to build a house in 2008).

We signed a contract (last week) contingent upon getting the building permit. When I talked to the Architect - He mentioned it could take up to 6 months to get the permit. He does know the town well as well has experience building near wetlands.

Steps involved according to him:

Draw house plans - up to 2 months

Surveys, Plot plans and such - couple of weeks.

Then start applying for various govt permissions like DEP, soil disturbance and a couple more that I don't recall.

My Lawyer conveyed this to the seller yesterday and seller refuses to give more than 30 days for everything.

I am sure there are things that can be done on my end to shrink the "up to 6 months" interval but no chance of shrinking it to 30 days.

Any thoughts/comments as to my options besides walking away from the deal. Of course, I could also buy it outright and take the risk but both my Architect and the Engineer strongly recommend that I should wait for the permit. These are the same two guys who built the neighboring home.

Thank you so much in advance for your comments.


Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I would definitely not buy the land until I was CERTAIN you can build on it. If you can't put your house on it, the land is worthless to you, and then you could have trouble selling the land to someone else. Land is often sold with contingencies like this, and can even take a year before the time is up. If the land owner refuses to allow longer than 30 days, it could mean that he is attempting to pull a fast one, and if so, yes you should walk away. I would have no idea how to word your contract or how much time would be fair - that is up to a real estate attorney experienced with land development.

One thing I could say in the land owner's defense - your house plans taking 2 months should not factor into deciding whether or not a house can be built. You ought to be able to find out what the largest size house would legally be allowed, and exactly where on the parcel you would be allowed to place the house.

You need to keep talking to the local people who really know all the rules and regulations. This could get messy - I don't know how much help you can really get here.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 2:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks cas66ragtop. That all was decided as part of subdivision in 2001. Subdivision permission granted by township allows for up to 4000 sq ft house - one structure. There is a survey and engineering maps submitted to the township (I spent couple of hours yesterday in the township reading through the whole file) that shows the location of house on the property.

This however, does not guarantee that I will get building permit because there are several other agencies involved...

BTW, I am building a much smaller house.

Being so close to wetlands, engineer and Architect seem to think that there could be issues getting ALL the permissions that are necessary.

I agree with you that I could be left owning the land... without being able to build.

Thanks for your comments.


    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 2:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

you should know all the rules and whether your expected house meets these rules. Seller should not be stuck waiting for you get go through all the hoops to get a permit. I built a custom home on a wetland and also had many, many different agencies that had to approve, and various setbakcs, rules had to be met. But I researched all these rules prior to buying the land. Then bought the land outright and after the purchase, went through the permitting. This is how it is done all around me - seller does not get stuck owning while all this stuff is going on.

sounds like you don't know all the rules/stipulations and will submit and wait for the agencies to give you corrections/suggestions. Your probably don't even know all the agencies. This can be tough, as there can be local, state, federal, etc. If you submit for permits before you know all the rules, then if you are wrong on something, you must then tweak your plans to meet the rules. This slows everything down and the seller should not be stuck in wait mode while all this goes on.

you have some homework to do.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 7:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I was thinking what Sweet tea said. You should find out what the rules and regulations are. I don't know if I'd wait that long for you to get permits if I was the seller. I guess it would depend on how hard it would be to sell land that's designated wetlands.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2011 at 12:23AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Could you offer to keep the contingency but allow the owner to keep the land on the market while you work through the permitting process?

    Bookmark   May 14, 2011 at 9:32AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Since it's NJ I'd walk away. Listen to your professionals. If they say have the permits first then follow their advice. If the seller won't wait fine let him sell it to someone else.NJ is flaky when it comes to permits and such especially when wetlands are involved.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2011 at 1:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

are you going with a builder? they often know the rules. the architect and engineer will just do their roles, but not act as teh builder, correct? fyi it can take longer than 2 months to customer design/agree upon every detail, for a new custom home plans. Unless you know exactly what you want down to every detail and then they just draw it up.

Find out who you submit the plans to for permitting. go there and ask lots of questions. find out the flow of which agencies get the plans and also have rules that need to be me. see if you can find out each of their rules plus their contact person (to ask about rules). often the city or county gets the plans then sends a copy to DEP, etc for their role. but county might have check list of all agencies that do what. A builder that handles custom homes usually knows these steps. all you really need to know is whether the lot will allow a house like you want and in general area of where you want, right?
find out if septic required, or sewer in area. do you meet requirements for connection to sewer or insall of septic. there likley is setback of septic to wetland and same setback of home to wetland. plus maybe flood insurance and FEMA rules for building in a flood zone and elevatoion requiremetns of the home. this is so much different than buying a standard lot/home in a typical subdivision. but well worth it in the end once you move in.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2011 at 4:08PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for the (very) useful comments.
Sweet_tea - you are right about my lack of knowledge. I do have an architect who knows these things well and willing to take care of the permissions. My understanding so far has been that it is virtually impossible to get permission to build "on" wetland. You seem to suggest that you were able to do it. The property I am considering has about 10% area that is not wetland and the hope is to be able to build on that part. This property is attractive to me because of low taxation - there is no sewage, water or gas.

