Buying land - more issues than it's worth??

cricket5050December 29, 2013

We are looking at 10 acres of raw land to purchase that is mostly 70 % wooded with a creek at the bottom of the property.

So many small issues have cropped up and I wonder if buying this property and building would be a money pit.

A soil analysis, survey, cutting and removal of trees, putting in a gravel driveway, getting an electrical pole and
wiring to the house, septic tank and a well installed.

Now a local guy told me higher on the mountain of this property the houses have issues with sulfur in the well water. That rotten egg smell.

We wanted to build a small (500 sq ft) cabin near the creek until we retire to build the main house. This smaller cabin could be used when guests visit. A friend in the surrounding area who remodels gave us a ball park of 150-170 a square foot to build this tiny tiny cabin. Yikes!

Anybody have some good advice?

This is a beautiful piece of land surrounded by trees and a creek.

This post was edited by cricket49 on Sun, Dec 29, 13 at 9:37

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Are those the only two issues? I think the sulphur can be easily filtered - just something to deal with like some of us have to deal with hard water. As for a cabin, what do you have in mind - all the amenities of home with running water, electricity? If so I would nt be surprised if the costs were comparable to building a real house - or even higher per sq foot because you don't have economy of scale that you would have with larger house. What about an Amish built cabin that you would move there?

    Bookmark   December 29, 2013 at 10:43AM
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Filtering sulphur is possible, but it can get pricey when you filter all the water used in the house, not just the potable water at the taps.

And unless you DO filter it all, every time the toilet flushes, run the washing machine or you take a shower the sulphur smell is spread throughout the home. It's a problem in my area with drilled-well water. Thankfully I have spring water (though that has its own issues, but at least it smells fine.)

My neighbors who have sulphur have gotten used to the stink of it, but when I walk into their homes during the winter when they are all closed up I find the smell really objectionable. I nearly didn't look at this farm because the water in this area has a reputation for sulphur, something I wouldn't ever want to live with. It was the first question I asked the previous owner, before any other detail about the property.

I'd price and factor in the cost of filtering all your water, in case it becomes necessary.

Also a cabin by the creek may have flooding issues, particularly in a mountainous area where where storn run-off can get bottled up by terrain, so be sure to check the Federal Flood Maps. In addition, if the cabin is below the place where you'd site the house you may need to pump the septic discharge up if you wanted to use a common system.

My Mother built a house above a a lovely stream (about 675 away from it.) She picked a place that had a slight bench in the slope and placed the house as far back from the edge as possible. The result was that she could sit on the terrace on the stream side of her house and look down at it, but people using the little stream for white water rafting or fishing couldn't see anything except the roof of the house because the shoulder of the bench blocked their view. Her house was in deep connection to the stream, it pervaded the whole experience of the house, but it was still very private and very safe from flooding.


    Bookmark   December 29, 2013 at 7:09PM
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Sophie Wheeler

If it's too steep for your budget then give it a pass. just be aware that an already developed property will be even more expensive. You may want to rethink the location and go for something more remote and cheaper.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2013 at 7:25PM
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How far is the electricity you need to run? Are you in an area that is controlled by codes? Snow zone? Earthquake? Just curious. Close to shopping/medical especially when you retire.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2013 at 9:55PM
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check out the price for a reverse osmosis (RO) system as that is most likely what you will need if sulfur in the water

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 1:10AM
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Thanks for all the suggestions. I will try to answer all the questions.

Amish houses seem reasonable if we did not want electricity, water, air etc. By the time we added air conditioning, heat and plumbing the savings would not be much. Also, delivering an already built building to the home site is questionable. Many of their sites state they will
only unload the house on a paved road.

It is not in the flood zone but that means nothing when you are near a stream or creek. We would not have a mortgage so that would be the only person requiring flood insurance. We walked the land around Christmas when the area had 2 days of rain. The streams driving to the property were rushing from mountain run off. The creek on this property had 1-2 feet of water running through it.

We could get a filter system for the entire house but again that is another expense. Also, when you have never had a well, you tend to view the issues differently than someone who has lived with a well all their lives.

We are in an area controlled by zoning and building codes. The electricity is on the road where 3 other houses are located. The electric company gave me a breakdown and it is only an estimate. From 2,000 - 4,000.

To compare to existing homes in the area, this property with a 500 sq. foot home would cost about 10,000 less than
a 2000 sq. foot home on 1/2 - 1 acre of land.

Logic tells us to buy an existing house but this is the type of property we have always been drawn to. Very very secluded, lots of trees and then a running creek.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 11:48AM
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You have to really want to do it. And to be able to afford it. And every single thing will cost more than you think. We bought property 20 years ago and have done "pay as you go." We had funds to clear the logs from trees that had been toppled in a recent storm, and to put in a driveway that was fine for years with just our traffic on it. (It got trashed later during construction with all the heavy trucks, but that's another story. And another bill.) We had the power put in because it had to be underground and we didn't want to tear up the driveway later.

