The following is the third part of an ongoing story. Part one can be found HERE. Part two can be found HERE.
Professional skateboarder Ed Templeton, having heard his friends talk of getting high on “grass”, once smoked grass clippings from his backyard. I remember reading this story in a skateboarding magazine. I was in middle school at the time. In that interview, Templeton talks of the reasons for his success in skateboarding. He tells of how, in high school, while his friends focused their attention on girls, he stuck with skateboarding. While I am only a moderately good skateboarder, I took a similar approach in high school. I was able to foresee the eventual parting of ways that would take place with any girl I spent a significant amount of time with. Thus, while many of my friends spent time with their girlfriends, I was skateboarding.
Searching for a piece of land involves similar emotional turmoil to what one might experience in dating. In getting married, Bailey and I opted not to wait until we had our proverbial “ducks” in a row. It’s a good thing, as our “ducks” have proven difficult to line up. The nature of purchasing land did not afford us this option. Minimum down payments, credit scores, and loan pre-approval were just a few of the ducks that had to be in a row before we could make the leap into land ownership. Despite this, like a hormonal teenager, we began looking at land well before we were ready to make a purchase. Many of our days were spent driving around in the area where we wanted to buy. By way of our ramblings, we found the confidence we would need to make the daunting decisions that lay ahead.
With one important distinction, this is the approach I recommend. The distinction is between looking AT land and looking FOR land. The difference lies in the extent to which the emotions get involved. Prior to being ready to make an offer, one should only be looking AT land. By this I mean, assume that any land you look at will not be available once you are ready. This goes even for land that’s been on the market for nine years. I speak from experience.
While magazines constituted the majority of my reading in middle and high school, my reading list today looks much different. One of the themes in my recent reading is that of goal setting. Those authors that advocate for goal setting seem to agree that goals should be as specific as possible. “Live on land” was the extent of our goal at the beginning. As we had very little income, “buy land” didn’t even occur to us as an achievable goal. If we were going to own land, we thought, someone was going to have to give it to us.
Having started down the financial road that would lead us to land ownership, we set about adding some specificity to our goal. It was a fairly logical process. Some things we knew from the outset, having some understanding of what makes a good place to live. For example, we knew that we definitely didn’t want to live on a north-facing slope, in a floodplain, or on a soilless expanse of rock. The first question to which we lacked an answer was, “where?” Bailey and I were lucky enough to grow up in the Pacific Northwest. Both our parents live in the homes in which we grew up. We agreed that we didn’t want to move more than two hours away from our families. I sometimes envy those who live far away from their families for the freedom they feel to make home wherever they like. While this is a freedom to which we are entitled, it is not one of which we take advantage. The second constraint was, as I explained, our limited budget. As Bailey’s parents live within the metropolitan area, this limited us to the outer reaches of the radius we had drawn.
Our desire to live on land grew out of a discontent with certain aspects of our current living situation. I write this from our living room, just steps from an extremely busy street. Most nights we are lulled to sleep by the drunken people at the bar next-door, unaware of the volume at which they’re speaking. The sound of garbage trucks and car alarms obscures the singing of birds in the morning. Each weekend, hundreds of people wait in a long line for biscuits, some opting to use our driveway as a place to discard their trash.
Despite feeling like a misanthrope at times, there are things we like about living here. Walking a mere seven blocks brings us to our small grocery store where we can buy the special foods to which we’ve grown accustomed. Most things we need are within walking distance; good food, coffee, parks, and social events. Work is a fifteen-minute bike ride away. Living in the city provides us with a myriad of opportunities to make money.
As the negative aspects of city living nudged us toward the country, the positive pointed us in the right direction. Coincidentally, it was alliteration of factors that enabled us to make up our minds: friends, food, and finances. Having decided not to move far from our families, we were assured that our friends would remain nearby. The hope of new friends attracted us to places inhabited by folks who shared our interests and values. These folks would also be the key to satisfying our other criteria. The presence of like-minded people meant access to good food as well as a potential market for our services. Like us, some of the people, who live in the small towns around which we focused our search, value health, fitness, food, and being outside.
Other factors in our decision making process were beyond our control. Our budget practically guaranteed that we would not end up with prime agricultural land, an epic view, or hundreds of acres.
I can remember my first day of kindergarten. Kyle and I took apart a typewriter, and I met my first school crush. Being afraid of talking to the girl I had a crush on, and knowing next to nothing about girls, physical appearance was the only thing I had to go on. By the time I met Bailey, I had developed a much better framework for what I wanted in a partner. The process was much the same with land. As we wandered about the countryside, we gained an increasing familiarity with the qualities that we were drawn to in a parcel. Additionally, we became well acquainted with the region and some of its idiosyncrasies.
Alongside training our intuition in this way, I turned to books. Through reading, I put together a checklist that would serve as a way of evaluating a piece of land. Pairing the instinctive with the practical is a reflection of Bailey and my relationship, and served us well in achieving our goal.
Turning onto the road that led out of town, we were always careful to note the time so that we could calculate how far we’d be driving, should we decide to make our destination home. The elapsed time constituted the first item on our checklist. Anything over twenty minutes tended to instill some hesitation within us. As we approached each property, my mind would continue down the list to item number two, access. Our search for one property took us through two miles of knee-deep mud. It was all I could do to keep breathing until we finally reached gravel. Another property took us down a long dirt road; our car straddling foot-deep ruts most of the way. These, we promptly eliminated from consideration. The rest of the checklist I address in the next portion of this story. I’ll suffice it to say that if a property seemed to satisfy the checklist, I would turn to Bailey, relying on her intuition to guide us further. We joke that Bailey is the CEO in our relationship. While the responsibility of due diligence rested with me, the real estate professional, she held the power of veto.
Undeveloped land is a relatively slow moving market. Thus, we quickly exhausted the on-market possibilities in our price range. Upon receiving preapproval from our lender, there was only one property on the market that fit the bill. We immediately contacted the listing agent. As the property had been on the market for seven years, the swiftness of our actions was primarily a result of our eagerness. Two days into working on our purchase offer, the agent informed me that another offer had been submitted. He assured me that our offer would be considered provided he received it by the morning. Three hours later, that same evening, we learned that the offer had been accepted. Thus, our submission became a backup offer. What ensued was the emotional turmoil I mentioned earlier. The next few days found us agonizing over a number of other properties that would require serious compromise. We eventually decided on the route that I recommend to anyone, that of patience. By that I do not mean mere waiting. Instead of compromising, we began to explore more unconventional means of achieving our goal.
Our next day off found us walking around town; posting “Land Wanted” flyers anywhere we could find a bulletin board. We continued with a practice we had begun earlier in our search, telling everyone we talked to that we were in the market for land. We posted ads on craigslist, and on the local Internet forums. I emailed over a dozen local real estate agents, informing them of our desire and requesting they keep us updated. Lastly, we spent an afternoon hand writing letters to landowners, asking if they were interested in selling. This tactic, a last resort for us, was one I had come across in my reading. In years past, the name and address of a landowner could be found in the county records. Today, many counties have online interactive mapping software that allows one to access this information easily. A simple click on any given property reveals its size, zoning, surveys, as well as its owner and their address. We mailed out a first round of six letters. That was the only round of letters we sent. Four of the six letters solicited replies. One of those replies resulted in the last part of this story, of which I will tell in part four.
Read part four HERE.
Bailey Patrice & Jonathan David