RIVER DEEP AND MOUNTAIN HIGH – Not Always A Good Home Site

In 1 ALL, Land & Home-Site, PROPERTY : Hazards, Ownership, Rules, Restrictions & Regulations by Andy Bozeman0 Comments

CoverPART 1 – RIVER DEEPFor this story ‘River Deep’ equals ‘reckless decisions’

“We bought the seclusion,” she said. “It’s so peaceful,” he added.

We’ll call them the Seclusion family. Their months-long search for a home site came to an end, when they found two acres in the back of a gated community. “We fell in love with it, and just had to have it,” she said. “We did,” he emphasized.

Technically, they had bought some land leftover after a shallow stormwater retention pond was built for the adjacent subdivision. The road to access the “secluded and peaceful” home site was actually on top of the dam that held back the pond. So, the pond was on one side of the road, and their home site was on the other side, …on the low land, …below the dam.

Low land, below the dam? Does that sound like a feature on the list of desires for a custom home? I’ve never heard anyone say, “I want a home like a palace, and oh by the way I want it on low land, below a dam.” In this case, although it wasn’t on Mr. and Mrs. Seclusion’s list either, that’s exactly what they got.

To make it worse, the land wasn’t just low. It was ‘bottom land’. Bottom Land is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the lowest point of all the surrounding terrain, the bottom. When water drains to the bottom, it’s finished draining, and just sits there being wet. Wet land is muddy land. Muddy land is bad for building. A building will sink into mud.

The whole picture:

  • The Seclusions spent $100,000 for the lot.
  • The lot was undrainable bottom-land.
  • The surface of the undrainable bottom-land was lower than the bottom of the retention pond across the street.
  • All water, whether it was from rain, or the runoff of yard sprinklers in neighbor’s yards, or seepage from the pond – ALL of it ended up on the Seclusion’s property, where it saturated the earth, forming a muddy mire of which the only close relative is a tar pit.

But, the whole picture wasn’t even a little clear to the owners, or the house plan drafter, or the first builder [both previous terms used loosely]. In fact, ironically, the only thing that approached being a saving grace – because it could have stopped the whole project if any common sense had been in play – was the complete incompetence of: the first designer – the plans were drawn so badly, and were so incomplete, that neither an estimate nor a construction process could be derived; and the first builder – his best interpretation of terms like ‘roof’ and ‘foundation’ were ‘things a dog would say about underwear.’

Up to this point, there had already been a number of major red flags, yelling “STOP STOP STOP,” but nobody noticed. Mr. & Mrs. Seclusion already had a plan that didn’t work, a contractor who could not construct, and they had already sunk $85,000 into the project, trying to engineer a system to remove storm water from the bottom land.

Right here, let’s talk about the physics of draining bottom land. Water is typically drained from land that’s low to land that’s more low. But bottom land is already the land that’s most low. So, how do you drain water from the lowest point? Make a point even lower than that. Dig a ditch.

In this case it was three ditches, each five feet deep, five feet wide, and two hundred feet long. A highly paid geotechnical engineer calculated, and correctly by the way, that these ditches were the right size to drain away the volume of water currently pooling on the surface of the home site.

But, what happens when the ditches are full of water, and even more water comes onto the property from even more drainage from even more rain storms, and pond & sprinkler seepage? This is the order of events: the bottom land drains the local terrain; the ditches drain the bottom land; next, the ditches themselves have to be drained.

It would be futile to dig a second ditch in the bottom of the first ditch. This could go on forever, and still never solve the problem. Instead, pumps were installed, connected to hoses, which in turn carried the water away and emptied into…..what? A pseudo-serendipitous discovery was made, when the geotechnical engineer discovered a babbling brook in the woods only a hundred feet from the property. Happy day! Pumps were immediately installed in the ditches, and hoses were connected to the pumps at one end, while the other end was placed in the brook.

{I’m not even going to address all the violations of property rights and ownership laws involved here. They are plentiful, but for another time.}

Soon, the ditches would be filled with gravel, then covered over with topsoil and a sumptuous lawn. Hooray! Problem solved! Except for one thing. The water kept coming back. The trenches would not empty out. No one could figure out why.

After the inept characters, designer #1 and builder #1 admitted defeat and were fired; and after builder #2 and the engineer were unable to pose a plausible theory, somebody said, “Hey, let’s call Andy Bozeman, that super-genius designer man.” Or maybe it was, “Hey! Let’s call that old guy.” I’m not sure. Either way, this is where I entered the picture.

This is about ‘drainage’ so I won’t discuss the long conversations I had with the owners about designer #1’s misguided plans, or their extravagant desires. Neither will I waste time repeating my warnings that the finished house, if it could ever be finished, would cost at least three times as much as their budget and bank allowed.

Instead, I’ll tell you what I found when I walked about the surrounding terrain, beginning with the end of the story. Mr. Seclusion asked, “So what did you find?”

“What you have here,” I answered, “is what we in the business commonly call ‘a big ol’ miry muddy mess.” Then I added, “But, the technical term for it is ‘Uh Oh!’”

