Location, Location, Location is the real estate mantra for purchasing property. While this is a vital consideration when it comes to the neighborhood and its current convenience, value and potential for resale, there are other factors to consider when choosing a lot within a neighborhood.
In Northern latitudes like Montana, the most energy efficient orientation for a home is East-West. This means that the short axis of the home runs E-W, with the long sides facing North-South. A long South face maximizes solar gain in the heating season, while the short West face minimizes overheating in the summer months and westerly wind impacts.
Every subdivision has through –streets and side streets that create traffic patterns. Drive around the neighborhood and be aware of schools, businesses, parks and athletic fields. Grab a coffee and park on a weekday morning about 8am and observe the traffic patterns. Go back again on weekends. I have friends who live on a cul-de-sac directly behind an elementary school. They are literally trapped in their home between 8-8:30 am and 3-3:30 every school day! The cul-de-sac fills up with parents double parked and blocking driveways to drop off and pick up their school aged children.
Open spaces, trails and parks are wonderful amenities in a neighborhood. Typically lots that adjoin open space fetch a premium price and for good reason. Open spaces and parks open up views and provide scenery and greenery around your property. They also serve the community and invite activity and traffic. Often the covenants for homes adjacent to open spaces require different setbacks and fencing. Be honest about your tolerance for walking traffic, which will include dogs and dog poop.
EASEMENTS & SETBACKS
Check the plat map for the lots that interest you and verify setbacks and easements.
Setbacks are set by subdivisions and planning entities to assure that homes have a minimum of space between each other, off the street and off of open spaces. Typical setbacks would be 20’ front yard, 5’ side yard and 20’ rear yard. Corner lots are often more restricted.
Easements are established when the subdivision is designed. They are laid out to provide access for some future need and are usually either for utilities or for roads. A road easement would tell you that the city anticipates widening the road at some future date which may or may not affect you and the development of your property. A utility easement gives the utility companies access to their lines. Any fencing in a utility easement should be built to come down easily in sections to allow work to be done.
HOA’s AND CC&R’s
“CC&Rs” is an acronym commonly used in the homeowner association industry. It means “Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions. The CC&Rs are basically the rules of your neighborhood. Generally, the goal of the CC&Rs is protect, preserve, and enhance property values in the community. Most of the time, the rules make sense and are easy to accept. For example, it is pretty easy to agree with a covenant that requires you to mow your lawn and keep it weed-free.
However, other rules might interfere with your plans or seem downright unreasonable to you. For example, perhaps you want to park your car in the street and store your extra belongings in the garage. However, an HOA might require you to park your car in the garage. Or, perhaps you are counting on the fact that you will be able to fence the yard to contain your dog, but if you read the CC&Rs, you may find out that the community doesn’t allow fences. Likewise, if you’re planning a big project later on down the line like painting your house a new color, you’ll need to check with the CC&Rs to make sure that the paint color you have chosen isn’t prohibited. You can usually obtain a copy at the County Recorder’s Office as these documents are mostly publicly recorded.
If you have the opportunity, it might be good to knock on a few neighbors’ doors to introduce yourself and ask if you could ask them a few questions about the neighborhood.
Rural neighborhoods or undeveloped locations may not have traffic issues, but they will have commuting, maintenance and utility issues.
Some rural neighborhoods will have either community septic or water, but most of the time you will have to budget sufficiently for a water well and a septic system. Both require permits, inspections and testing and are typically regulated by the State and the County.
Power and gas to your location is not a given and should be investigated before purchase. Look around for the transformer boxes that indicate power nearby, unless there are power poles. Often, power will be close by, but natural gas will not be available and you will want to consider a propane tank. The local utility company can give you a good estimate to bring the power and or gas out to your location. Propane tanks can be buried in case you’re not a fan of the ‘tank in your garden’ look!
Internet and telephone access are not guaranteed! Many rural locations are ’off the grid’ and may require a satellite system for web/media connections. Do your research. There are rural initiatives that are bringing cable and fiber out to rural areas, but don’t assume that your dream lot is connected.
Access is another consideration with the rural property. Roads may need to be built and they will certainly need to be maintained. Provisions for road grading, dust control and snow plowing are often done by a neighborhood group or HOA. Be clear on these expenses as well.
In Montana, most rural properties fall under County zoning, which means there can be few permits needed in order to build and far less inspections. If you think this is only good news, think again! It also means that the same applies to your neighbors and there may be a LOT of freedom for everyone to build exactly what they want. You could end up having a gorgeously built house, next to a commercial enterprise, or some other types of structure that do not enhance your living experiences OR your property values!
Basically, do your homework! A home is still the biggest investment most of us will make, especially building one from scratch. It can be an enormously fun and rewarding experience, especially when you know what you sign up for in advance!