“It’s a lovely laying piece of land,” the seller’s tall, blonde realtor said as we walked the 20-acre parcel. She was right, and while “lovely laying” was far from our only criteria, this acreage was exceeding expectations.
When we contacted a realtor last fall, we asked him to help us find land with the following features:
- Mountain views
- Year-round creek
- 50-100 acres
Easy enough, we figured. And it was, but as we tore through thorny undergrowth and dodged ground bees on half a dozen properties, we quickly narrowed down our must-haves and lowered our price point.
If you’re in the market for land, know that nothing teaches you more than walking it. If you have a parcel in mind, go to the land and walk on it a few times before you make your offer.
Here are our final criteria, and below that, how we compiled this list.
- 15-20 acres with at least 4 flat, cleared acres
- Mountain views
- Creek (running part of the year okay, though a perennial spring is ideal)
- Price adjusted for infrastructure: driveway, water, power, septic
- Soil that will “perc good” a.k.a., accept a septic system without extreme cost
- Impeccable cell phone reception
Other features that weren’t deal breakers, but now we feel like we couldn’t live without:
- Under 10 minutes to town and the interstate
- Several ecosystems and older growth trees, chiefly for beauty and permaculture options
- South-facing land for full sun, vital for gardens, bees, solar, etc.
- Good neighbors!!!
- Building site with a gentle slope for a walk-out basement
- Lower-crime area: do your research. Some areas are worth avoiding not only for crime rates but because the arm of the law doesn’t go there
- Wooded and/or mountain buffer on all sides to preserve privacy no matter what else is developed nearby
- Close to where we live now, so trips back and forth are no big deal
Read on for how we narrowed it down to see if you agree, and find out more about the costs of settling land before making an offer.
Size and price were our flimsiest criteria.
We started out thinking we wanted 50+ acres, but one of our first prospects was 30 acres, mostly wooded with a 4-acre field bordered by a wide, perennial creek. It was big enough for us to rethink our acreage needs.
In fact, it was perfect. It was panacea. Except for a serious hitch: highway noise.
Even thick with late-summer foliage, the property’s treeline was no match for the main artery into Gatlinburg. We imagined waking up every weekend to the roaring of Harleys and RVs. No way. Road noise was a deal breaker.
Every property taught us something. An almost entirely vertical 80-acre parcel devoid of cell reception taught us to seek flat acreage so our pets wouldn’t plunge to their deaths as soon as we let them out – and to check our signals. No cell phone reception would obviously be a deal-breaker for two people who work from home.
We also started getting real about settling costs. What would it cost to get power and water? A graded driveway that could withstand smoky mountain rainy seasons? The costs of infrastructure add up quickly.
Another afternoon took us to 50 eerily quiet acres that would’ve been impossible to escape in winter weather. Its only access, a rutted and overgrown single-track, deadended at a small hollow where hornets went to battle with our SUV. After a 15-point turn, with our tires tickling the brink of a deep ravine and gigantic swarming beasts slamming into the side of the car, we realized that, while we were ready for a big adventure in land settling, we had our limits. The lack of safe egress made picturing our future there was impossible.
So the 20 lovely laying acres we walked that morning were a breath of fresh air. They met our basic needs and revealed more criteria we hadn’t realized yet.
The land only felt more right as we stepped around deer prints and turkey feathers, and our realtor had to yell, “G’on, bear!” because we thought we heard one in the woods. Or a couple weeks later when we spied a pair of bald eagles in the sky over the acreage.
When we decided we wanted this land, it was time to figure out what it was worth to us and form our offer. Read about the factors that helped us form an offer we could live with.