Evaluation and Buying Land

Buying Land for Your New Home


You've found the perfect house, but the land it sits on isn't quite what you have in mind. Or maybe you've seen a great piece of land, but the house doesn't fit your needs. If nothing really "clicks," it might be time to consider building a new home. Buying land may seem intimidating at first, but it really isn't difficult if you plan a course of action and stick to it. However, you should brace yourself for much personal involvement, and occasional hiccups in the process.

NOTE: Each county has their own permit/approval schedules. Contact me for the the specifics on your chosen location!


Talk with a loan officer to find out how much you can afford. Down-payments for land tend to be higher than home down-payments, and so do interest rates.

If you plan to build soon, the loan officer should explain construction loans, including the closing procedures you'll encounter while the house is being built.


Talk with area contractors to determine the average price you can expect to pay per square foot for the type of home you wish to build.

Include estimates for building a driveway or road to the homesite.

Don't forget estimates for well digging and septic installation if your home will not be connected to community water and sewer.

To find the maximum amount you can spend for land, deduct building costs from your total budget, then deduct a bit more for unexpected expenses.


If you've already looked at homes in the area, you may know where you want to build. List locations by order of preference. If you're undecided, become more familiar with the area by driving around, reading newspapers, and talking to locals.


Make a list of all features that would exist on the ideal piece of land. Review the list, highlighting your "must haves", such as a great view, privacy, pasture land for animals, irrigation needs, or a riverfront building site for boating and fishing access.


What's the minimum size lot or tract of land you are willing to consider? Keep in mind that a heavily wooded, 2-acre lot may be more private than a 5-acre lot that's all lawn. Also remember our Oregon land may be specially assessed for forest or farm use, and there may be tax consequences for changing the current land use. Tour a variety of areas, pay attention to the settings, and contact me for any possible special assessements involved.


How will you use the land? If you plan to build a duplex, or build mother-in-law quarters, you must choose a site where zoning or other restrictions allow multifamily, or additional dwellings to the primary residence. If you know you want a manufactured or modular home, consider only tracts of land where the specific structure is allowed.


Developments are governed by guidelines called restrictive covenants... or Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions (CC&R's). Home Owner Associations are a good example of this in planned developments.

If you're planning on keeping cattle or horses, domestic pets, or favor a particular architectural style, study the covenants carefully to determine if any restrict your plans. Make sure they are rules you can abide by.


Look for 'For Sale' signs as you browse the area. Search for properties on the Internet. (Or make it easy and enroll in the [Scouting Reports!]) If you see interesting tracts of land, note their exact location, and call me. I'll research the ownership, availability and documentation you'll need to make an informed decision prior to purchase.



Ask a builder to accompany you to your top choices, to offer advice about the best building sites, and to suggest home plans that will fit in with the topography. Additionally, contractors will need the zoning regulations to adhere to mandatory setbacks, building heights, etc. I keep many of these on file for Columbia County, and will get any not currently in my database needed as a back up.

Be sure to consider well and septic installation expenses for land without community water and sewer hookups. Make sure if the property has a shared well, and the well itself is located on an adjacent property, that there is a Shared Well Maintenance Agreement that insures you and heirs and/or assignees have access to the water in the future.

And don't forget to check availability of electric, gas, and telephone services. If there are no natural gas lines available to the area, as is common in our rural sections, you may need to plan for a propane tank gas source.

Drilling wells is rarely a problem, but cost is dependent upon how deep the driller must go. They charge by the foot.. at this time, approximate $20-25 per foot... for the drilling alone. Obviously, the deeper the well, the more expensive the process. We can get an approximate cost by researching other wells' depths for adjacent properties.

To learn more about wells, see my FABULOUS LINKS! Referral sections for wells, and go to the Oregon Water Resource Department links.

Another important factor to consider in the "Great Northwet"...the timing. As an example, Columbia County usually has a cut off date for when septics can be installed in the winter months, and excavation work and building can cost more due to the wet working conditions.

An easement is the right to use another person's land for a stated purpose. A simple example, utilities always have you grant an easement for repair and maintenance of the same.

Other things to research? Does another private individual or corporation have the right to use the selected property - such as a shared access road, or mining rights?

We'll find out before you make an offer by looking at the deeds for the property you are considering and for surrounding parcels.

Does the bank require a survey? Updates to existing surveys can often be used, and are less expensive than a brand new survey. Surveys can definitely be costly, and are most important for tracts of land that are not part of a development as plats for developed lots are typically on file at the courthouse.

If there's a question about the number of actual acres in your chosen property, your offer can be stated as "X dollars per acre as determined by a new survey", and state who will pay for that survey. Keep in mind, this method can work to the buyer OR seller's advantage, depending on how the acreage count turns out.

Locating the boundaries
Look for iron pins at the corners of property, or at any point where the property line makes a turn. You might find iron pins flush with the center of the road as well. More often than not, legal descriptions for raw land are "metes and bounds", with starting points relating to our Willamette Meridian, Townships and Ranges. If you're unfamiliar with this method of legal descriptions, it can all look like Greek! Surveyors use GPS to determine actual starting points if no iron pipe markers can be located.

In lieu of a formal survey, there are alternative methods for discerning approximate boundaries. In wooded areas, watch for 'cut-throughs,' pathways cut by surveyors when they marked a property line. Cut-throughs are often visible for many years.

Sometimes trees or bushes that border property lines are marked with brightly colored paint or plastic wrappers.

Last, we can determine approximate footage for length and width of a rectangular or square shaped plot. Often we will have creeks as a boundary as well. This is assuming we find a physical marker for the starting point for the legal description.

Road Maintenance
If the property is accessed from a private road, there should be a formal Road Maintenance Agreement, as well as a recorded easement on one of the involved properties. Some lenders will not lend without a recorded agreement that shows all owners have promised to help with road upkeep (CC&R's normally cover road maintenance issues).

Environmental Liabilities
If homes or other structures were on the land in the past, carefully read the owners property disclosure for information about buried items, such as oil or gas storage tanks. Their removal and cleanup can be expensive.

Return to my {FABULOUS LINKS!] page and look for the Heating Oil Tank links section under my Referrals. Many of the homepages for the service providers offer more details on underground storage tanks, DEQ regulations, and the owners' liabilities.

Before you make an offer, think about the "what ifs"... things that would make the property unusable for your purposes. Add these to the offer as contingencies, which means if they do not happen, the offer or contract is void. For example:

All offers for land without sewer hookups should be contingent on your ability to obtain permits for a septic system.

Or, if an architectural review committee of a Home Owners Association (HOA) must approve your home design, the offer should be contingent on obtaining that approval.

ANY offer should be contingent on obtaining the type of financing you desire. AND....

There must be a deeded right-of-way to the property.

Searching for land can be a fun adventure. If you look hard enough, you may find a perfect building site just waiting to be cleared from an overgrown jungle of brambles and weeds.


Terri Fiyalko, Realtor® - 503-810-3927
Oregon Rural Homes LLC

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