Designing a Dream, Building a Mountain Home, All Under One Hat

by Brian Welch on January 24, 2019

Part  3 – Land Search, Home Style…and Hospitals

Despite what the impressions may be, there aren’t many lots available in the area; the good ones go quickly while the rest are analyzed over and over.  There are a lot of questions that we get when people are looking for a lot to build their home on, but the most often asked questions are, “Is it Buildable?” and “How much will it Cost?”  Both are loaded questions but certainly important.  My first suggestion to people when looking at land is to make sure they are comparing equal lots; naturally, people are drawn to a low price tag, but this can lead to missing out on other great opportunities that appear to cost more but in the end are better investments.  Once I started looking at the required investment on some of these cheaper lots, we opened up our search and started to see what other true comparisons offered us.

The perfect example of this is the $80-$120,000 lot; these lots are typically steep, lack water and sewer, and require a big investment for infrastructure to comply with county regulations.  Most of these lots need $60-75,000 minimum in costs to make them a buildable site.  What this means, is that your price point should include lots up to $195,000 because you may find a more suitable site that fits your dreams and is a construction-ready site.  There are a lot of situations like this and it’s a great reason to give a contractor or engineer a call to see if your looking at comparable lots (I’m not just saying this to drum up business, I’m always willing to give my opinion on a lot because I’ve seen people get stuck on some expensive projects).

The reason I mentioned this is because we were able to find our dream lot that was more up-front costs but saved us money in the end once we started looking at comparable alternatives.  When we embarked on our search, we knew we wanted to be in the foothills, but a major factor in our search was that my wife needed to be within 30 minutes of her work at one of the local hospitals as an on-call nurse.  Although I like to blame her for being the difficult one, I also work in Denver quite frequently and the drive time was important for me as well.  Anyone who has looked for land west of 470 knows that a roads and access play a vital role in travel time, I recently visited a house site that was less than 2 miles from our home but took over 15 minutes to get to!  We roamed around Evergreen, Conifer, Genesee, Golden, and beyond looking at cheap lots on cliffs to expensive lots with priceless views; each with their unique advantages and disadvantages.  We also found that while we originally were looking for more acreage and land, this can be misleading in the mountains and isn’t as valuable as on flat land; regardless of land size, there is often only one or two building sites, and with change in elevation, a one to two acre lot is vastly different with the relative density of the mountains, keep your mind open to this and visit a variety of sites when you are looking.  Ultimately, we found a lot that had what we were looking for, great access, gentle lot slope, southern views, and more; this lot was more expensive than we originally were looking at but realized that it was listed with a water tap included ($25,000 in fees), short driveway access ($25-30,000), and a paved road (priceless for anyone with a motorcycle).  We also realized that the location was perfect even though we weren’t familiar with the area or had even considered it before the listing.

In Colorado, the land dictates the home style and orientation.  I can’t stress to people enough that you cannot put any house style on any lot in the mountains.  With extreme slopes, unique views, and challenging access, every home needs to fit the land which means that if you are set on a home style and layout, working with an engineer to find the right lot is really important or if you are set on location, it means that you will need to find an architect that can design a home that fits on the lot to take advantage of the surroundings.

What are the challenges:

  • South-west to north-west mountain views makes it challenging to position driveways and garages correctly while maximizing views and sun exposure.
  • Terrain that dictates home direction and shape; typically long, skinny homes are much more cost efficient than “square” homes
  • Steep yards and strict county requirements limit house location and driveway length
  • Fire mitigation and emergency access require specific tree removal and driveway circulation.
  • Lower elevation offers more wildlife, more water, and flatter lots but lack views, higher elevations present more driveway challenges, steeper lots, rocky ground, but beautiful views.
  • Mountain views are amazing and catch the eye but are hard to achieve without sacrificing privacy, wind exposure, and a yard.

None of these things are impossible to achieve, but it takes a lot of planning and costs.  Balancing the budget, wants, needs, and functionality is different for everyone.  Moving through the process with an open mind can change your priorities at times and make an even better home; we started our search looking for mountain views but found the privacy and intimacy of the valley and tree views to be something we appreciated even more!

To read Part One of Designing a Dream Click Here.

To read Part Two of Designing a Dream Click Here.

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