Because the seller knew very little about the land it was up to my wife and me to determine whether we had a workable, buildable piece of land or not.


After months of searching the MLS, craigslist and the local papers The Kim and I finally found a piece of land that met most of our needs. It had a nice flat pad that could be used for the home site, a power/phone pole going across it and there was a water main about a thousand feet down the road. Another benefit was that the flat pad we intended to use for the house was also close to the road so we knew we wouldn’t have to put in a long, costly driveway.

We found the parcel in April of 2004 and after all the land I’d seen over a five month period of looking, my wife and I knew that this was the one. Another factor in our decision was that it was listed by Bill Moss. Over the course of looking for land I had spoken with many realtors and I had found Bill to be the most frank and candid of the bunch. I had called Bill a few times before on other properties and also asked him questions about the process of building in the area, his answers were always very helpful.

My Dad, Richard Burns is a Real Estate Broker and Consultant who specializes in land, so I called him up and told him we found a piece that we wanted to make an offer on. He gave the listing agent, Bill Moss a call, signed and faxed the paperwork over and got the sellers to agree on a 30 day free look and a 60 day escrow. We put down a deposit and we were off and running.

During this period of time we were in an extremely hot real estate market so getting an escrow of anything longer than a couple of weeks was a plus. So now the heat was really on, we had 30 days to back out without losing our deposit and an additional 30 days to back out but with forfeiting our deposit.

Because the seller knew very little about the land it was up to my wife and me to determine whether we had a workable, buildable piece of land or not.

During escrow we had to find out if the geology was stable, if it was a legally subdivided lot, if it had a certificate of compliance, if the pad that was there was legally graded or not, where the actual boundaries of the land were, what and where did the easements for the road and power pole go, how much it would cost to bring up the water vs drilling a well and the list goes on!

Finding all of this information out took a tremendous amount of time and money…a lot more than we ever thought! We started immediately by hiring a geologist to come out to the land to check out the stability as well as doing what is called a perc test to see if the land is suitable for a traditional type septic system. The cost of this process differs from area to area, for us it meant outlaying several thousand dollars…and this was for land we didn’t own yet!

While I was waiting on the results of the geology and septic, I was on the phone constantly with every agency I could think of: Regional Planning, California Coastal Commission, Roads and Planning, title companies, Edison, Las Virgenes Water Dept, etc…basically anyone that could help me answer all the questions I had about this unimproved piece of land.

At first I found that many people at these different entities and agencies weren’t overly helpful, but with each call I made I began to discover that they must get hundreds of calls every day, so it was just a matter of being courteous, persistent and making sure to be specific and ask the right questions.

In between my day job, making calls and working with other peoples schedules, it took me just under a month to do all the necessary research to come the conclusion that I had a good piece of property. It was right around this time .…that the geology and septic system results were ready…thankfully with favorable results.

It was at this point I began to realize that it might be a bit more difficult than my wife and I thought it was going to be to just be able to close escrow and put up a modern prefab home…but we’d come this far and now we knew so much more about the land. We figured with just the extra knowledge we had about the property and with the fact that the geologist gave it a big thumbs up, that if we bought it and didn’t build, we could resell it at a handsome profit. So in June of 2004 we closed escrow and owned a piece of “major earth” to call our own!

For those looking for a little advice…if I had to do this over again I would recommend hiring an architect that has expertise in the area that you would like to build in. They will be able to help you make sure that the land you are thinking about buying is suitable for the project you have in mind.

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