I’m generally pretty unlucky. Various dumb accidents over the years have messed me up (who needs a heart operation after a bike accident? me) and tons of investments have gone south for me over the years. But that all kind of changed in 2017 or so when my wife said that her company’s stock, that we had ignored for years, had gone nuts (she was one of the first people hired). Without going into the gory details, she had a LOT of stock options that were basically worthless for years and now they weren’t so we sold whatever was vested and cashed it out. There was still a bunch of unvested options but that’s a story for later. Around the same time, my wife’s father’s house was put up for sale. Her father had died years ago and his current wife was living there. When she passed away, the house was put up for sale and, since half of it was my wife’s father’s money, half of the proceeds of the sale went to her side of the family. Another huge chunk (about the value of our equity in our current house) of money out of the blue. All of a sudden, within the span of a month, we could afford to build a house in Vermont. I still can’t believe it.
So we contacted the architect and said, “I think we’re going to do this” and started looking for property. If you’ve never done this before, looking for property is nothing like looking for a house. We went on Zillow and entered in criteria for what we thought we wanted – at least 4 acres, wooded but not all wooded (wife wants a garden), not up too crazy a mountain road, not near a busy road (we live near one now and it succcckksss), needs water rights and septic permit. I created a spreadsheet that had criteria listed out and we put properties in there and rated them all based on the “adherence” criteria I had specified. How close was each one to our ideal for location? Size? How much effort will it take to make it buildable? How close to our budget was it?
We compiled a list of about 40 properties that made the cut, sent them to a realtor in the area and headed up to Vermont for a week’s vacation during mud season. We drove hundreds of miles up and down the state, focused on the area we were interested in and narrowed the choices down to four properties. Really, two. Same price but very different situations.
It was between one property that was truly out in the middle of nowhere. It was situated near a cow farm, up a pretty severe elevation. I never really “got” why people wanted “a view” until I saw this place. Imagine waking up to this every day.
The other property was in Stowe. It was a fairly quick drive into town (4 minutes or so) but in a very secluded “neighborhood” that was made up of 13-25 acre chunks near the top of a mountain. It was originally a giant parcel that had been subdivided and sold and the last two subdivisions were still available.
It had wetlands surrounding the main house envelope and then a huge area on the other side of the wetlands. It was shaped like a huge mitten where the house was in the thumb and the finger part was woods with another clearing deep into it.
The dealbreaker was that the mountain-view house didn’t have any internet service. We looked into satellite but, since my wife’s work is all internet-based, it felt like a bad idea to bet on a dodgy satellite connection and have no recourse if it didn’t work (and even the best satellite was going to go down according to everyone on the mountain that we talked to). The site work costs were going to be very high too since we’d need to pull electricity halfway up a mountain. We hated to let that place go because it was so so so beautiful (it even had a writer’s cabin and a small pond up there), but we felt there were too many unknowns and dealbreakers to get involved with.
So we dug into the Stowe property and did some research, hired a lawyer to research the situation with any lingering codicils or liens, etc. We also called our architect to come look at the site to assess it for things like orientation to the sun for solar gain and other things that would help with building an energy efficient house. Oh cable internet has already been run up to this mountain so we were safe on that front. Whew.