We saved money for a well and septic and put those in while we camped on it in a relative's travel trailer and build a mini-cabin (electricity, no indoor plumbing.) We hauled our drinking water for weekend visits because of the same hydrogen sulfide water issue.

We built a toolshed that now houses our whole house water system. (It's not RO, but it does have several components and it wasn't cheap.) We had a garage/shop built a few years ago and are just now building our retirement house. If you'd told us 20 years ago that it would take this long and cost this much, we might have run screaming, but on the other hand, I don't have any regrets, either!

It probably isn't the "logical" thing to do, but only you can decide how much that matters. It is fun to have a dream that you work on together over years, but you've got to enjoy the process, not focus on the product. Good luck!

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 8:46PM
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If $10,000 is the amount that is making or beaking your decision, then do not purchase the property. Most home builds go over budget by about 3% - 5%. If $10,000 is your cushion, then do not do it. That is just cutting it too close.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 9:06AM
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It sounds like your situation is very similar to mine, however, you had 20 years to go through your adventure. lol

If we had found this place 20 years ago, we would have jumped on it and done the same thing you did. We only have 2-4 years from retirement and with age brings wisdom and logic due to past experiences (mistakes). I appreciate all the small details you provided which will give me more to think about when evaluating the property.

Congrats on building your retirement home now!!!


10,000 is not a cushion, it was just a comparison from living in 500 sq. foot cabin or 2,000 sq foot home. Very similar in price once we have all the utilities brought to the property, water, sewer etc. From what I understand, most people in the rural areas are use to these start up costs and are not included in the price of the home.

This post was edited by cricket49 on Tue, Dec 31, 13 at 11:21

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 11:19AM
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Kathy Harrington

We are doing something similar, but without the small cabin first. We got the land for a song, and we recently blasted, excavated, ran utilities from the street and put in a temporary driveway. We have a water tap and community sewer. All of those costs ended up being almost double what we estimated. We knew this before we started and hesitated, but went ahead because the land is exquisite and we are finally in a place where we can afford the money and time to build our dream place. So, in the end, the lot ended up costing what it should have when you add all the infrastructure in. My point after all this rambling... only you can decide if this lot is worth it, but rest assured everything will cost more than you think.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 3:28PM
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Not sure if it's practical for this property but you might be able to size and situate the wells, electric, and septics to handle the small cabin now and then be used for the main house later. Would still have to deal with the sulfer in two locations but might save a considerable amount of money. May not be doable depending on your plans.

Until the well is drilled, you may not know what you're getting in to. As an example, our well is spring water with a very low flow (5 gallons per minute) but on the adjoining properties (2 wells), they get over 30 GPM but the water is very hard and full of sulfer so had to be treated. We also had to drill much deeper.

I didn't see where you are located but the cabin pricing sounds high- here in West Virginia it was closer to $80-100 but you might be able to take on some work yourselves in a small place like that and save money. Having a hard time figuring out how a 500 sq. ft. cabin on a concrete block foundation as an example could end up costing $150 per sq. ft.

Buying an existing property will most likely be cheaper but if this property is the one you want, that has to be a consideration. We paid a premium for being where we wanted to be and for being able to make our own build decisions.

BTW, is the creek a year round creek? We have some really nice flowing water for a few months of the year but it is seasonal. With only a foot or two of water in the rainy season, the creeks may be very small in the middle of the summer, just a caution. May not be an issue but if you're buying the lot partly for the water, you'll want to make sure it's there all the time.

I think it would be worthwhile to get some additional estimates in the area you're considering related to the well/water treatment costs and building a small house. Have you talked with the potential neighbors about the water and their wells?

Like others have said, only you can decide but it's worth the effort to spend the time up front on research especially if you are looking at only 2-4 years to get everything fully developed.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 7:27AM
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The land is located in the Smoky mountains in Tennessee.

We have already decided to use a shared well and septic if possible for both houses . I spoke to the well driller last week who drilled the wells in the area. He said our well won't be that deep (about 400 feet) and will cost around 10,000. He also said most of the sulfur issues he encountered are higher up the mountains. He said if a filtration system is needed, it will cost around 1,000-2,000.

There are only 2 neighbors on the road and one owner lives out of town and the other one was not there when we went by.

The creek is a year round running creek with a small amount of water flowing during the drier season. This is fine for us since we know the creeks may swell and rush after many days of rain in the mountains.

The cost of the cabin is way off at 185/sq foot. A friend gave us this estimate and he was wrong. I spoke to a builder who said it is around 100-115. He said 115 would be high end appliances, hardwood flooring etc. The cabin will be less since we are looking for simple and rustic interior.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 8:35AM
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Cricket49, sounds a bit better! Would think you could do a rustic cabin even with a split element heating/cooling system at a pretty decent price. Neighbors sound like where we are, we're at the end of the road on 63 acres and pass 2 houses on the way here from the paved road- they're the houses with the well issues.

Best of luck if you go ahead.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 1:40PM
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