These considerations aren't absolutely essential, but I'd rate them pretty high.
You might be surprised how much zoning law controls the use of land. Of course most zoning will permit the construction of a single family home on a residentially zoned property, but what else do you have in mind? Zoning, coupled with fire safe regulations require that buildings be setback from property lines. Laws control the use of accessory buildings, pools, trailer parking, and much more. Regulations set the rules for livestock activities and many other activities. Check with the local
Planning Department, which administers zoning laws.
If you are coming from the flatlands, then be careful with this one. The slope of the land can be real deceiving. Steep slopes make driveways difficult and houses lopsided. They make construction much more expensive. If you're familiar with slope measurement by percent of grade, I would recommend that your driveways and building sites be on slopes of less than 20% (falls 20' vertically for each 100' horizontally). Thirty percent is about the very limit of what will work for roads,
houses, and septic systems. Drive around and look for homesite construction on parcels with similar slopes for an idea of how the lot improvement will look. If you're not sure, consult a civil engineer, architect, or a qualified building designer or land use planner. They can assist you in dealing with topography. An engineering contractor can assist you with estimates for driveways and pads.
Buy a parcel with a good provision for road maintenance and you'll be avoiding one of the number one complaints about rural living. There are many, many private roads out there with no such provision. If you front on a City or County maintained street, that's the best. You pay the bill through your normal horde of various taxes. If you're in a private road maintenance agreement, then its up to you and your neighbors to pay the freight and organize the work. Typical agreements require monthly, quarterly, or annual payments to the treasurer of the private road maintenance or homeowners' association. Maintenance occurs when a majority of participating owners decide it's necessary or according to a pre-approved schedule. A committee or designated homeowner seeks bids and awards a contractor for any maintenance. Sometimes the road maintenance agreement only covers a portion of the access road. Your title company can help you confirm the extent of such an agreement. Another mechanism for road maintenance involves a combination of annual homeowner payments and County or City maintenance. This mechanism may be called a County Service Area, a Permanent Road Division, or have another official title. Your title company can help you check for such special districts. Contact the agency that administers the district for details on how it works. If there is no maintenance agreement or mechanism, it may not be a "love thy neighbor" neighborhood, although some areas function quite well informally without an agreement. It depends on the personalities. Under California state law, a majority of residents can force remaining residents to pay their fair share of road maintenance costs, often in small claims court. Consult an attorney or small claims court for details.
Most people buy land in part because of its surroundings: the other homes, the woodland, the convenient location next to shopping, schools, work, or the remote location. Take a good hard look at your surroundings. Have you experienced them under all conditions? Weekends, workdays, evenings, holidays, rush hour, early
morning? Could there be a noise maker, an inconvenience, a nuisance? Don't forget that most rural dwellers have more small gas engines than Tim Allen on Home Improvement: chain saws, weed eaters, leaf blowers, and lawn mowers. How about 10 or 20 years from now? Will the area be subdivided, logged, commercially developed, mined, or will it contain a new highway or airport? Your County or City General Plan and Zoning will give you a glimpse into the future. A general plan is required in every California jurisdiction. The plan includes a land use map and circulation plan to guide future development. The zoning must be consistent with the plan. Zoning is in the form of an ordinance established under the police power of the County or City to avoid conflicting land uses and to generally protect us from our ourselves and each other. Zoning sets the type of land use that will occur and the minimum lot sizes that subdivisions can propose. Maybe you can subdivide the
land you're buying, if you can pay for the required improvements and mitigation fees. See the Subdivision and Development sections.
Danger! Warning! General plans and zoning can and do change. This is particularly tricky if you are an absentee land owner. While such activities usually get good local press, there is often no requirement that you be notified of any changes. Also, any citizen can petition his County or City to amend the general plan and zoning. If he does, it is up to you to evaluate his plan and make your feelings known to the Board of Supervisors or City Council. A qualified land use planner can help you understand land use regulations and make an educated guess about the future.
Schools and Buses
The County Superintendent of Schools Office can assist you in determining the School Districts that you're in. Call them with the assessor's parcel number and street address. Once you've identified the school districts, contact them directly for information on bus availability and schedules. Some districts charge for bus service. Many rural schools are impacted from growth. Many charge a mitigation fee on new residential construction, paid just prior to issuance of the building permit. Ouch! You can thank Proposition 13. In the good old days you were just taxed later, year after year. Contact your school district for information on mitigation fee requirements.
Gone are the days when you had to take your rural trash to the landfill or transfer station in your pickup truck. Well, at least in some areas. We have standard urban trash collection and recycling collection on our rural parcels, but maybe it's not available further out. Your Realtor can help you check with the franchise hauler based on your property address.
Wireless/Land Phone and Data
These services are sketchy in rural areas, especially in hilly country. Be sure to put your wireless devices through their paces. DSL services are reaching out to more rural areas, but often speeds are slower than in urban areas. Cable is typically not available in rural areas, except in major subdivisions.