Saturday, December 19, 2015

Nimo's Future Home, part 2

So about those three pieces of property.  One was only 4 acres and it was a very narrow lot.  While not necessarily an issue for me, in terms of what the county will allow for building, it wouldn't work.  Because, you see, the county in its infinite wisdom allows lots to be divided any which way, but it only allows you to build things like chicken coops and barns when you have at least 100 feet from any and all property boundaries (even if the property and surrounding lots are all zoned for agriculture).  That means that in addition to a host of other regulations regarding having livestock, a potential property must be at least 200+ feet wide and 200+ feet long or there is no place to put an approved barn.  So the first lot was out of the running.

The second lot was advertised as 8 acres.  That was not precisely true.  It was actually 3 lots being packaged for one sale.  Why is that an issue, you ask?  Well, because the three lots didn't actually connect to each other.  One of the three lots was about 3.5 acres, another lot was about 3.5 acres ACROSS THE ROAD, and the other lot was the narrowest and longest approximately one-acre lot in existence on the other side of the neighbor's lot.  The reason they were packaged as one sale was likely because despite frequent soil testing of every available inch on those lots, the seller could not find a place that passed a perc test.  (A perc test is a test of how quickly water drains, or percolates, through the soil.  If the water drains too quickly or too slowly, the soil is considered inappropriate for a conventional septic system, although much more expensive alternatives may be approved.)  While I didn't really care about the perc test issues, I did care about the disconnect between the lots.  I doubted the county would let me build a barn on one lot and then walk my horses across the street to move them to a new pasture.  So the second lot was out of the running.

Then I saw the information on the third lot.  It was beautiful!  It was a nice, rectangular-shaped lot of 5 acres that had enough width to allow a horse barn to be built, it was in the right area of the county to be close enough for me to get to every day, there were no power lines or gas lines going through it, the land wasn't part of a conservation district or considered sensitive and protected.  And the price was so perfect.  The only thing wrong with it was that I would have to fly a helicopter over it and parachute out to get to it.  It was what is called "landlocked" in real estate parlance.  That means it has no access to a public road or right of way.  Hence the steal of a price.  But surely the county wouldn't allow such a property to be created, you say.  I mean, the county has well over a hundred pages of regulations, including several pages solely devoted to the placement and use of signs, so why would it allow someone to create not one, but eight lots that have no access?

This is a very legitimate point.  And yet, that is precisely what happened.  And there is a very special procedure that can be used to deal with such a situation.  It is called a lawsuit for quiet title.  Essentially, the landowner must sue for access to the property.  At the time, I didn't know too much about how it worked, but I got estimates from attorneys in the $50-100,000 range for the cost of the lawsuit.  I think those were not all legal fees, but also funds to compensate neighbors for granting a right of way, which of course was not guaranteed to be the easiest and cheapest way to get to the property.  In fact, as I discovered when I made a call to the Zoning Office, there was a partial right of way linking those 8 landlocked properties.  The problem was that according to county records, the right of way disappeared into nothing on both ends.  The zoning official I talked to speculated that perhaps there was a very old right of way (meaning as old as the 16 or 1700s) that just hadn't been input into the electronic record system.  But if that were true, why wouldn't the seller know about it?

Yet, this property was my very best option for purchasing land.  So, I worked on getting some more information, and I discovered that the county had an online mapping system so I could view some public records about the land as well as any other lot that I could navigate to in the system or whose tax id number I knew.  While I was looking at that system, I realized that there were 3 one-acre lots that adjoined both my target property and a road.  It occurred to me that we might be able to buy one of those one-acre lots and use it to access our 5-acre lot.  But somebody must have already thought of that, right?  I mean, it took me all of an hour to figure it out, so there must be people out there smarter than me who already tried and failed.  But, it wouldn't hurt to try, right?

So, we made an offer on the 5-acre lot, contingent on a 60-day study period.  Those 60 days would give us time to contact the neighboring owners of the one-acre lots to see if anyone was interested in selling and it would allow us time to do a title search to make sure the title was clean as well as do a survey to make sure the property was more or less the way it was represented on the tax map (which is not considered as accurate as an on-the-ground, current survey).  And then we waited, and we waited, and we waited.

After over a week, I contacted my real estate agent to see if we needed to officially withdraw the offer.  I didn't have a lot of experience with buying real estate, but I think it is typical for offers to be countered or rejected within 1-3 business days, and we were going on week 2 without hearing a peep from the sellers.  I resigned myself to having to consider options like looking farther away from our house, fewer acres, and winning the lottery.  In a way, it was lucky that I couldn't walk the property like I had before because I couldn't get as attached.  My agent said she'd touch base with the seller's agent and do a final check before we officially withdrew the offer.

And then we got the counter-offer.  We'd made an offer a little below the asking price based on our agent's recommendation, just because of the sheer pain-in-the-ass factor associated with the land, and the seller ended up coming down a small amount.  Which was fine.  The price was such that we could have paid the full asking amount, but it never hurts to negotiate.  We accepted the counter-offer and our 60-day study period started.

To find out what happens next, check back in tomorrow:)

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