When city dwellers get fed up with the expense and congestion of urban life, they frequently entertain the same dream: pack it all in and move to the country.

This series of stories covers some of the major factors to consider before taking the plunge, as well as insights I gained from my own experience building a home outside of Leavenworth. 

Here, I discuss the importance of realistically evaluating a site, as well as the benefits of hiring experts who know the area and have relationships with specialists and suppliers.

Finding a buildable property

Locating the right property is one of the biggest challenges of building in a rural area. Not every lot is suitable, or the costs to develop the lot may break your budget.  

If you’re too far off the beaten path, a huge portion of your budget will go toward expensive infrastructure such as road building and utilities.

Rural properties must also meet environmental criteria. You’ll probably have to drill a well. The lot must be large enough to place a septic field and the soil must percolate.


Steep slopes, shorelines and wetlands may dictate where you can build, or whether you can bring in certain construction equipment.  

The easiest solution is to build in a housing development, but close neighbors may defeat the purpose of building in the country.  

Building for the surroundings

While it may be tempting to choose a design from a catalog, in truth, it’s the site that chooses the house. The Northwest has some wildly different climates, and your house should be able to handle the local conditions.

In the Cascades, houses that handle the snow poorly are nicknamed “westside homes” because snow avalanches over entrances or piles up in huge drifts against the house.  

If you’re building near the ocean, the design should handle lots of rain with big eaves and rot-resistant materials. West-facing windows in eastern Washington could make your house unbearably hot in the summer. In the forest, your house will be dark unless you have plenty of windows. 


Hiring experts

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Hiring professionals early can help you avoid big mistakes.  


It might be tempting to skip on architecture to save money, but choosing an architect who designs locally will help with big-picture decisions — especially if you’re building in a location that’s dramatically different from Seattle.  

Likewise, a good local builder will have valuable input on which materials make sense for your region, and will rein in ideas that are unreasonable. 

When choosing people, ask for suggestions in the local community. Make sure you see their portfolio, speak to former clients and tour completed jobs to ensure you like them and their aesthetic.

Writer Jeff Layton owns Osprey Acres, a three-year building project near Leavenworth that includes his dream home and a pair of weekend rental units available via Airbnb.com or Peerspace.com.