Land Due Diligence
In October 2021, OSE identified a parcel in Kansas City, MO that was for sale in a neighborhood that a supporter was interested in building a Seed Eco Home. This parcel (4237 Norledge Ave 64123 - https://www.zillow.com/homes/4237-Norledge-Ave-Kansas-City,-MO-64123_rb/109886315_zpid/) was eventually sold to another interested party and OSE did not purchase the land. But we did do a lot of investigation into various aspects of the property that anyone considering buying a similar suburban lot could learn from.
- Look for properties online to get a sense of the prices and features of the parcels available in the area you are interested in building in. Zillow, Trulia, and RedFin are the most popular online platforms and they all have generally the same listings with the same MLS/Realtor/property owner provided info, but they present that in different ways. So if you find a property that you want to investigate further, try checking it out on multiple sites.
- Contact the realtor/seller. Ask the Realtor/property owner several general questions about the parcel to go over the basics and to get a sense of how easy or difficult it will be to deal with them. What is the history of the property? Why is it being sold? Are there any reports on the property (soil, zoning, utilities, title, survey, etc.)? Whatever is available might be helpful in alerting you to potential red flags and/or possibilities.
- Visit the site. This may have to be coordinated with the Realtor/seller or they may encourage you to just drive by the property on your own. It is definitely worth seeing it in person to get a sense of the land, the neighborhood, the roads, etc.
- Email the local building/planning department and tell them that you are interested in purchasing the property and building a SEH (2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, 1000 square foot home) on it. What would that involve? What permits will be needed? Are there any site specific setbacks or zoning restrictions that you should know about? What would the various fees (permit fees, plan check fees, utility hookup (water, sewer, electricity) fees, school fees, impact/neighborhood fees, etc.) be for the structure you are interested in building? How are those fees determined (usually property value, square footage of the structure and other factors are involved)? Will you need a general contractor to obtain the permits? Usually building/planning departments want new development and are very wiling to share advice and instructions on what it would take to build housing in their jurisdiction.
- Compile all of the information acquired and list what will need to be done and what the specific roadblocks will be. In the 4237 Norledge example, OSE was a bit surprised when the building department informed us that a street cut would be needed for the water line and that they recommended doing a survey as it appeared that a neighbor's structure was built over the property line. That led us to investigate the costs and timeline on doing a survey of the property and we contacted 10-15 surveying firms in the area letting them know a little about the property, the situation, and what we were looking for. We learned a lot from the responses and incorporated that data into our decision making process. For the rural area that Factor E Farm/OSE headquarters is on, accessing water did not require drilling a well as there was a neighborhood water system that was easy to connect to. In suburban/urban locations, those water and wastewater lines are usually located under the street to save valuable space. That usually requires a licensed plumber to obtain the permit and do the cut and connect work/service. We emailed 10-15 plumbing contractors in the area and told them about the situation and what we needed, but the property was sold before we were able to get any bids.
Much of the process is the same, but because some areas lack building/planning departments that information route may be unavailable. There are also different considerations for water, wastewater, electricity, etc. In cities, those utilities are often available at the street and the consideration is how much it will cost to connect to them. In rural areas, those services may not be available. You may have to drill a well for water. You may have install a septic system and leech field for sewage disposal (composting toilets may not be allowed/legally permitted). You will need to know where the nearest electrical lines are if you are interested in connecting to the local electricity grid. Those situations will require different data and reports that you could ask the Realtor/seller for, such as a percolation test (for wastewater) or a water analysis (if there is a well on the property - how many gallons per minute does it produce?).