These are the things that you must have to live on the land.
You must to be able to get there from here. Access involves two elements:
(1) legal access or the legal right to get to the land and (2) physical
access consisting of the roads or the route to get to the land.
Usually, you have legal access if you front on a County or City
owned and maintained road, or if your parcel has deeded access to
a County or City Road. Access to some State Highways is restricted.
Many lending institutions will require legal access as a condition
of a mortgage. Your title company can assist you with evaluating
your legal access. They can even insure it for you in many cases.
A land surveyor can help you locate your legal access on the ground.
Prescriptive access, or the right of many years of use, may be challenged
or may be difficult to demonstrate. Prescriptive easements can only
be perfected through agreement between the parties involved, or
a legal action resulting in a judgment or court decree establishing
the rights. Usually, prescriptive rights can't be increased, as
might be required for subdividing the property
Now that you have the right to get to it, can you get to it? There
are parcels out there with access easements that cross swamps (now
called jurisdictional wetlands), canyons, and cliffs. If the access
road is not constructed, make sure that it can be, and check into
the cost. Make sure the access easement is wide enough. The easement
should contain all of the cut, fill, and culverts needed to build
the road. For a 12' wide road, it can easily take 20' to contain
the earthwork. This is probably less important on old, established
roads, where the cuts and fills may be established through years
of use. Don't forget to consider your driveway. There are some doozies
out there. Cut and fill slopes associated with the main access road
may make driveway construction even more difficult. Look at surrounding
properties that are improved and similar in terms of cut/fill slopes
and lot cross slope. How well do they work? Don't forget that you
may have to use the road during snowy or frosty conditions. A civil
engineer or engineering contractor can help you evaluate driveway
feasibility and costs.
Some rural areas have treated domestic water available from a city, irrigation
district, or utility district. Most rural parcels are served by ground
water wells. Your REALTOR® or local water provider can help you identify
the availability of treated domestic water and the connection fees and
monthly charges associated with its use. There is certainly no assurance
of a good well. I learned this the hard way. I recommend a contingency
of a successful well or pump test of an existing well
before purchase, if possible. Should you use a witcher or a geologist to
help determine the location of the well? That is difficult to say. I've
seen both work and fail.
Many well drillers guarantee water
but at a higher cost. Don't forget to check the water for minerals.
You can also have the water tested for its quality. A water quality
laboratory or water systems specialist can help you check the quality
and content of your water. Some parcels have raw (open ditch) water
sources. This water can be treated by a small system to meet drinking
water standards under most conditions if allowed by the County.
I tried treating raw water at my house and found that it was not
working well. Now we subscribe to a bottled water service.
Check with the local Environmental
Health Department for water source standards. The quality of such
water varies and the opportunity for contamination is great. It
should be avoided as a drinking water source if at all possible.
Its great for irrigation, however! Following a number of devastating
fires in California, there are now state-wide "fire safe" standards
which sometimes require that you construct water storage as a condition
of a building permit. Many people use buried tanks for this purpose.
Check with the local building and fire departments for details.
Some rural parcels can connect to public or community sewer systems.
Check with your REALTOR® or local sewage collection agency for
details. Most rural parcels will be served by individual septic
tank/ leach field systems. All household waste water goes to a 1000-1500
gallon septic tank where solids settle and are pumped out every
5-10 years. The wastewater is then distributed through buried perforated
pipe into level trenches filled with drain rock. The leach field
trenches cover an area ranging from about 3000-10,000 square feet,
depending on the soil capabilities. The leach field area should
be kept devoid of trees and brush so that the roots won't interfere
with the drain. Nothing varies more between parcels than the ability
to support septic systems. Most environmental health departments
require percolation and soil mantle tests prior to the issuance
of a sewage disposal permit. If they don't, have the tests done
anyway as a condition of your closing escrow.
Believe me: every parcel cannot support
a septic system! Parcels with numerous rock outcrops, swampy areas,
water courses or ditches, and sparse trees and vegetation may be
particularly suspect. A soils mantle test is usually one or more
backhoe pits dug at least eight feet deep and observed by a civil
engineer, geologist, or environmental health specialist. The soil
can't have ground water or shallow bed rock. The soil should be
reasonably able to absorb and filter water all the way down. Percolation
tests are a series of tests to measure how quickly the ground absorbs
water. They are usually run by one of the above professionals by
measuring the drop of water in a post hole over time. Your REALTOR®
can assist you in finding an appropriate professional. Once your
system is in, don't forget to maintain it by keeping the leach field
cleared of trees and brush, and by having the septic tank pumped
As time goes on, more and more alternative
systems or variations on conventional systems become available.
The most common variation on the standard system in 2012 is the
filtered, pressure dosed system. This system can work where conventional
systems won,t by using shallower leach field trenches over a larger
area. The wastewater effluent is pumped through a filtration system
and then dosed to the leach field through small spray heads that
evenly distribute it to the leach field This type of system costs
between 2 and 2.5 times as much as a standard system and electrical
pumps must be operated and maintained.
Okay, so utilities aren't a must with some people. They are with
me! Of all the updates to this information between 1995 and
2012, there have been the greatest strides in enjoying the conveniences
of utilities, even when utility wiring and infrastructure are near
Living off the grid has never been
easier, with increased efficiency in solar panels and all other
energy alternatives. Wireless telephone and internet services is
still sketchy in the hills where topography, distance, and vegetation
dampen signals. However, you can most likely begin your research
by taking your cell phone out on your potential homesite and checking
the signal. Satellite TV and internet enhancement are available
anywhere the satellites are visible. Tree cover and topography can
Obtaining conventional, hard wired
electricity, telephone, and other utilities requires that your land
be reasonably near existing facilities and that there be appropriate
easements allowing the utility company to extend their facilities.
No one can really assure you about utilities, except the provider.
Your title company can assist you in identifying the availability
of general utility easements. However, only the utility provider
is familiar with the location and capacity of nearby facilities.
Natural gas is available to a few areas, but most rural sites require
propane (LPG) tanks. Cable television and fast DSL internet is available
in some areas, usually close to towns or the more densely developed
areas. Conventional TV antenna reception varies in rural areas,
especially since the digital TV age, due to topography and other
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