1. Apr 19 08 It is not surprising that many Acorn Deck House owners live in fantastic locations. Our clients choose homes that connect them to the outside.  From waterfront and mountain views to open fields and nature’s woods, your land is where we start a home’s design. How do you find the right location? Our clients have a lot of questions about buying land.  We always recommend using local professionals, but some general information is provided here to help you get started. Investment or Personal Paradise? Are you buying the real estate as a possible investment?  Your criteria will be a little more stringent than the buyer who is looking for the perfect place to build their dream home. Advice to investors would be: Don’t buy or create the nicest place in the neighborhood. Don’t pay more than the market value, do your research. Don’t buy in an area where your style home won’t fit. But if you are building for you, the most important thing is that you end up in a house you will love for as long as you like and for a price you can afford to pay. Location, location, location It’s true – these are the three most important aspects of a real estate purchase.  The location is critical so study it carefully.  If you aren’t very familiar with the area, I strongly suggest you use a Buyer’s Broker. Learn about your neighborhood.  Does the company down the street have a problem with hazardous materials?  Is the town planning on building a new school on the empty land next door?  Was that a plane that just zoomed over your head?  This is local knowledge, not easily found at the town offices. Talk to people, find out what they know about the area you are interested in. The town has a lot of information to help you out and many towns have put it online for the public to use.  If not, the Building Department, the Board of Health and the Natural Resources Department should be able to provide key data.  Such as: Zoning:  What is the land zoned for?  Single Family Residential might be what you are after.  But if you hoped to build a two family (your mother is getting a little older) then you need an area zoned for two families or else you will have to apply for a variance – permission to build something not allowed by zoning.  The likelihood of getting a variance is very different from town to town, but most towns implement zoning for a reason. There can be many classifications of Single Family Residential, such as having different minimum lot sizes.  Is your lot “conforming” to the required size for its zone?  If it is zoned for 2 acres and you only have 1.85, you will need to get a variance. Zoning laws, available at the town offices, will also tell you a lot about what your structure has to look like.  The laws will talk about setbacks.  How far from your neighbor do you have to build?  And height restrictions.  How tall can you build?  If the area is zoned as historical, you may not be able to build a NextHouse and there will be guidelines about paint color, fencing, and the like. For the investment crowd, you might be interested in the assessment zones, if the town has them.  Some towns assess property value based on its general location or assessment zone.  So a 3 bedroom Cape style home in assessment zone 1 might be worth more than the same home in assessment zone 2. Town assessors realize that location matters. Wetlands and River Acts: The United States has enacted a set of laws to protect our water resources; The National Environmental Policy Act, The Clean Water Act, and the Rivers and Harbors Act.  Most states have created their own set of regulations to compliment these.  In Massachusetts we have The Wetlands Protection Act. Also towns may have their own Wetland protection regulations.  An applicant must obtain permits from all of the agencies that have jurisdiction over their lot before building can begin.  Many towns have a separate department to manage the Federal, state, and town laws about wetland protection.  Check with the town or on the town website to see if your lot is in the wetlands, near a river, in the buffer zone or in the flood plain.  And don’t forget that if it is in the floodplain (and it may look perfectly dry to you) then your mortgage company and/or your insurance company will require you to buy additional flood insurance. Speaking of water…. You will need to have water at your new home.  The town may already have water to your site and you just have to hook up to it and put a meter on.  From then on, you will pay the town for water you use and be subject to their water conservation policies.  I personally think this is a good thing and that you are lucky to have town water. But if you don’t, you have to get it somewhere else.  Most likely you will be having a professional dig a well using special digging equipment. I saw a You Tube video that said the average well is 200 feet deep. The well for our new Deck House model home in Acton was 400 feet deep – you would think that with the name of the road being “Partridge Pond”, water would have been easier to find! Once you find water, a licensed water testing company should test the water.  If you are working with the town on this project, and I hope you are, then they will advise you what kind of water testing is required to prove to them you have “potable” or drinkable water.  I refer you to http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/private/wells/testing.html to learn more about what to test for and why. Now don’t get worried.  Almost anything can get filtered or treated.  Of course this will add to the cost of your water system.  But once you are done, you have your own source of water. Energy How are you going to power your house?  Power, in the form of electricity, is usually not a large obstacle.  You will want to contact the Electricity provider for your area, the town, NSTAR, National Grid or the like, and discuss access to power with them.  You can provide your own electricity with a generator fueled by oil, gas, solar, wind, or water.  Since most locations will have electricity available, I won’t go any deeper into these options. There are several choices for fuel these days.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration says that of the homes being built recently, 44% will use electricity for heat, 43% will use natural gas, and 14% will use another source.  This surprises you if you are from the northeast, where we mostly use oil.  The south uses electricity more often and the Midwest and Western parts of the U.S. use natural gas. We have already touched on access to electricity.  Access to natural gas is similar.  You start by contacting the local provider to see if they have natural gas being piped to your lot.  You may need to pay to get them there.  If other neighbors are looking to get natural gas, then they can help in this cost.  Sometimes the utility company will work this out for you and just bill your neighbors a “Betterment” charge if they connect.  Or you may have to get together with the neighbors and see what their needs are and if they will work with you and the utility company.  This type of negotiation can be done for natural gas, sewage treatment, cable, and many other commonly used home conveniences.  You hope the utility company will make enough revenue going forward to pay for the extension of services or at least part of it. Acorn Deck House owners are often very independent and want to rely on their own sources of energy.  You need to think about this when you choose your lot.  Do you want solar power?  How is the sun access on your lot?  Wind?  You will need a lot of wind and a place to put your wind turbines.  Geothermal energy is getting some traction. Again, your lot will need to support the required trenches. Some energy sources will need to be purchased and then stored on your lot.  Oil almost always is.  Natural Gas can be if it is not available on the street.  Wood is another storable energy source, popular in the northeast.  The old fashioned split wood is sometimes used, but wood pellets and other “biomass” products are the choice if this is the main source of heat. Take your time Buying land is like starting a painting with a blank canvas.  While it can take some patience and persistence, it is an important step in the building process so you can create a house that fits both your lifestyle and the location perfectly.  Finding the right location is the cornerstone of your new home.  Take your time and the Acorn Deck House Company can help you build the rest.   “ Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” Franklin D. Roosevelt