It’s easy to imagine the thrill of launching a boat from your own dock, or just relaxing on the veranda with coffee on a quiet Sunday morning.
In an increasingly digitized 24/7 society, many people long for a rustic escape where they can immerse themselves in a beautiful natural setting. Whether that means towing an Airstream to rustic acreage in the woods to re-create Thoreau’s “Walden,” or building a well-appointed second home to eventually retire to on the waterfront or in the high desert, one thing’s certain: There’s a big difference from building on raw land, and building in a wild space where some of the development work already has been done. That’s especially true of waterfront development.
Waterfront living is an alluring dream for many people. It’s easy to imagine the thrill of launching a boat from your own dock, taking a peaceful glide in the kayak before breakfast, fishing after work, or just relaxing on the veranda with coffee on a quiet Sunday morning. Going from dream to reality takes planning.
“There are a lot of variables in the countryside,” says Russ Andrews, managing broker at Windermere Real Estate/NCW, who has sold residential real estate and land in the Wenatchee market for more than two decades. “Everyone who comes to us wanting to buy land has a vision of what it is they want to build, only some are practical and some aren’t.”
In Andrews’ practice, which includes three offices in the Chelan and Douglas County areas, about half of his clients seek existing construction but another half want to buy land and build on it. He’s currently representing new lots as large as 6.8 acres at Ravenwing Ranch, a new master-planned community on 7500 acres of land along the Columbia River, as well as other properties in the region. While buyers’ reasons for seeking land and building on it vary — they may want a second home, a custom primary home, an equestrian or farm property — the following are issues they’ll need to consider as they launch their research.
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Working with natural restrictions
Choosing to build a home in or next to a wild, natural setting typically comes with restrictions related to the buyer’s use of the home site or rules about site preparation. These often are related to water or other terrain considerations.
Along the Columbia River, for example, federal oversight governs hydroelectric dams and power facilities providing power to county public utility districts. The use of a dam and reservoir system means water tables may lift and lower dramatically several times a year — thus, large swaths of potential waterfront may be underwater one season and exposed the next. This means finding waterfront property along the Columbia is rare.
At Ravenwing Ranch, Andrews says, waterfront lots are placed anywhere from 20 feet to 40 feet above the river’s flood level for this reason — meaning homeowners will enjoy a river vista, but from a slight distance. Lots are banked by an easement that homeowners can enjoy for recreation — walking, fishing, etc. — but where no structures can stand.
Elsewhere, if land is on hilly or steep terrain, buyers may also need to invest in infrastructure such as retaining walls, water drainage systems, sophisticated well pumps, and additional excavation to prepare the building site of their future home. Water rights, water access (for wells), and drinking water quality are also challenges in some rural regions.
Bringing in infrastructure
A planned community selling buildable lots offers a different proposition for buyers than raw land sold without any utility infrastructure or site development. When buying a lot in a community, buyers know that the lot is buildable (although they will have choices about how large a home to build, where to set it on the lot, etc.) and that utility hook-ups are available — meaning some of the above steps are either completed or information about how to proceed has been predetermined. They will also need to adhere to broad building design guidelines. At Ravenwing, for instance, properties must contain at least 1800 square feet of living space and include onsite covered parking, and the use of high-desert design — stucco, wood — is encouraged.
With raw land, a buyer will have broader aesthetic freedom when it comes time for home construction, but getting to the construction stage is more challenging. The owner must pay to bring power to the property — a proposition that varies widely in cost — and also engage engineering professionals about decisions such as where to locate and dig a well and septic system.
Buy-and-build takes time
In case it needs saying, buying land and building on it takes more time than buying an existing home. When buying land, buyers generally request a 30-day (or more) feasibility period when making their offer, a time period during which they research whether they can arrange, afford, and engineer both the land and their future residence such that it meets both county building codes and their own aesthetics.
A buyer on a mission — with a prechosen architectural plan, a buildable lot, and a builder at the ready — is looking at six to 12 months before move-in, Andrews says.
A buyer who has purchased raw land needs to go through the steps of installing utility infrastructure and receiving county approvals — all before getting a building permit with which to move forward on construction.
Buyers who come to rural environments may find that their vision for a faraway retreat is matched by developments on offer, where some of the preparation work has already been handled but creativity remains when it comes to the architecture and buildout of their future property. Not only that, but in a planned development, amenities like bike/ski trails, boat launches, dining and convenience stores, and security features may add to the appeal.
Ravenwing Ranch, just hours from Seattle, yet miles from nowhere. Named for the sacred destination natives called “Ravens Place,” it’s a secluded retreat that combines reverence for the land with sophisticated living.