Lay of the Land

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When people decide to buy raw land for the house of their dreams, one of the first questions is often, “How raw is raw?” For some, a couple of acres on the edge of town fits the bill. Others want acres upon acres of untouched wilderness miles from nowhere. “There’s ‘out there’ and there’s ‘way out there,’” says Joseph “Joey” Burns, real estate broker and owner of the Lone Eagle Land Brokerage in Montrose.

Burns has had clients who insisted they wanted to be “way, way away” only to watch them start
fidgeting as soon as they ventured past the last gas station in town. “Most people who buy raw land don’t want to be too far from a few restaurants and a movie theater.”

In other words, buyers might want something closer to town that has already been subdivided. Luckily, Colorado has dozens, maybe hundreds, of such developments all over the state. How much individual lots cost in those developments has a lot to do with access to the “ings,” says Burns—skiing, fishing, hunting, biking, hiking, four-wheeling or all-terraining. “The closer you get to the more desirable activities, the higher the price.”

Cost is also affected by the view, the level of infrastructure provided and the lay of the land itself. Warm, sunny, south-facing sites may command nearly twice the cost per acre as land on a cooler, wetter north-facing slope. Indeed, location is everything. While 35 acres near Colorado City might run $35,000, that same acreage 25 miles outside of Steamboat Springs could cost $170,000. Place that parcel 15 minutes north of Edwards and you’re in for almost $6 million.

If location is king then infrastructure is queen. No matter the land’s size, price or locale there are a number of questions to ask. Is the access road dirt, gravel or paved, and who maintains it, the county or the homeowners? Is the electricity above or below ground? Is there a water line? (Drilling can be an expensive and unpredictable proposition.) What about a sewer? (Only rarely is a sewer line provided, so a septic system is a must.) Where will the septic system go? Tank or leech field? What do both cost?

Realtors, the subdivision developer and county planning departments can provide much of that information, though those answers often lead to ever more questions. Will the lay of the land support the dreamed-of design, such as a walk-out basement? And what about covenants and restrictions imposed by the association? Most developments have very defined guidelines regarding the maximum and minimum size of the house, the style of design, the materials used and even the placement on the property. Is there any chance your neighbor can put a mobile home or four-story monstrosity smack dab in the middle of his lot, destroying your view? And can you store your boat and RV in the driveway? Questions, questions, questions.

“Before you buy,” Burns advises, “get the answers.”



Not everyone looking for land buys outside the city limits; some want to build their dream house in the heart of town. “Many people prefer the diversity and amenities of in-town living,” says William Moore, AIA, who as President of Denver-based Sprocket Design Build has guided individuals and developers through the sometimes-complicated process of buying vacant land near the city center. He shares some
urban-infill caveats to keep in mind:

Many great older neighborhoods
have lots sized to accommodate 1,800-square-foot homes, while some homeowners may want larger dwellings. You and your architect will need to work with neighbors and city agencies to obtain any required zoning variances.

Understand that historically-designated neighborhoods add another layer of restrictions and planning to wade through.

Utilities are usually easily available, but be sure to account for the time it takes for service providers to connect them. Only seldom are upgraded electrical, gas, sewer or water required. 

The upside? “Buying urban land lets you not only build custom, it gives you a unique opportunity to add to the fabric of the city,” Moore says.




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