I reached that conclusion while walking around his lot and the surrounding properties. The source of all the water was obvious. Any wet thing uphill was bound by the laws of Nature to release its water in an unstoppable, downhill journey, which concluded on the Seclusion home site.

I could actually see water oozing in through the muddy walls of the ditches. It was coming from all directions, and in some places it was an actual trickle. I could also see that the pumps were moving many gallons per minute, apparently removing more water than was seeping in. The mystery was: why couldn’t the pumps get ahead? As fast as they were pumping, the ditches should be almost empty, and stay that way. But no, they remained full of water.

I moved on to inspect the outlet-ends of the pump hoses. The brook had a slow, but definite flow on this dry day. I noticed the direction of the flow and walked with it. There was a lot of thick underbrush between me and the home site, but I could still tell that the brook was running parallel with the back line of the property, which relative to me and the brook, was on my right. I passed all three ends of the outlet hoses, which emptied into a stretch of the stream which was perfectly straight. But, then the path of the rill took a slow curve to the right, straightened out, then curved again to the right. This is where I got a surprise.

To begin my trek of the streamlet, I had exited into the underbrush at the back left corner of the property. After following the watercourse for only a short distance, I re-entered at the back right corner of the same property, and found myself standing beside a miniature delta, fanning its way onto the grass and grit of the excavated earth.

The same surprise that hit me, then, should be hitting you, right about now. After spending $185,000 for land, and geotechnical engineers, and heavy excavating equipment, and experienced operators, and pumps, and gravel, and power poles and wiring, and moving earth, then moving the moved earth – several times; the crowning achievement of spending all that money and effort was to move the culprit-water from the land’s surface into the ditches, then through the pumps, which can never be turned off, and into the pipes, to be fed into the stream, where it babbled and bibbled and wound its way right back onto the same land from which it had just been removed, to be joined with new water added by new seeping. All they had accomplished was the creation of a giant aqua-nated conveyor belt. Every trip the water took through this cycle compounded the problem.

Now, let’s go back to “Uh Oh.” My prescription was to stop construction immediately, before any more money was wasted. I added that it never should have gotten this far or this bad, that all the people who had ‘helped’ really were trying to help, but that, sadly, in the American Dwelling Industry there’s a phrase that’s painfully absent, but I was saying it, “You need to stop, right now.”

That was it for me, but not for them. They just kept what they had. They hired builder #2 as a superintendent-only with no decision making powers, then ordered him to cover the gravel-filled trenches over with topsoil and a sumptuous lawn. Soon, construction started on the home of which the bank had limited spending to $500,000.

Not long ago I spoke to Builder #2, and asked how that project was going. “Stopped dead in its tracks!,” he said, then added, “They spent the entire half a million, but the house is only one third complete. I tried to help ‘em but they won’t listen to anybody.”

“How’s the drainage?” I asked, but I already knew the answer.

“Worse than ever…..and…..the house is sinking in the mud.”

Sadly, there’s no hope for the Seclusion Family. But now that you know what I know, maybe you can avoid getting river deep in reckless building decisions.

AB


 

 

river deep mountain high 2 crooked lake smithville overlook texas 2013 (1)PART 2 – MOUNTAIN HIGH

In this story ‘Mountain High’ equals ‘reckless decisions.’

“We bought the view of the valley,” he said. “It’s so beautiful!,” she added.

We’ll call them the Valleyview family. They had simply gone for a Sunday drive. That drive led past a For Sale sign advertising thirty acres with a fantastic view. On a whim they stopped to look. “It was unbelievable!,” they said in unison. “We fell in love with it, and just had to have it,” he said. “We did,” she emphasized.

They called the phone number on the sign, and within half an hour a real estate agent was there to make a deal. Another fifteen minutes later and their offer was accepted. Why wouldn’t it be? They offered the full asking price. Before an hour had transpired, they had signed the contract, and so had become the excited owners of land on a mountaintop with an exceptional valley view.

But, a beautiful view on top of a mountain was only one of three things they bought. The site was a thirty acre tract. Twenty-nine-and-a-half of those acres formed a single, very steep incline sloping toward dense woods, a distant, crystal clear lake, and an endless, far-off horizon. “Amazing!” they both exulted.

Then the enthrallment vanished, as he flatly added, “But, we have a problem.” She agreed, “Oh, yeah. There’s a problem.” “Two problems,” he corrected. “Yeah,….two……two problems,” she nervously agreed.

Problem #1 was the neighbors. There weren’t any. The property was bounded on the North and West by a major, four lane highway, and a paved road, respectively. A dirt road crossed along the southern boundary; and beyond the pavement and the dusty trail was nothing but forested wilderness.

The eastern side the property touched two other parcels. The northernmost, a thousand acres, belonged to a power, paper, and utility company, which farmed the land for timber. The same company owned several square miles of the land beyond the pavement of both of the bounding roads. This land was covered with an old-growth forest. It was old because the paper company had planted it forty years before, and had maintained it the whole time, since.

