Home Buying in the Mountains

   We are settled in our new home and believe we have found heaven in the North Georgia Mountains. We thank our Real Estate Agent, Barb, for guiding us through all of the rough spots. Without her knowledge, we would still be stewing over the problems that shouldn’t have happened and things we should have known. Based on our three month home search this is what you need to consider before you fall in love with the perfect spot. We all know that once that fire is lit, it is difficult to blow out. So step back and do your due diligence. I don’t want to scare you away from mountain living but buying a home in the mountains is not the same as the purchase of a home in the suburbs. You may want to live on the top of the ridge but don’t take the infrastructure and conveniences that you are used to for granted?

1. Neighbors. Unless you sit in your car for hours on end and watch your new neighbors come and go, it is difficult to judge what they may be like. But, one thing you can do is check to see if many of your neighbors rent out their homes on a weekly basis. Some neighborhoods in touristy areas cater to vacation rental clientele. When on vacation, these folks may party more than they normally would and they may stay up later than you. If the properties around you are on small lots, then this noise will carry. But then again, you may be surprised and find that the constantly changing social environment is just what you wanted and you can meet new friends every week.

2. Shopping. The more remote you want your retirement home to be, the less likely you are to have great shopping opportunities. We like to make a monthly event of traveling to Atlanta for shopping and a nice lunch. The occasional change to a city pace adds vitality to our life. If you like to satisfy your shopping needs more regularly, then shopping the internet over morning coffee is great. 

3. Road access. You’ve always been envious of those homes on the ridge lines or the cozy cottages on the lakes. Did you ever consider the infrastructure needed to get to them. The steeper the grade the more difficult it is to fell the trees. Cutting into the hillside causes runoff that needs to be safely directed away.  The water has to go somewhere, either under or over the street and if not planned for properly, then the road will wash out. The main roads usually don’t circle a lake. How do you get to the house you saw from your friend’s boat? We looked at lots of houses on gravel and dirt roads. Our agent must have to wash her car everyday, because even a short trip over these passages kicks up dust or mud. Gravel is tough on your vehicle’s tires and they require more frequent replacements. If you are buying in a new development, are there plans to put in a paved road? What are the guarantees that the builder will do as he says and what happens if he goes out of business? Well paved tarmac is a blessing but it comes at a high cost.

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4. Water. We take this vital resource for granted but what if you turned on the faucet and nothing flowed? Will the well that came with the house be enough for your family? Is it deep enough to hit the water table? If you have a community well, who else is using it? With so many homes in some areas used as vacation rentals, that four bedroom home can hold eight people or more a week. This extra use can put a tremendous strain on a community system. You may need to drill your own well if you can find a place on the property to accommodate one, or you can look for a home on the town’s public water supply. Recently, I was in the neighborhood of the home that my husband had to have. It was necessary for me to pull over into the ditch so a truck could pull into the narrow road and pass. Guess what kind of truck it was. A water delivery truck. My guess is that someone’s well is dry. I am glad that we didn’t buy that house. Of course, North Georgia has been in an extreme drought, so this may be a year of exceptions.

5. Trash. You’re used to rolling the trash cans to the curb once a week but that doesn’t happen here. The norm in the mountains is to drop trash at what we would call in the north…the dump. It isn’t a big deal as they’re located on the way to where you need to go anyway, but it is different and less convenient than what you are used to. Or you can organize your neighbors and together hire a private company to haul your trash for you, just like the suburban towns do.

6. Cable, internet, and phone. One way or another you can get all three but you may not have the speed that you’re used to. Be sure to understand if you will be on satellite, cable or old fashion phone lines. Yes, in some areas, the only way to get internet is the old fashion way…over the phone line. If you need to install satellite TV, does your yard have a spot with a clear view of the southern sky? Will you need to cut down trees? Will the dish end up sitting in your front yard? How about your cell phone? Can you get reception in your living room or do you have to walk outside to hear what the other person is saying? Will changing providers put you in better range to their towers? Technology is rapidly providing new and quicker access to the Intel highway but will that roadway reach your side of the mountain?

