Post details: Buying Acreage


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Buying Acreage

Homesite buyers beware: When it comes to buying acreage, the ideal setting may be setting you up for financial problems.

Horror Stories

Breaking ground for a new home was a dream come true for a Kentucky landowner. The dream turned into a nightmare, though, when the topsoil turned into bedrock. Blasting away enough stone to make room for the foundation also blew a major hole in his building budget.

A Rochester, Minnesota, couple's home had reached the framing stage when the middle of the basement floor began to buckle and collapse. A hidden sinkhole was to blame.

Another Midwestern homeowner insisted on placing his half-million-dollar home on a sloping site to capture the view and work in a walk-out basement. Now, he has to find a way to repair the back of his house, currently a full foot lower than the front. An 8-inch crack runs along one side, and support columns have crumbled.

Add to this list the California hillside homes that have been washed off their perches, and sinkholes in Florida's sandy soil that swallow entire houses -- both almost annual disasters reported on the evening news. The real tragedy in all these stories is that these problems can often be anticipated or avoided with a little preparation.

Dig Up the Facts

Don't be overeager. Buying acreage is different than buying in a subdivision.

Problems begin to surface when overeager home shoppers assume that buying acreage differs little from buying a subdivision lot. City subdivisions are governed by municipal codes that often don't apply to rural areas.

Lots in subdivisions benefit from the research and scrutiny of road, sewer, and electrical contractors. To satisfy the bank's concern for its loan money and the city's concern for public safety, the developer and contractors must submit their property to a flurry of tests that ensure the land is suitable for houses.

Acreage sites don't offer such reassuring inspections, so pull your eyes away from the view and get to work discovering what's beneath the surface.

The soil and the environmental history of any tract of land can be difficult to uncover, but help is available. The range of resources is as diverse as the soil itself. Some of this information will apply to local geographic areas; some to your specific site. You'll need to know both because soil properties can change greatly within short distances. Some are seasonally wet, prone to flooding, or mask a high water table that would constantly channel water into a home's sump pump. Some are shallow to bedrock, or are too unstable to support building foundations or roads.

Clay-filled or wet soils are poorly-suited for septic tank absorption fields, and a high water table might bar basement or underground installations.

None of these problems is obvious to the untrained eye of the home buyer, and yet the first and easiest step is to inspect the site yourself. Walk the entire property when it's dry and again after hard rain to note how the land reacts. With personal observations in hand, tour the neighborhood. Explain that you're considering buying nearby and ask the neighbors if they can share with you any land or building problems common to the area.

"Never underestimate the information available from the neighbors," advises Kentucky architect Tom Wilmes. "People who have lived in the area for a long time tend to know about the problems."

Better Homes and Gardens



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