In the Spring of 2017, Kirk and I started looking for land to purchase, to farm on. At first we looked a town over, in a more agricultural area, but saw the future of the area. It was going to end up like the area we lived in: a vast wasteland of suburban homes, encroaching into the forests and farmland, till it hit the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, and couldn’t go any farther. The Seattle tech boom has changed the SE corner of King County in a brutal way. The nickname for it is “drive till you can afford it” in relation to those who work in the greater Seattle area, and want a large home with decent school districts, to raise a family in. You can buy a lot more if you are willing to drive into the city, and suffer the commute. The closer you get to the city, the pricier the homes.
When we had moved to the area, it was 2004, and the small town of Maple Valley, Washington was tucked into the corner. The recession tamped the growth that was coming, but as 2010 showed up, the change started. And it got bigger and bigger every year. Buy the end of 2016 we were tired of the congestion that had taken over the town. With us both working from home, we wanted out. Every spare bit of land had been built on, or was in the start of major developments. Our home backed up to a protected rail to trail, but across it suddenly a massive upscale apartment complex was going in. My views of the Cascade foothills were disappearing. The final day we were in the old house, this was the view. It left me a sadness in what was lost.
It wasn’t till early Fall 2017 that we got serious. Summer of 2017 we spent it noticing how the traffic was getting worse by the week. Noise was going up. The influx of new people into the town, they drove fast down the streets, without caring about the many children that played. The school district added two more elementary schools, and our children were bussed across town that fall. We knew we were done.
We looked across multiple states, and regions in our state. Kirk and I came up with a list of what we wanted, what was deal killers, and what our fantasy items were. We worked with multiple real estate agents, spending many weekends driving back and forth to look at homes, walk land and be utterly crushed each time. I learned to joke about it, to make it better. We’d name the houses/land and weave the awfulness of them into stories to share with friends.
Some of my favorites? We toured some odd ones, such as the Green Leprechaun Home. It was a cash sale only (which was a red flag). The house twisted and turned, weaving all over. In the center of the house, was a wall with a half-door in the middle of the wall. To get in, you needed a step-ladder, and there was a step ladder inside. In there was the well house, and a hundred wires hanging down. One part of the house, the oldest part, had ceiling tiles that were most likely asbestos.
This one, below, was a gorgeous house. It was a modern Victorian. However, it had an extremely dark pond. The interior of the house had Catholic items tucked into every corner. From prayers on paper, folded and tucked into cracks, to bloody Jesus’s hanging – I still have to ask why the agent didn’t tell them to remove at least half of it. I was set off by it badly. The fireplace held nearly a hundred rosaries alone. It mostly left me unsettled, and the dark pond didn’t help any.
The best horrible place was The Shagging Shack, Grandma and Grandpa’s retirement house, which had multiple wet bars, a sunken living room, and a sauna and hot tub that took up an entire room. This charmer was on the sauna door. I was howling in laughter. The place reeked of animal pee and the out buildings left me feeling like I had asthma for a day.
Tips and things we learned?
- Zillow and other similar sites, such as RedFin, will get you an idea of a potential area, but will not be the answer in the long run. Ironically, we have sold three homes ourselves over the years, but when it comes to land, a good agent is a huge help. You may go through a few agents to find one who knows rural property, and the fine points of water rights, land rights, allowable uses and if it can be built on.
- Get pre-approved for a loan, or have the capital to buy (land). That way, if in an area that is popular, you can bid quickly.
- If buying land, research how much it will cost, and the time factor for getting a well and septic put in. It is often cheaper to buy a run down house/mobile home that has existing services.
- Lay out your needs: Do you need access to a hospital? Fires station? Schools? Consider your access in bad weather or an emergency. We chose to live rural, but within 2 miles of an emergency station, which is staffed 24/7. We are 2 miles from a small town, for access to a grocery store, hardware store and a post office. Find out if you can get internet, if it is needed. We have had a huge issue with this at our new place, going around with Comcast and a potential cost of $10,000 to have it laid. DSL was available here, and while not supremely great, it works and is only $40 a month.
- If an agent says you have to sign a contract to be shown places? Go find someone else. Never feel bad if the agent is not right for you. It happens. Our final agent, in the place we bought, was a fill in for the agent we were recommend to use. That agent was out-of-town, and so she was offered as a fill in. She worked hard, and we loved her personality. Even when she had nothing new to offer, she would check in just to say hi.
- Show the agent what you are trying to find, even if it is photos, or similar listings of sold homes. Be very particular. If you want a solo well, solo septic field, 2+ acres, lay it out. You save yourself time and you’ll be happier.
- Walk the land. Look for invasive weeds, boggy areas and other issues. Our deal killer was thistles. They are very, very hard to remove, and tilling the land only spreads it.
- Take a shovel and dig into the ground and poke around. Take a sample, and have it tested, if concerned.
- See the land in off-season, particularly in the wet season.
- Read up on county, city and state rules/laws, especially if your land is raw. Be willing to spend the money on testing the water and other inspections. Getting a well or septic fixed is a lot of money.
- Know the homes, if there is one, are often older and the outbuildings may need a lot of repairs.
- And the hippy in me? Go sit or stand somewhere on the property and be silent. Just listen to nature. Does it feel inviting? Do you feel accepted? Feel the energy.