Buying Land in Asheville in 2023

buying land in asheville in 2022

Things to Consider When Buying Land in the Asheville area

Is it cheaper to build or buy a house in Asheville?  Which one is easier?  What are the primary considerations for building a house in the Asheville area?

More people are considering buying undeveloped land in the Asheville area to cope with limited inventory and rising costs. Buying land is an excellent option for knowledgeable buyers, but it is also riskier and potentially more expensive than buying developed land.   This article is for potential land buyers and real estate and construction professionals. Check out the Resources section at the bottom of the article and print out the Buncombe County Development Checklist (also provided).   

In this article, we discuss the following considerations:
  • Pre-Construction Planning
  • Utilities
    • Municipal water and sewer and natural gas
      • Water
      • Sewer
      • Gas
      • Electricity
    • Beyond Municipal
      • Septic
      • Well
      • Propane
      • Electricity
      • Back-up Power
  • Site Work
    • Clearing
    • Driveways, parking, and turn-around areas
    • Retaining walls
    • Foundation
  • Planning and Zoning
    • Easements
    • CCRs
    • Permits
    • Zoning
  • Resources
    • City, Town, and County information
      • Permits
      • Planning and Zoning
      • GIS
      • Surveys

Pre-Construction Planning

What is pre-construction planning?  Pre-construction planning is all the work and preparation needed before construction begins:

  • Selecting a builder
    • based on scope, availability, pricing, and references
  • Buying the land
    • due diligence
    • verifying the suitability of use
  • Hiring a draftsman or architect or buying a stock plan
    • modifying the plans as needed
    • additional discussions with the builder
  • Securing preliminary financing
    • additional discussions with the builder
  • Land survey, geotechnical evaluations, perc testing, etc.
    • additional discussions with the builder
  • Finalizing construction documents
    • additional discussions with the builder
  • Signing an agreement with a builder based on
    • final construction documents
    • final quote or estimate
    • construction loan
  • Finalizing financing
    • additional discussions with the bank and builder based on the final documents
  • Permitting and zoning
  • Utilities

After glancing over this list, it should be evident that the pre-construction planning phase is complicated, time-consuming, and requires the input of many different parties.  Pre-construction planning can take 6-12 months, and getting on the construction cue of a builder can take even longer.  There are many obstacles, pitfalls, and potential deal-breakers that can happen along the way.  Inexperienced people who have never been through this process before are often surprised by how much work it is and how long it takes.  


Within city or town service areas:

The most significant advantage to buying a lot within city limits, aside from location, is that utilities are readily available, and there can be significant savings here.

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There are some things to be aware of, though. It is rare to find a suitable lot selling at a modest price in the city.  The remaining lots are steep, odd-sized, and may contain un-compacted fill or garbage. Look carefully for easements on the land, which are common in the city.

Here are some resources for a home in the city:


City Sewer (MSD): There is an initial connection and monthly usage fee:
City of Asheville Sewer tap (MSD)
City Water: There is an initial connection and monthly usage fee:
City of Asheville Water Application
Gas (PSNC): If a lot is located in their service area generally, they will connect the house for free if your water heater and/or furnace is a gas appliance.  Check gas availability for your lot.
Electricity (Progress): Initial connection is free within the service area. The builder must work with Progress Engineer to establish temporary power during construction. Underground trenching for long distances may cost extra.  Progress (Electricity) (800) 452-2777

Beyond city or town service areas:

Cheaper and larger lots can be found out of town, but once a house is beyond service areas, homeowners must provide their water, septic system, and gas.  Well and septic permits must be applied for before receiving a construction permit.  Developers beware: soil testing will determine how well your site can handle sewage waste and may limit how many units can be built on the lot.  This is important to know before buying a lot.

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Water (Well): 

Drilling a well for one house could cost $8000-$15,000, depending on how deep it must go before getting enough water flow.

