Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Ahoy! Land Ho!

December 12, 2017
Santa Rosa, CA

Offer declined. After months of research and negotiation, our attempt to buy a nearly eight-acre parcel of land just west of Santa Rosa was not accepted. For now... At this point we wait six months and try again.

The Backstory 
Eight acres of land, you say? Well, back at the end of October, I (Scott) got myself a new bicycle, and immediately set off to ride the lovely wine and ag country to the west of Santa Rosa in the Russian River appellation. I had been looking at land in Sonoma County online, and on which we could someday build a home, for the better part of a decade. So while riding the back roads of SoCo, I am of course always scouting, looking for that elusive piece of land that has just the right assets - country feel, nearby vineyards (preferably within view), buildable terrain, proximity to town, and, most challengingly, a price tag within reach of our meager budget.

On October 27th, my second ride on the new bike, I passed by a parcel with potential, on the northwest corner of Piner Road and Willowside. Probably 20 times larger than anything we'd need in order to build our moderately sized dreamhome, but the location! Willowside is a gravel road that runs about 1/4 mile along the east edge of the property, across the street from a large vineyard, and with views of the mountains running north/south along the eastern edge of Santa Rosa. The asking price was a bit high, considering the raw nature of the land (no well, septic, or utilities), but I couldn't stop thinking about it. 

Hmm... Interesting
That evening our friend Richard, who was down from Truckee for some meetings in Mendocino, spent the night at our apartment.  Among other things, Richard is a licensed general contractor, so I was anxious to drag him out to the property the next day and get his thoughts. So between brunch at Jeffrey's Hillside Cafe and a fire-fundraiser-wine-tasting at Peterson Winery in Dry Creek, I hauled Richard and Caroline out to the parcel. We wandered around, imagining the potential, while I crawled through trees and bushes that I was to later discover were covered in poison oak (but that's another story). 

Post-property-jaunt with Richard, at Peterson's Winery's fundraiser for fire victims

Back at the manicured grounds of our apartment community with Richard. I didn't know it then, but I had covered myself in poison oak. These were my last smiles for a month.
Two days later we were working on our due diligence with Mikki, a realtor we were introduced to by our VRBO host when we first arrived in Santa Rosa the month before. The problem, it seemed, was largely environmental. Turns out the land is in an area that supports some endangered plant and animal species, including the California Tiger Salamander. Not having any experience in these matters, I spent quite a bit of my free time (when not job hunting... a job is a good thing to have if you want a land loan) talking to people at county planning, state and federal fish and wildlife, consultants, land mitigation banks, well drillers, septic engineers, lenders, and whomever I could think of that would give us an idea of whether or not we should be pursuing this "difficult" piece of land.

That's "ours" on the right side of the road. Difficult, but lovely.
Fast forward to December. I've accepted a job offer! Say hello to Delicato Family Vineyard's newest Sales Finance Manager. We've got someone (grudgingly) willing to lend us money! That was harder to pull off than I had imagined. Raw land, especially above five acres, is not something most banks want to deal with. So with a bit of research and some funding, we were ready to make an offer. We ended up bidding $100k below asking, due to the fact that no one wants to lend us that much, and also since we'd need to invest a lot of money in the project. The sellers were siblings who had inherited the land from their recently deceased elderly (97!) parents. At least one of the siblings lives out of state, in Texas, and probably didn't understand the difficulty of developing land in the regulatory nightmare that is Sonoma County. They did agree to meet us halfway, at $50k below asking, but we had decided that was still too rich for our blood.

BUT, our lender told us that after I've got six months of history on the job, we'll be able to get a better/bigger loan, which should give us some more flexibility in negotiating. Seeing how the property has been on the market for nearly a year, perhaps it will still be available by the time I've got some Delicato time under my belt. In the meantime, the scouting will continue.

Vines! Mountains!
Looks easy enough to build on, to these untrained eyes

Whose trash cans are on "our" property?! There are six or so homes down there at the end of this gravel road. We'll call them our someday-neighbors.

Looking for a build site - 8 acres leaves a lot of possibilities

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