Careful planning can make the difference between a perfect country property and a modern-day take on "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House." The dream of building a home in the country--the bucolic atmosphere, the slower pace and larger plots--all have strong appeal. Buying and developing property in rural areas, however, can be a minefield of regulations and restrictions--each seemingly specifically enacted to derail your plans. Building a home takes careful planning and a lot of preparation, but the rewards can outweigh the effort.
Never take water for granted in the country. Unlike city and suburban areas, most rural locations do not have water utilities guaranteed. Before buying a piece of land, ask if the owner has explored for underground water. The existence of water and the sufficient flow available to supply a home are critical factors to research before purchasing land. Some areas prohibit any development of land that does not have adequate water on site. Remote desert dwellers rely on trucked-in water, an expensive and sometimes unreliable source.
Some happy landowners apply for permits to build, only to be shocked that the land they own is zoned agricultural only, or does not meet the minimum size requirements for a single-family residence. The zoning codes in rural areas can be enigmatic. Always call the local development committee and make an appointment to meet with a local planner. He will explain what, if any, development is possible on the lot you want to buy. Sometimes, planners allow buyers to submit special exceptions to local codes. Conditional-use permits and variances are two manners in which planners provide for exceptions to rules, given that specific requirements are fulfilled. Building a specific number of feet away from a stream and restricting the size and height of a building on a slope are examples of restrictions owners might face in exchange for obtaining a permit to build.
Whether or not you can build can depend on basics such as septic percolation tests. Some soils cannot absorb and process the volume of liquid that an occupied home produces. Some areas with high water tables require potential home builders to develop special septic designs, such as at-grade or mound septic systems, in order to protect the environment. Adequate space for leach fields, or evaporation fields, can be difficult to plan on sloped lots. Waste system management is one of the chief restricting factors on home size and number of bathrooms.
Natural gas pipelines are a rarity in rural areas. Most homes run on propane or electricity. Running phone or electrical lines to the home can be a major expense if the home site is far from the nearest utility source.
Who Builds Where
Determining exactly where to build on a lot, whether to take advantage of views or available light, is best left to an expert. Topographic maps, or site contour maps, drawn up by site and soils engineers determine where and if a home can be built on a particular location on a site. Planning regulations may restrict the amount of grading or displacement of earth allowed during construction. The stability of the soils on site as well as the slope of the land are also critical in properly siting a home.
Architect-built homes are excellent options for those with difficult-to-build sites and large budgets. Prefabricated homes can be a sophisticated yet less expensive option. A prefabricated home is pre-assembled in a factory, then disassembled and shipped to the building site. After the site has a proper foundation built, the home is put together quickly, piece by piece, in as little as 2 days. You can choose between classic cedar post-and-beam designs and modern metal structures.
Financing the construction of a country home can be tricky. Land is expensive, and adding in the cost of construction can dissuade many potential homeowners from ever building. Traditional construction loans are expensive and difficult to obtain. Often the homeowner needs to check in periodically with the lender to prove progress in the construction, and to obtain the next loan installment. Home equity lines of credit are good options for people who own a primary residence and who have a lot of equity in the house. Occasionally, a home builder can get a guaranteed-conversion loan, also known as a construction-to-permanent loan, which switches a construction loan to a standard home mortgage loan once the house is built and appraised.