Electrical Service

 (Progress, French Broad Electric, or other):  Connections are generally free, but Homeowners might have to pay for trenching for underground cable service- if the house is a quarter mile from the road, this could get expensive.  Speak with an engineer from your utility company.  If the utility company will not trench to the house, speak with a grader for an estimate.

Back-up Generator:

Electrical service is less reliable in remote mountain areas in the Winter (just when you need it the most)– homeowners in these areas may want to consider installing a backup generator– budget around $4000-$6000 with installation.


A private septic system for a single-family home might cost $6000-$12000.  A grader or builder can give you an estimate.

Gas (Propane): 

If the lot is out of the PSNC service area, then a propane tank must be purchased or leased. Call Southern States about buying a propane tank or call a service company like Blossman Gas about leasing a tank. Larger tanks will mean less disruption of service. The per-gallon price is a little bit more expensive with leased tanks.

Site Work

Our mountainous terrain drives up construction costs. It’s more expensive to build foundations on a sloping site made of rock and clay than on flat sandy sites. To understand why grading is so unpredictable and expensive in the mountains, we need to understand what is underneath the surface– springs, red clay, fill, rock, organic matter, stumps, and other unsuitable soils.

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The mountains are pretty, but they’re unforgiving– especially to builders. The more area a development plan covers, the more a project opens itself up to surprises and expenses! Your best resources here are geotechnical engineers, builders, and graders who can give you information and estimates about potential costs.  An undeveloped lot will usually require the following items:


Trees will be cut, stumps removed, rocks broken up, and soil trucked off-site. The more earth that is disturbed, the pricier it will be.

Driveways, Parking & Turn-around areas

Driveways must be compacted on suitable soil with a gentle slope and proper drainage. Road bond and gravel may not be an option for steeper driveways- asphalt is more expensive, and concrete is more expensive still. Remote houses need parking and turn-around areas as well. Mountain driveways may require culverts or even bridges. Driveways can be built cheaply or to last, but they must also be maintained. What will they be like in the snow or ice? Many people don’t realize the impossibility of carving out a 1/4 mile driveway up a hill and scratching out a house seat without encountering unpleasant surprises.

Retaining walls

Any flat area surrounding a house on a steeper site will likely require retaining walls– and they are very expensive! Retaining walls over 4′ high need to be ‘engineered’ walls.

House Foundation

With steep sites, engineers and surveyors should be employed to find the best location for the house. Many house plans will have to go back to an architect for revisions. A geotechnical engineer should be hired in almost all cases– even then, surprises below the surface will happen. Houses in our area are rarely built on slab-on-grade foundations like in Florida. Foundations in the mountains require footings and foundation walls that are strong enough to retain soil. The walls have to be waterproofed. The surrounding area must grade away from the house for proper drainage. If the site is very steep, the house will require an engineered foundation which will mean thicker blocks and footings, more steel and concrete, or even a poured concrete foundation.

Planning and Zoning

At the bottom of this article is a Development Checklist provided by Buncombe County and an excellent resource for people who want to buy undeveloped land. Contact your county Register of Deeds office to locate a copy of your deed and discuss any possible restrictions on the land with your closing attorney.

There are generally fewer restrictions in the Asheville area compared to the Northeast or West Coast. Still, buyers from neighboring Georgia, South Carolina, and Kentucky may find our zoning regulations more restrictive. Short-term rentals are highly restricted within Asheville City– make sure you contact the city to ensure you can achieve your goals.

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Easements are rights to your land that have been sold or given to other parties. A utility company may have an easement on a property that restricts the homeowner from building near power lines, or there may be an easement within many feet of the main road. A homeowner may not be able to fence their property because of shared driveway easements with their neighbors. Neighbors often share the expense of utilities like a well or a neighboring septic system might be on your property, preventing you from developing the property there. Sometimes some properties appear to have water or driveway access, but they may not convey to the buyer–  casual agreements must be verified or permanently negotiated before the purchase.

Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions

CCRs often apply to properties located in an HOA community or development.  Buyers should always verify the CCRs because even if the county, town, or city zoning is unrestrictive, there may be Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions that apply that may prevent uses on the land- some of these uses may be the right to build an additional structure or offer short term vacation rentals, for example. Contact your agent and closing attorney for more information about CCRs, as they may apply to any potential property. 


Check the relevant city, town, or county regarding permitting fees. City of Asheville Permitting fees. Buncombe county fees generally cost half as much as the city.  


Check for flood zones or hazardous waste sites.  In all cases, potential land buyers should speak with a city or town planner and check the zoning maps and restrictions first- nothing should be assumed. The sensitive homeowner may discover the lot they are interested in is zoned to allow slaughterhouses and dog kennels in the neighborhood– not an ideal designation for sensitive people. The investor may discover that the zoning requires that their lot have 100 feet of street frontage before they can subdivide the lot the way they want to.  Make sure the zoning and restrictions will allow you to achieve your goals.  See the Development Checklist at the bottom of this article.


WNC local government information

Looking to contact your local government office about:
  • Building Inspections (Permits)
  • Planning and Zoning
  • Register of Deeds (Surveys, Plats, etc.)
  • Well & Septic Operations Permits or information
  • Water Testing
  • County GIS information
  • Garbage and Recycling

Click here and type in the name of your Western North Carolina city, town, or county in our Local Resources Guide to find phone numbers and website information (or your county below). 

Well Inspections, Septic Inspections & Water Testing

Builder Buddy provides well and septic inspections and water testing in Buncombe County, Polk County, Rutherford County, Henderson County, Madison County, Yancey County, Mitchell County, Haywood County, McDowell County, Transylvania County, and Jackson County.  Call Builder Buddy at 828 484 6494 to set up an appointment or visit our online scheduler.   More about our septic inspections and well inspections.

Asheville (City) Development Services: 

This is the city planning office which is located downtown. It’s best to go in person and talk to them if possible. They can usually see you within 20 minutes of arriving without an appointment.
828-259-5946 — 161 S. Charlotte St. Asheville 28801

Buncombe County Planning & Development

 The county office is also located downtown nearby. If the lot is located within Buncombe county but outside city limits, this is the place to go. 46 Valley St. — 828-250-4830

The GIS:

The Buncombe County GIS is a great free resource for land buyers in the area. This site has maps and filters for easements, flood zones, utilities, and zoning. Talk with your town or city planning department– usually, they are very helpful.

Buncombe County Register of Deeds Office

 (250-4300) located at 35 Woodfin Street, Suite 226, Asheville, North Carolina 28801.

Utility Companies:

Asheville Area Utilities link.

Real estate agents:

 Your real estate agent may have access to plats, deeds, surveys, and other information or can make referrals.

Your Builder: 

If you have committed to a builder, schedule a site visit to discuss construction concerns and costs. If not, you may need to pay a builder, grader, or consultant like myself hourly to help you.

Geotechnical Engineer/ Surveyors:

Having a geotechnical survey done before purchasing the property may be worth it. They can check for the suitability of the soil for the foundation and anticipate rock, springs, and other possible surprises.


Talk to neighbors about driveway access, shared utilities, or other potential issues.

Builder Buddy Inspections & Testing

Buying, selling, or maintaining a home in the Asheville area?  Call us for your inspections & testing for home inspections, well inspections, septic/sewer inspections, radon testing, mold testing, and more.  828 484 6494

A good option for people looking to build a new home in our area is to buy a larger plot with a smaller or older house that already has utilities.  Older plots are often larger and more desirable than in-fill lots. Buying an existing property can reduce the cost of utilities and provide the buyer with a place to live during construction.  If this idea interests you, check out our Guide for WNC Homebuyers.
Looking for strategies to build an Affordable Home?  Check out our Guide to Building an Affordable Home.
Looking to build or buy a house in a Remote Location?  Check out our article on Buying a Remote House for relevant information and considerations.

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