Welcome to the #cultivatebuilds page where I will chronicle my journey to purchasing and building on a recent land purchase. My goal is to highlight the steps I am taking and what I am learning in real-time. I will add pictures and relevant resources along the way. If there are bigger lessons I am learning, I will link to blog posts I have written on the subject. This will certainly be an adventure and I plan to make this page the central place for all the details of the project.
You can find more of my journey by following me on Instagram @cultivate_re, follow my #cultivatebuilds hashtag, and subscribe to my #cultivatebuilds Pinterest board to see what is inspiring me.
The southern lot has a shared drive with the existing home next door. There used to be an alley that ran the length of the block, but when an apartment complex was built at the end of the block in the 1950s, the alley was removed and this shared driveway took its place. I have been speaking with the new owners of the house next door on options to make the shared driveway experience beneficial for everyone. There is an easement in place for shared use of the driveway, but we would like to expand it to make is more usable for both properties. One added wrinkle we have to deal with is a utility pole on one side and a retaining wall on the other…it’s never simple!
There are two options we have narrowed down to.
Move a utility pole and run the power underground to the houses, then widen the driveway by ~4 feet
Sell the entire lot to the neighbor
We had originally considered a third option to sell the driveway portion to the neighbor and create a new solution for a driveway on my property. However, we learned that by doing so, my lot would be too narrow and no longer be build-able. So that option is out.
My next step is to talk with the neighbor about the final options and see what solution makes the most sense.
The last few weeks have been so much fun! I have working with the architects at Clockwork Architecture (www.clockwork-ad.com/) on the site plan for all three lots and the conceptual design. We were deciding things like whether to have zero lot lines (meaning the structure sits up against the lot line) or to have set backs on the sides; the overall size of the house (we’ve settled on ~2000 sf); whether the garage will be attached or detached (I’ve settled on detached…more on that later); and how to integrate the driveways (we have settled on shared driveways to make more efficient use of the space).
Next step is to lock down the floor plans.
Lining Up The Professionals.
A month has gone by and I am happy to report that we are still moving forward with building three single family homes to sell. The past month was spent getting the builder, architect, and lender locked down. I also was able to get a mowing service lined up to keep the lots maintained until construction starts. Mowing expenses are a carrying cost that is easily overlooked when running financials for the project. It is easy to remember to factor in the interest payments you will make on the loan, but the bi-weekly mowing charges can add up. I was able to find a great mowing service to the grass on all three lots every other week for $110. That is a great price!
I also did the fun work of building a new Pinterest board to assemble the design inspiration for the project. You can follow along at https://www.pinterest.com/cultivate_re/cultivatebuilds/tracy-mood-board/ to see what is catching my eye.
What To Build. What To Build.
I officially closed on the land purchase this week! I have been going back and forth on what to build on these three lots. I know I will build single family homes, but the question is whether to build rental properties or to build homes to sell. The decision is important because it will inform the budget, finishes, and overall approach for planning the build. I like the idea of building rentals as a way to continue building my real estate portfolio. And as of about 12 hours ago, that is what I would have told you I would do. However, I believe the neighborhood I am building in will appreciate quickly, so the idea of building and selling is very attractive. I believe we can build one at a time and use the proceeds from the first sale to roll into the funding of the next, then when the last one is complete, I will have a (hopefully) sizable amount of money to use for a new project. This approach will also keep my financial liability lower than having mortgages on all three.
I met with two builders this week to learn about their experience, process, team, and overall approach. I have meetings with architects and engineers coming up, so settling on rentals vs. spec homes is important for me to lock down. I don’t want to appear indecisive in these meetings. So as I sit here today writing this journal entry, I am building 3 single family homes to sell. I’m going to let that marinate in my brain for a couple of days and see if that direction sticks!
Land Use Update
Remember that plan I had to rezone the 2 other single-family lots to multi-family? That was a great plan wasn’t it? Super plan, actually. Well, that plan won’t work. After doing additional digging, my realtor found information on the city clerk’s website with the notes and results from the city council’s decision to rezone all of these lots (and many more in the area) to all be single-family. The decision was reached in April 2018, yet the city’s GIS information still shows one of my lots as multi-family more than a year later. We reached out to the city planner assigned to the case and he confirmed that R-6 is the current zoning for all the lots and the GIS map was incorrect and out of date. Once we found that our original assumptions were wrong (well, mis-informed really), we did a lot of contemplating on what to do next. Do we move forward and build single family homes on each of these lots? Was I prepared for this? Did it make sense to try and build rentals? Would the numbers work? Would it be wise to build spec homes and hope the upside on the sale would cover our building costs and provided some profit? We didn’t know, and still don’t, but decided that this life is too short to not find out. So we gave the “green light” to move forward with closing on the lots…let the fun begin!
I have spent the last few days getting my mind around the zoning and land use requirements for the lots. I have found a lot of useful information on the city’s parcel viewer website. This allowed me to type in the address of each lot and find all the details for each parcel (roughly 20 data points). This is the information I need to plan the redevelopment of the lots and you won’t find these details on the seller’s disclosure. Each of my three lots is roughly 6800 square feet. Two are zoned R-6 (single family or cottages) and one is zoned R-1.5 (multi-family). This is significant because I will want to get them all zoned as multi-family to get the most use out of each lot. I also found the city’s “Development Tracker” map which shows me all proposed zoning changes. The map attached to the proposed rezoning was a little hard to read, so I have reached out the city planner assigned to the case to find out more.
How It Began
I had sketched a diagram in my journal a few months ago that envisioned a different approach to multi-family construction. One that created an integrated approach to blending multi-family and single-family units. I decided to act on this idea and look for empty lots after feeling frustrated and uninspired by the existing structures for sale. Through conversations with my realtor, we found 3 contiguous lots that were not yet on the market, but were going to be for sale soon. I acted quickly and after some initial research (i.e. zoning, water meter, historic designation) put in an offer.
I wrote a letter to the seller to complement the offer highlighting my investment philosophy and plans with the lots. My offer was accepted on 4/11/19 without the lots even hitting the market! To this point, I have delivered the earnest money deposit to the title company and the bank is ordering the appraisal.