More people are considering buying undeveloped land in the Asheville area to cope with limited inventory and rising costs. Buying land is a great option for knowledgeable buyers but it is also riskier and potentially more expensive than buying developed land. This article is broken up into the 3 Most Important Things to Look For when buying land in the area. This article is for potential landbuyers and real estate and construction professionals. Make sure you check out the Resources section at the bottom of the article and print out the Buncombe County Development Checklist (also provided).
WITHIN CITY LIMITS:
The big advantage to buying a lot within city limits, aside from location, is that utilities are readily available and there can be big savings here.
There are some things to be aware of though. It is rare to find a good lot selling at a modest price in the city. 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 and typical costs for a 2000sf home in the city:
City Sewer (MSD): There is an initial connection and monthly usage fee (about $3000 for typical home):
City of Asheville Sewer tap (MSD)
City Water: There is an initial connection and monthly usage fee (about $2600 for typical home):
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 service area. The builder will need to work with Progress Engineer to establish temporary power during construction. Underground trenching for long distances may cost extra. Progress (Electricity) www.progress-energy.com (800) 452-2777
BEYOND SERVICE AREAS:
Cheaper and larger lots can be found out of town but once a house is beyond service areas homeowners will have to provide their own water, septic system and gas. Well and septic permits must be applied for before receiving a construction permit. Developers beware: A percolation or 'perc' test 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.
Water (Well): Drilling a well for one house could cost $9-$15,000 depending how deep it must go before getting enough water flow. Most springs and rain water catchment systems will not be adequate for year round household water use.
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 they say you are responsible for trenching 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 back-up generator-- budget around $3000-$6000 with installation.
Septic: A private septic system for a single family home might cost $4500-$7000. 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 rented. An above ground 500 gallon tank costs about $1450. Renting is only $75 a year except you will pay a higher rate for gas (as of writing $2.25/gallon for rented tanks and $1.81 if you own it. $1125 vs. $905 to fill) Southern States and Blossman are two big providers in the area.
#2: CLEARING, DRIVEWAY, GRADING & EXCAVATION
Our mountainous terrain drives up construction costs. It’s simply more expensive to build foundations on a sloping site made of rock and clay than it is on flat sandy sites. In order 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. 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:
Clearing: 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 properly 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 a parking and turn-around area as well. Mountain driveways may require culverts or even bridges. Driveways can be built cheaply or built 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!
House Foundation: On 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 good geotechnical engineer should be hired in almost all cases-- even then surprises below the surface will happen. It is very rare that houses are 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.
#3: EASEMENTS, PERMITS & ZONING
At the bottom of this article there is a Development Checklist provided by Buncombe County and it is a great resource for people who want to buy undeveloped land.
There are generally less restrictions in the Asheville area compared to the Northeast or West Coast but buyers from neighboring Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky may find our regulations and zoning more restrictive.
Contact your closing attorney about deed restrictions or covenants.
To locate a copy of your deed, contact the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office (250-4300) located at 35 Woodfin Street, Suite 226, Asheville, North Carolina 28801.
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 on a restricted area of the lot.. A homeowner may not be able to fence their property because of shared driveway easements with their neighbors.
There are also properties that appear to have water or driveway access but they may not in fact convey to the buyer. Many times neighbors will share the expense of utilities like a well. Casual agreements must be verified or permanently negotiated before the purchase.
A new 2200sf single family house in the City of Asheville could cost around $1800 in permit 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 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.
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, zoning and more. 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: 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.
Builder Buddy Consulting That's me! I am a pre-construction planner, estimator and consultant and can assist your builder, real estate agent and architect efficiently achieve your goals. 828 335 3930. Jason@builderbuddyonline.com www.builderbuddyonline.com
Geotechnical Engineer/ Surveyors: It may be worth it to have a geotechnical survey done before purchasing the property. They can check for suitability of the soil for the foundation and anticipate rock, springs, and other possible surprises.
Neighbors: Talk to neighbors about driveways access, shared utilities or any other potential issues.