“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 though “lovely laying” was far from our only buying criteria, this acreage was exceeding expectations.
When we contacted a realtor last fall, we asked him to help us locate land with the following traits:
- Mountain views
- Year-round creek
- 50-100 acres
Easy enough to find, we figured. And it was, but as we tore through thorny undergrowth and dodged ground bees across half a dozen properties, we quickly narrowed down our must-haves and lowered our price point dramatically.
If you’re in the market for land, know that nothing teaches you more than physically walking it. If you have a parcel in mind, do what you can to go to the land and walk on it several times before you make your offer.
Here are our final criteria, and below that, an account of how we compiled them.
- 15-20 acres with at least 4 flat, cleared acres
- Mountain views
- Year-round creek
- Price dependent on acreage and 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 aspects of this land 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 some quality timber, meaning potential to monetize the land with a variety of permaculture and woodland farming techniques
- South-facing land for nearly all-day light for solar setups and gardening (land can “face” one way or another when it’s against a mountainside)
- 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 (translation: outsiders aren’t welcome)
- Wooded and/or mountain buffer on all sides to preserve privacy no matter what else is built 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, or check out a post about knowing the costs of settling land before making an offer.
Size and price were our flimsiest criteria.
We thought 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.
Each property taught us more. 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 phones for two people who work from home is a deal breaker.
We also started getting real about settling costs. What would it cost to get power and water up in them thar hills? A lot.
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 giant stinging beasts slamming into the side of the car, we realized that, while we were ready for a big adventure in land settling, we had a limit. Without even the convenience of a clear driveway, 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 that we hadn’t realized yet.
The land only felt more right as we picked over deer prints and turkey feathers, and our realtor had to yell out, “G’on, bear!” because we thought we heard one in the woods. Or a couple weeks later when we were walking it on our own and spied a pair of bald eagles in the sky.
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 costs to make land livable to make sure you get the right land for the right price.