What It Means When Land Is “Unimproved”

July 21, 2015

Thus continues my ongoing series as a lead up to the full story around what we’re buying, the plan we’re hatching and the vision we have for the rest of 2015 and a good portion of 2016.

When we first started to explore the possibilities of purchasing a place to call our own, it was rather daunting. Extremely complex, particularly because we haven’t considered ourselves particularly tied to one city or zone that would at least limit certain variables. In our search, we ran into incredibly cheap parcels that only upon further investigation were revealed to be bound by unbelievably costly building permit requirements. Square footage minimums. Other by-laws and city rules that would quickly curtail our dream of taking our time and trying to minimize how much debt this whole endeavour inevitably puts us in.

For those who haven’t traveled down this path before, it all seems a bit nutty but there isn’t the same sensibility around key questions.

  • Is there water? Not yet, but we feel confident that if a shallow well won’t do it for now, a deep well will provide us with plenty. Fingers crossed.
  • Where’s the power? At the road, we’ll need to be conscious of how far back we put the building site so we’re not too far and thereby required to add another pole to bring power out. 
  • A building site cleared? Nope, but there’s a bit of a road roughed in on one side. It’s the wetter side though, so may not actually serve as the primary entrance. The building site itself will be mapped out by us and our excavator.
  • Road access? Yep, got that covered no problem. 
  • Septic? Nah, which is good for us anyway since we anticipate we’ll need to make this a priority with the eventual dairy – so we’d rather have one combined system put in then versus having something now and still needing to add another one down the road. 


Then at some point if this inquiring mind knows us well, the question of internet will come up. Rest assured that above all else, given our laptops are our primary livelihood, internet will be available and readily used once we’ve settled onto our new plot of land.

These amenities, utilities and services are of course what the bank means when they say “improved”. They offer additional value, up the appraisal on the land and increase the net worth of the property.

We take it as a given that we will have some/all of these services by the time we move in. Whether through conventional means (hydro, septic) or more alternative routes (solar, composting toilet + grey water system), we will be fine.


But it’s the level of detail that goes into improving all the rest of the elements on the land that gets us much more excited and passionate about this project. Learning from local folks who have gone through their own adventures taking a raw piece of land and turning it into a home, plus reading up on the topic rather obsessively, we have a reasonably good sense of what we can do to work with the land, trying to preserve and enhance what is best about where we will be while also offset or improve what is lacking or potentially problematic.

On Friday we’ll be doing a detailed walk through of the land – hacking through bush and bramble to check out various areas and discuss with our excavator (who will also be there) what the possibilities are and where we might want to avoid. Then the following week (hopefully!) we’ll have a land surveyor out to create a topographical map of the acreage – highlighting the high points and low points for us to use as our guide toward situating a dairy, planning a garden, and building our home in 2016.

I will admit, when I looked at the pricetag for such a document…I said no at first.

There will be so many expenses and so many different things to worry about. Do we really need to fork over a couple grand for a map?

Scott’s level headedness and general propensity at frugality rather than excess caused me to pause mid-whine (maybe the third or fourth time we had this conversation) to really think this through.

Yes, we could be cheap now.

BUT…what if we build the barn in a flood plane? Miss a prime spot to establish a shallow well? Compromise the value of the entire property by really royally messing up where we put everything…because we didn’t want to invest a (proportionately speaking) little bit up front.

Not to mention the fact that this knowledge and these documents continue to be useful as an asset for the land in the long run. So….we’re doing it.


Shifting gears and changing our mindset to really taking the time to do things right versus rushing or making cheap decisions is going to be one of the things we’ll need to remind each other about for a while I think. Ever since we started living this lifestyle, we’ve tried to be cost conscious, figure out mobile/temporary solutions, work with what we have and not invest too much.

Otherwise it hurts when you have to rip it down or leave it behind.

Now, we have a chance to do it right. Do it for real and really do it to last. It’s a good feeling, but yes…still a little bit daunting. A big responsibility we both feel to not only do right by the investment we’re making in ourselves and in the value of the property, but most importantly in the land itself.

Let’s hope we can do these ten acres of (almost) ours justice.


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  • Reply Ronda July 21, 2015 at 10:54 am

    If anyone can do this, you two can!

  • Reply Katrina July 21, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    A survey is well worth the money! We use had our land surveyed and are waiting for the maps. Even just chatting with the surveyors while they worked brought many things to my attention that I otherwise may not have noticed.
    I hope everything goes well on Friday, I’ve learned it’s always better to do it right rather than do it cheap.

    • Reply rachel July 25, 2015 at 9:23 pm

      I’m so delayed in responding to comments but maybe it’s a good thing because I needed this reminder today! All of our timing for everything is so condensed for August/September that it’s easy for me (less so for Scott) to want to waffle and say “let’s just build!!” but the risks – even just based on the number of seasonal creek beds we stumbled upon – are pretty great. Very keen to see what they say…and in the meantime we’re back over there tomorrow to do a bit more exploring. 🙂

  • Reply Jenn July 22, 2015 at 12:53 am

    A surveyor is totally the money, but you might check in to see if lidar remote sensing has been done in you area. It is becoming more and more common (our property in the remote Oregon coast range had already been done), and will give you a beautiful topographical map and some great additional data for your records.

    • Reply rachel July 25, 2015 at 9:23 pm

      That is a GREAT suggestion – looking into it now! Thank you!

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