1. Will the lot be served by municipal water or a well?
If the lot is served by municipal water, you will need to pay a tap fee, plus a variety of other expenses that go along with metering water usage. Then you will pay for the water that you use.
If the home you build will be on a well, you’ll need to consider water rights and usage. Many people who come to Summit County are accustomed to turning on the tap and watching the water flow, without much thought. But in Colorado, water rights are a big deal and a big consideration when you are planning to build a home.
If your land parcel is smaller than 35 acres and you don’t hold what’s called an “augmented well permit,” you are subject to certain restrictions. That means, per your well permit, you may not be permitted to water outdoor plants or fill an outdoor hot tub. You may not even be allowed to have external spigots on your home.
If you are considering a property that is not serviced by town water, make sure you read the details of the water permit and make sure it suits what you plan to do with your water.
If you wish to use the well water for anything beyond what your well permit allows, you will need to apply for an Augmented Well Plan from the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
Here is Colorado’s official well permit guide with additional information: http://water.state.co.us/DWRIPub/Documents/wellpermitguide.pdf
Information on Augmented Well Plans is here:
2. Will the land for sale be served by municipal sewer or by a septic system? Again, in the course of building your home, you will need to pay to hook into the sewer system. How much is going to be based on the number of bedrooms and bathrooms the finished home will have.
If, on the other hand, your custom home will be served by a septic tank, at some point before building, you will need to have a perc test conducted to make sure the land can absorb water. In essence, during a perc test, a technician visits the site, digs a series of large holes, and observes how quickly the water drains. (Keep in mind that a perc test cannot be done during the winter months, so plan accordingly.)
In Summit County, before you can get a septic permit, you’ll need to develop a site plan, showing all wells and septic systems on adjacent properties, even if those properties are across a road. (Search for permitted septic systems here: https://commdev.co.summit.co.us. Locate wells by calling the Colorado Department of Natural Resources: 970.945.5665.) Note that septic systems are now more commonly referred to as Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, so you may see references to OWTS.
Your site plan will also need to show any water on the property or wetlands, as well as any setbacks or disturbance envelopes. You’ll need the slope in your planned Soil Treatment Area (STA). Contact a design engineer to help you with this. (I’m happy to recommend one.) Once you have a conceptual site plan, you can submit it to the county, along with a septic permit application.
To test the soil for your leach field, a soil profile survey is conducted by digging a hole 8-10 feet (or more) in-depth and at least 4 feet below the base of the projected Soil Treatment Area. An inspector will then look for groundwater and will examine the layers of the soil, to see if there is anything like bedrock or clay that may cause problems. This will determine the depth of your Soil Treatment Area.
These profile holes are large. They are typically created with a backhoe and they need to be not only deep but wide enough so the inspector can view all of the layers of soil, to the bottom of the hole. They need to be created when the ground isn’t frozen and when there is access to the site. If the land is affected by high water tables, this inspection may be required during the times of maximum groundwater (typically this will be during the snowmelt, in the springtime.)
Knowing the soil conditions of your lot is important for more than just a septic system. You’ll need a soil test done on your projected build site to determine soil density and its capacity for load-bearing.
Most of the findings of soil testing have a resolution, but they can get expensive. For example, some areas in Breckenridge are known for having highly expansive soil. These lots, in many cases, are still buildable, but the homes will require special engineering.
3. Will the land for sale be served by natural gas or by propane? If you are located in an area served by Xcel Energy (or your local public service company), you will pay a fee to tap into the natural gas, and then you’ll be billed according to your usage. If it is in an area not served by Xcel, you will need to contract with a propane company to rent a tank and create a schedule for the tank to be filled.
4. How close are the nearest utilities? If the lot you have your eye on is located in an area with access to electricity, and it’s on municipal sewer and water, you will need to determine whether the lot already has access to these utilities or if you will need to pay extra to bring it in.
Ask your agent what other utilities are available for the property and in the subdivision. Some neighborhoods have cable TV, and/or satellite. Others don’t.
While you’re checking out the utilities, look to see what internet services are available and the quality of cell coverage on the lot. Especially when you are looking at more remote lots, it’s always a good idea to check the quality of the connection and the area of your coverage.
If you don’t have good cell coverage on the lot, it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, of course. You can always check to see if another provider can give you better service, for example, but it’s definitely something to check before you write an offer. Especially if you need to be connected with your office while you’re visiting your new custom home, you don’t want second-rate internet service or cell service
5. What are the Association fees of the neighborhood or subdivision? As your agent, I can tell you what the association fees are for any subdivision you are planning to buy a lot. These vary, as will the amenities offered.
If the association fees sound high, make sure to consider, item by item, what it would cost you to provide these services yourself. (Again, sometimes expenses such as snow removal and trash removal are included as part of the Association dues.) Then, put a price on the convenience of having these things taken care of on your behalf…especially if you plan to lock and leave your home for weeks or months at a time.
In a similar vein, it’s wise to investigate the likelihood of upcoming special assessments in the subdivision. Special assessments are fees that are shared by all owners in the subdivision to pay for large, and perhaps unexpected, capital expenditures. These can be major expenses that every property owner is responsible for, and they are in addition to the monthly Association fees. They tend to occur more in subdivisions that share a lot of common space and common facilities.
The way that a neighborhood handles supplementary assessments is typically outlined in the Association’s Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs), so make sure you read through this document in full. You should also check through the HOA’s financials to make sure it has sufficient reserve funds for any future needs.
It’s also a good idea to find out who manages the HOA, whether professionally or through a board of the owners. Get the contact information and give them a call. See how well (and how quickly) they respond to any questions you may have.
6. Are there real estate transfer taxes in the area you’re considering?
A real estate transfer tax is a one-time payment, made at the time of closing. In Summit County, Colorado, these funds help to pay for a variety of things that enhance the community – everything from sidewalk and road improvements to special events. In Breckenridge, the funds go into a general fund that also helps pay for our impressive amenities, including our recreation center, golf club, and ice arena.
The amount of real estate transfer tax in Summit County is traditionally paid by the buyer (though this is negotiable) and varies according to the location of the property purchased but will be either 0%, 1%, 1.5%, or 2% of the total purchase price. Read my detailed explanation of Summit County’s transfer tax.
7. Are there impact fees levied on new construction?
In Summit County, there is an impact fee for new construction, which benefits affordable housing efforts. The fee is collected by the county in an amount based on the finished square footage of the home and ranging between $0 and $2 per square foot.
Summit County is working its way toward a greener future, and no industry will find itself adapting more than construction and building.
According to the Summit County Community Climate Action Plan, which looked at greenhouse gas emissions throughout the county in 2017, 67% of the county’s emissions come from the building sector.
Deeper Green and the High Country Conservation Center helps builders adapt to the code, create a model that will get homes to meet the required energy score set by the Net Zero Energy standards.
While the task of buying vacant land may seem daunting, it’s nothing an experienced professional can’t help you with.
I’m always happy to answer any questions you have about vacant land in Breckenridge or Summit or Park counties.