I told you I’d fill you in on the lot we ended up with – here goes! After months of searching, then having not one, but two lots under contract and then fall through for various reasons, we ended up putting in an offer on a lot we had previously disregarded. It was in a great location, but on a busy road, and it looked like it might be a tough build with some hills and lots of rocks – not to mention that we couldn’t see it that well from the road and there wasn’t a real access to it to check it out in more detail. As our frustration grew with the lack of options in our price range, we decided to take a closer look. Chad called me over to his computer one day to look at the Google aerial view of the land, and he showed me where he thought there was a ridge set far back from the road that was flat enough to build on. We went out there and walked the lot (well, hiked the lot), one thing led to another, and we decided to place an offer.
Doing our homework
We asked for a 90-day closing – I wasn’t happy about that because we had waited for so long and was growing impatient – but Chad insisted we needed plenty of time to do our due diligence and make sure we could build the way we wanted to and that there wouldn’t be any huge surprise costs associated with that piece of land. He was right. It took just about the whole 90 days to do the research. He had his land development guy go out there and consult with him, and they agreed they would need to “move some dirt” (read: bulldoze literally tons of dirt) to flatten the build area, but that it could be done. The soil had to be tested to make sure a septic tank would work. The architectural review committee of the homeowners’ association had to approve our plans. The municipality zoning had to approve our site and house plan within their requirements. Fun fact, for example: our roof was NINE inches too tall - so we had to redesign the roof trusses to get under the 18-foot zoning requirement. They also inspected the lot to see how many trees we would need to move to build – and the city requires us to plant new trees to replace them.
Saving as much time as possible
Because it would take us a few months to close on the lot, we did as much as we could prior to closing so that we would be able to hit the ground running and start construction as soon as possible. While we were still in escrow, we finalized the house plans. We’re using one of Pepper Viner’s existing plans, but a few adjustments we wanted required architectural review and sign-off, so we went ahead and took care of that. We also submitted our site plan to the town so that we would have a permit to begin clearing the lot as soon as we closed – there is a fee associated with that, so we were taking a gamble that everything would go fine and we would, indeed, ultimately close on this lot. If the deal had fallen through, we would have been out that money. Chad also got the various subcontractors tentatively scheduled. Despite all of our well-intentioned planning, we did encounter a few delays out of the gate: it took more time than expected to clear the lot, so we lost a few days, but after waiting for years, I could handle a few days’ delay.
The benefit to the hilly, not flat lot? We loved the beautiful views! Unfortunately we are located on the west side of the road, but we wanted our backyard to face east. Enter some creative site planning. We consulted with a draftsman and he worked on a grading plan that would include a long driveway up the hill, and an unusual but smart turn of the house – so our front yard won’t face the road like a typical house, but because of the way we’re turning it, our backyard will face east and we’ll be able to enjoy mountain views and afternoon shade – a big benefit in hot, hot Tucson.
While the lot was in our budget, we’re pushing it a bit with the cost of land development. Now for the fun part – trying to recoup some of those costs in other parts of the house. Next up we’ll talk about some of the ways we’re saving money on construction of this house.
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