7. Septic systems. I spent most of my life not ever hearing the word septic system but when you move out of suburbia then you need to be informed. That waste water needs to go somewhere when town sewage isn’t available The size of a septic system is built to accommodate the number of people that live in a house. That number is derived from the number of bedrooms in the house. According to building codes a bedroom must have a closet and a window. When you build on a hillside, a lower floor can highlight a wall of glass along one wall, and some or most of the other three walls are surrounded by foundation. In most cases bedrooms in this area of the home are built without the window or with small high windows. They may or may not have been counted as bedrooms. If they were, then the septic system should have accounted for this. But in my experience they weren’t. If this garden level wasn’t originally finished, but the rooms added later, the septic should have been made larger. I doubt that it happened. If the septic doesn’t keep up with the growing home then the building inspectors may at some point object and require you to bring the house up to code. Also consider what happens when the terrain’s conditions don’t accommodate a basic septic tank and drainage field systems. For instance, if a house is built on a steep hill where there is no place to install a tank and drainage field or if the house is along a river that floods and the drainage field would fill up with river water and pollute the river. In these cases, a pressure dosage system may have to be used. This system uses a pump, and the drain field is built through tubes close to the surface. Do your homework to be sure you understand what the system entails.

8. HOA. In most areas of the country, the home owner’s association is common but if you come from the north you may have never heard of them. In areas of the country where new towns and communities are developed, the developer is responsible for installing the infrastructure. When the building is complete the new community usually take over the maintenance. Some associations use this transition as a way of protecting the look and the feel of the neighborhood. They have architectural committees that pass laws governing anything from home renovation plans to the type of trees planted or the color of front doors. All of this protection can be great if not carried to extreme or at the whim of some overbearing control freaks. After all, if you’re not protected by a POA, in counties that don’t governed land use with zoning, you may find a neighbor has decided to turn his two car garage into a commercial machine shop running 24/7 with his side yard used as a junk yard for spare parts.

9. Easements. When building in an area where there is a limit to public roads, you will find that many roads are private. You may have to go on these roads to access your property. Be sure that that you have an easement that is registered with the town. Be sure this easement is permanent and won’t expire. And just to double check, be sure that no one else has an easement over your land unless you are aware of it. Check with the town as well has your POA. During the building boom of a few years ago, swapping of access rights weren’t always formal.

10. Property lines. Always hire a surveyor in North Georgia before you buy a house or land. I don’t want to tell you the cost of undoing this mess after the fact. I know one couple who spent thirty thousand dollars just to defend their property rights, and this wasn’t covered by insurance. It took two years to fight and there are plenty of nasty people out there. Our personal experience was nothing like that but it would have been worse if we didn’t have a survey performed.  See our previous postThe only reason for the prevalence in property line problems that I have come up with is laziness. When homes were developed on rough or steep terrain the position of a proposed home on the original map may not have been practical or possible when it came time to build. The home may have had to move to a better or easier to build on location. The developers were slothful and town rules were lax. The home shifted across the original property lines. After all, those property lines were put there by the developer on a piece of paper. It was still his land and he could do what he wanted with it. If it was cheaper to take the path of least resistance that is where the bulldozer dug. Changing the survey with the town or HOA was just a complication to be dealt with later. But, they never dealt with it later. The homes were sold where they were and not as shown on the plot plans. So, do your due diligence and hire a professional. Don’t believe the HOA maps. Don’t believe the town’s records. Have the plot marked with bright ribbons. Walk along the lines. Talk to the surveyor and have him draw your  house on the new plan to give you an idea of how it compares to the files on record. Ask the owners’ of the surrounding properties if they agree with what the surveyor shows. You want to love your neighbors. Don’t start out with a conflict.

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