There is a survey that is available that was done as part of the subdivision process which shows location of house, septic and well. I hired the same engineering company that did the subdivision.

BTW, this is a good site if you want to get the real deal on wetlands or any other geological information about your property. (I am sure similar sites exist for other states)

Thanks again for your help.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 12:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

OK, you say there's no sewer water or gas. And there's only a acre of non-wetland area. That may be where your problems arise: getting sufficient separation between your well and septic system. Here in NY it requires a minimum of 150 feet, more if terrain puts the well below the septic in elevation. There are engineering "fixes" to some of these separation concerns but they can cost $$$$$. Plus you need room for a driveway and building foot print, etc. Unless your subdivision approval included an approved site plan, with building and utility envelope already worked out, you're starting from scratch.

The seller may not like it, but any buyer with half a brain will want the same time frame in order to make sure the site is workable. Wetlands also often change (move, increase or decrease in size) over time. What may have been possible in 2001 may not be now. Your seller is the one with problem, don't make it yours unless you've had up-to-date review and permitting.


    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 1:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

basically you either have a bargin or an overpriced mess on your hands.

Unless you have "standard" property, I would think it would be difficult to get a piece of property sold at market rate for a buildable lot without being somewhere in the permitting process when sold. I don't know details

I do know I was at one point looking for land to buy to build something, and basically all the lots where the houses abutted water, there was pelenty of notation in the listing that "lot has approval for building 2400sqft colonial" vs ones on standard lots which may or may not have notated such.

you may have a reasonably priced buildable lot, or an expensive campsite.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 6:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

NJDEP is notorious for taking forever to approve or disapprove of anything. They are understaffed, and have been a revolving door with all of the budget cuts.

In addition, you will also have stormwater management to consider, as the rules changed in 2003 for construction on property that is one acre or larger. As the stormwater plan was designed for the subdivision prior to 2003, chances are it is not grandfathered in, and you may have to foot the bill for a whole new plan which is very costly.

Realize that the stormwater management rules require the amount of run off to not exceed what currently runs off now....the answer of which is derived from very simplex engineering calculations which usually requires an licensed P.E. who specializes in this area. Kaching, kaching.
And, as you are adjacent to wetlands, this could get even more complex.

IMO, the costs you will most assuredly incur to get this house built with NJDEP, wetlands, etc involved will probably exceed what you could buy a newly constructed home for on the same size lot or larger.

Also, realize that you will probably have to test for two perc fields for septic, as a back up in case the first field fails.
Last but not least, NJDEP may require an alternate type of septic system (mound, etc) due to the wetland issue.

You really have a tremendous amount of research to perform beofre you can make an educated decision.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 7:45PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Depending on state laws/rules there may be setback rules from the actual wetlands.

In some cases this can make a parcel essentially unbuildable.

Rules and regulations change, so previous approvals may not indicate if an approval can even be obtained.

You should be very careful since if the parcel is not usable the last owner is left holding the bag (and owing the money).

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 10:08AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

my property was not all wetland - just portions. there was enough room to build the home in non-wetland areas. there were rules about how far the home and also septic could be from the wetland. these are called setbacks.

then there is the flood insurance issue - need to make sure you build in a location and at such a elevation to minimize your risk of any flood and minimize the cost of flood insurance. you can check with a local insurance agent beforehand (now) and they have FEMA maps that show the flood designation on your property and this can help you know what is required for flood insurnce and minimum elevation of the home. Some properties have more than one flood designation on it and yours likely has more than one. don't let this scare you flood insurance is around $250/year.

being that you have 1 acre of non wetland, chances are very high that you can build what you want and easily have room for home/driveway/septic/water, etc.

IMO, your property sounds like a slice of paradise. Pls don't get discouraged. It is not easy in the front end, but living on such a special property is awesome to the nth degree.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 11:20AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
pros/cons of first floor master
I've looked at several newish (1990s or newer) homes...
After months of preparation, house is now listed
This is such a big deal for us, we have been planning...
Did you change the locks out when moving into new home?
Did you change the locks on the exterior doors or have...
Home Buyers Please Vote: Would you rather ...
1. A $2,000 kitchen appliance allowance or any stainless...
Would you buy a home near fire station??
We're considering an offer on a single-family home...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™