My husband and I are building our dream house in the mountains of Northern Utah. Its been quite the journey to get to this point, with lots of adventures along the way. Hopefully, in the end, we will have created a beautiful forever home. First we have to survive the process!
Let me start off by saying that I am not a professional blogger. Forgive the roughness of my efforts. We’ve just learned so many things as we’ve gone through this process! Hopefully sharing some of our experiences will be helpful and entertaining.
Larry and I spent quite a few months looking for the ideal piece of land to build on. To be fair, we had some unusual requirements that we knew were going to be difficult to meet, particularly if we were going to try to stay in our small community that we have come to love. My husband’s biggest requirement was to have enough space that he could shoot off the back porch. We are a shooting family so the ability to have a private range on which to safely practice has been a big priority. I was a little more picky. I like to have space to garden, something pretty to look at outside, and enough space that I could mostly forget that we have neighbors. Larry is a writer. He works from home and travels a lot on book tours and as a guest at different conventions all over the country. For us travel is generally work, not a vacation. Our home is our sanctuary. We want it to be an escape from the crazy life we live.
We finally found it! We found our little slice of heaven. We purchased just under 25 acres far enough outside of our small town that it is still very rural, but close enough that things like running in to town to grab a forgotten ingredient for dinner and carpooling our 4 kids back and forth to activities isn’t a huge dramafest. It “feels” like we will be living way out in the countryside, but I can still go to my gym and Larry can easily make it to the airport. It really is an ideal location.
The first time we saw it was a week into January. There were 3 feet of snow on the ground and we had to slog through brush and climb over barbed wire fence in sub freezing temps to even get a look at it. 10 minutes into our exploring I just KNEW that this was the place for us. I looked at my husband and said “Let’s buy it.” I’ve never made a spontaneous decision that big in my life, but when you know- you just know. It took us over an hour to get to the top of the hill where the views are absolutely spectacular. We had no idea what we were buying. Everything was buried under snow or impossible to access. It didn’t matter. Larry called our realtor and told him we wanted to put in an offer on the spot. I even got a picture of him with the phone to his ear.
When the snow melted we discovered that the land has some challenges. There is a steep rise to a big flat area, then another steep rise to the top of a hill where the home site will be. Before we purchased the land it had been used as grazing range for cattle, but had not been used for that purpose in many years. It is good brown soil (yay garden) but overgrown with sage brush and a few scrub maples.
Its pretty rough getting from the highway to the home site. We have long and snowy winters so any lane or driveway needs to be kept at a maximum of a 12 percent grade or vehicles can’t make it up. For that to happen we have had to carve a road out across our entire property. It’s half a mile long!
The land has never been developed. There are no public utilities stubbed out to the site. We must bury a quarter of a mile of power lines up a steep hill so that we can have electricity. Natural gas lines are WAY too expensive so we have to figure out how to heat our home on our own. Sewer and city water aren’t an option so we have had to drill a well and will be on a septic system. All of this has to be planned, approved, and permitted. Its BANANAS! And all of this has to be done before we can even begin to think about getting house plans approved or when to break ground. What were we thinking?
You know, you watch HGTV shows about people building their dream homes and you think you have an idea of what these projects take to get off the ground. They are documentaries, right? Its research. Umm… NOPE! The layers and layers of paperwork needed to be done when you are developing your own land can be absolutely overwhelming. And each step along the way hinges on another layer of paperwork somewhere else getting approval before it can move forward.
First we needed a site survey. Then we needed an engineered plan for a road. Then, because our “driveway” is connected to a public highway, we needed an easement from the State Department of Transportation. We needed geologic surveys before the driveway could be constructed and a driveway before we could get a drill rig up to where we could put a well, and did you know that you have to get permission from multiple government agencies to drill for water?
Two years later we are still doing paperwork. Honestly, it sucks. We’ve been really lucky in that everyone we have dealt with personally has been really great to work with. They have genuinely wanted us to be successful in our project and open to helping us through the process. I know that it isn’t like this for everyone so I do feel really blessed.
So, now that you know a little bit about how we got here, let me share the biggest things I’ve learned…
First, things like this are one of the biggest and most stressful experiences that you can have. Take the time to figure out what you REALLY want in a property. You will most certainly have to compromise a few things but by knowing what you won’t compromise on will help to narrow down your search and prepare you mentally to take the leap when you find the right place.
Second, unless you are spectacularly lucky, this is not a quick process. Plan on everything taking longer than you expect. Its much less frustrating if you can go into the project without unrealistic expectations. Plan the stress and time you will spend into your life. No time will ever be “perfect” but it might be a good idea to NOT take on building your dream home if your plate is already full.
And most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions and seek a lot of advice. It’s okay to be a little clueless. Unless you are involved with this industry there really is no way that you can know everything and be 100% prepared. The professionals kind of expect this, and if they are good, they are happy to help you along the way. Be decent to the people you deal with in all of the agencies you will need to interact with. They are just normal people who want to have a good day too. They want you to have a successful outcome, but they are required to work within the system. I have found the phrases “I’m new to this, can you help me?” and “Thank you so much for your patience while I’m trying to get this right..” to be miracle workers. I really can not stress this enough. Our paperwork would have taken MUCH longer to complete without the assistance of many people in many government offices.
That brings you to where we are now. Hopefully, we will be able to break ground and begin construction this spring once the ground dries out. Cross your fingers friends!