The southern parcel, four thousand acres, was owned by a co-op that rented the land out to hunters. Not only did the co-op own this four thousand acres, but also leased all the adjacent and surrounding land from the papery company, so it could be hunted as well. The total acreage dedicated to this sportsman’s enterprise was more than sixteen thousand acres. Mr. & Mrs. Valleyview had unknowingly bought the site for their next, and last home right in the middle.

So, what could be the problem with “no neighbors?” Doesn’t it seem like thousands of acres of “nobody” would be preferred? Well, I guess it depends on what ‘nobody’ does on the neighboring land.

This vast tract of land was heavily populated with deer, quail, beaver, and squirrels. Every animal-shooting season, the land was visited by large numbers of shotgun-blasting, rifle-aiming, trigger-pulling enthusiasts, all wanting to ‘bag the limit’ of whatever could be legally targeted. To be clear, nothing is wrong with this, at all. However, it became a point of anguish for the Valleyviews.

So, problem #1 was, even though they were transient, the neighbors were heavily armed, and anxious to expend ammunition in all directions. “I don’t want to take every walk in my own backyard wearing an orange safety vest,” she said. “Besides, my skin color looks terrible in orange!” Orange was her new whack. (Yeah, I said it, and I’m not ashamed.) Could anything be done about this? – the hunting, not the bad ‘orange’ joke. No. Someone else was calling the shots on the hunting land.

It turned out that Problem #1 also had a Part B. The paper company owned the timber rights to their trees. Though the documentation concerning ‘timber rights’ had been included in the paperwork, at the official closing of the sale, it was a detail glossed over by their starry-eyed love of the land. The paper company planned on harvesting the timber, …..soon.

“The view of the valley includes that wonderful forest,” he said. Then, he whined, “and they’re gonna cut it allll dooowwwwn!” The Valleyviews had realized that, while they had expected to live in a wooded wonderland, they would soon be in the center of thousands of acres of barren earth, scalped by whatever wood-fiber lawnmower might be used to mow down the woodland paradise. Could they do anything about this? No. Someone else was in charge of the trees.

Problem #2 was the major, four lane highway. It had the mysterious capacity to become invisible in the presence of runaway enthusiasm. As the Valleyviews’ stood on the crest of their ridge, scanning the amazing view in one direction, behind them, the highway was forgotten, invisible to all conscious thought. They were entranced, enthralled, smitten, spellbound and stupefied. It takes that many adjectives to completely hide a four lane thoroughfare in plane sight.

‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is a powerful adage. In this case it was all-powerful. The Valleyviews never thought about the highway again. That is until the next trip to the mountain, when they wanted to choose the best place for the new home.

Six eighteen-wheelers in a row rumbled by, accompanied by a gang of bikers, the combined noise of which actually shook the mountain beneath their feet. The Valleyviews spun around to see what had caused such a shattering, end-of-the-world noise. This is when they noticed the highway. They both muttered a number of words, which I won’t quote here. Instead, I’ll use these profanity busting substitutes, “Oh my goodness. There’s a road there. Gracious mercy me, it’s so close. Well fuddy my duddy, it’s loud too.” Could they do anything about it? No. The highway was fixed and unchangeable.

“So what do we do?” they asked together.

I never like to talk myself out of a job. I didn’t want to lose this job, but neither did I want to be a part of planning a most certain, very disastrous future for these people whose only mistake was a reckless land-buying decision. However, considering their impetuous nature, it was easy to see what was in Valleyview’s future: more reckless results.

Getting them to put on the brakes was easy. I just gave them an honest image of what it would be like to live there: “Imagine a cool evening when you will be lulled to sleep by engines roaring, and rubber rumbling on a high-traffic vehicle artery, not a stone’s throw from your bedroom window; and imagine how in the mornings you’ll be gently awakened by sunshine peeking over the distant horizon, its rays reflecting from a glassy-smooth lake, then casting streaks of golden beams through a haze of early morning gunsmoke, dispersed by a peppering of shotgun blasts, and zipping, high caliber bullets, accompanied by zealous hunters shouting, ‘I think I got another one, unless it’s that woman in orange, again!’ Ahhhh, home.”

It worked. They decided not to build, and put the land back on the market. She had so much regret that she wanted to keep others from making the same mistake. If she had her way, the sign would say ‘FOR SALE – Soon To Be Scoured Shooting Range Target – Fantastic View.’ But he disagreed, and prevailed. They simply relisted with the original real estate agent, and put back the same sign that had caught their eye in the first place.

AB


 

CONCLUSION

What’s the lesson to be learned from both of these scenarios?

Whether it’s river-deep or mountain-high, never let yourself become so enraptured with property that you fail to question everything about it. Never impose your personal sense of ‘the perfect home’ on land that might fail to meet your expectations, Which is most of it.

A few simple questions asked before you spend your precious fortune will reveal answers that may stop you from making a huge, life-altering mistake.

  • Is it muddy?
  • What happens next door?
  • Will my house sink in a miry, muddy tar pit?
  • Will I be shot in my own backyard, even if I wear unflattering orange?

All these questions and many more can be boiled down into a single slogan, which you should make your own. Never fall in love with dirt.

AB

 

Leave a Comment