Here’s Rosie’s best advice for finding your little piece of get-away-from-it-all paradise:
1. Location, location, location: There are so many factors to consider in deciding on a location. Is this a family vacation retreat where entertainment could be important for the teenagers? Is this a retirement property where proximity to friends and medical facilities are the determining factors? Or is this an out-of-the-way, off-the-map hermits’ retreat? Suffice it to say, you need to think about how you want to use the property so you buy a place that will generate the most enjoyment for you and your family.
My wife, Jennifer, and I were looking for raw property that would make good summer pasture for several horses with good access to National Forest land for unlimited riding. We were looking for land with an excellent water supply for both livestock and domestic use. We wanted raw land to give us the opportunity to build our dream home.
2. Finding a realtor: We have the distinct advantage of having lived in Arizona since the mid 60s. In the last 40 years, we traveled to, camped on and hiked in practically every corner of the state. Even with our knowledge of the area, we spent several days driving every back road in areas we liked. We took note of which realtor signs were planted on property owned by the locals. We felt that a realtor used by the locals would be a good person to help us start our search for rural property.
3. Deciding on parcel features: While driving the area, we took lots of notes on terrain type, lot sizes, utility and egress availability, apparent water supplies, etc. We rounded up every real estate publication from the diners and stores in the neighborhoods. With this information, we developed a set of parameters to submit to the realtor, who used it to very easily pull together all the for-sale properties in the area that fit our guidelines.
4. Making the offer: I requested a very long escrow period, twice what is normally given. We knew the property we selected had some flooding and access complications. I wasn’t going to be able to stay in the area full time to do the necessary research right away, so the seller and I compromised on a reasonable time period for me to investigate the parcel. I made the earnest money fully refundable contingent on my research of access and utility easements and my conversations with local septic tank contractors, well drillers and the county building department. If I didn’t like anything any of these parties told me, my earnest money would be 100 percent refunded and I could continue my search for property elsewhere.
5. Commence with the due diligence: I spent another three days in the area visiting with the key players mentioned above. While visiting with the local contractors and building inspectors, I uncovered information about just how tenuous the access easement to this property really was. I elected to bite the bullet and spend the majority of a day in the bowels of the county records department to see what was and wasn’t recorded. The trail of ownership or audit trail of easements and modifications for rural property is not as carefully kept as those for urban property. I believe this step, though tedious, bouncing for hours between the County Recorder’s Office and the County Assessor’s Office, was the single most crucial day in the entire research phase of the purchase. I learned that it’s important to pull the records of every parcel adjacent to the one I had in escrow and the records of any other critical piece of property in the immediate area. The meandering access easement I was counting on to build the road for this parcel had many unaccounted for modifications. Basically, I had a parcel in escrow that had no clear recorded ingress and egress easement. Many conflicting documents were a part of the official county records!
Useful Utility Resources:
1. Water witcher: The second-most important day in my research came on the afternoon I spent watching a local water witcher trace the aqueducts on the property and assess which one would generate the best water well location. The witcher in this particular area had been born and raised just off the parcel. I enjoyed a four-hour discussion, during which he filled me in on 84 years of local history and the current status of every neighbor feud in the county. This proved absolutely invaluable in accelerating my ability to mix with the locals. It taught me whom to stay clear of in starting the construction of our dream home and greatly enhanced my appreciation for the area and its pioneers.
2. Arizona Department of Water Resources. I discovered that a drilling permit had been issued several years ago, but a well was never dug. This could have potentially uncovered hidden problems with the property (it was irrelevant in this case). I was also able to uncover the water rights to all the surface water on this parcel. It was here, too, that I discovered six of the 10 acres were in the flood plain of the river that ran through the property! This became even more pertinent when I realized that the access easement the neighbor had modified put the easement right through the middle off the flood plain. This would make the property inaccessible in the spring time when we most wanted to use the land.
3. Local utility contractors. I walked the property and surrounding area with a representative from the local electric utility company. This made me aware of my options and potential expenses in bringing electricity to the building site. We elected to go underground through an old utility easement that no one even realized was on the property.
This research paid huge dividends for me when I received the preliminary title report and it showed documents that were in direct contradiction to the documents I had reviewed myself. This gave me the opportunity to request a time extension to the escrow while the title company prepared supporting documentation. The other distinct advantage of having spent this day at City Hall is that I could discuss with the seller’s representative the exact details of my concerns. This intimate familiarity with the property’s challenges greatly increased my negotiating leverage. I uncovered conflicting documents the seller wasn’t even familiar with! I wasn’t trying to weasel the price down; I wanted to get the seller’s help in clearing up these conflicting documents prior to close of escrow. These issues became our challenges, not my problems.