Vacant Land, Lots 1 and 3, each lot is 1.5 acres, listed separately at $39,000 each

I go out and walk land to get take the temperature of the market regarding spec builders and what is possible for development. These properties have been listed on and off for a couple of years, but I hadn’t actually gone out to walk them, in part because I generally focus on Alta Sierra and Penn Valley. Most inexpensive lots in Grass Valley are inexpensive because they are unbuildable, and when they don’t sell after a year or more, I assume they have some challenge that makes them unworkable for development.
These two lots do have a couple of challenges. There is a seasonal water course that that cuts across both lots that begins just a 100 feet from the access point. It would be unadvisable and expensive to build in a water course, even if it is dry during the summer. Extensive logging has left both properties denuded of the big trees that once drank up all the water, and now there is some evidence of an erosion problem developing at the top of the draw. You take out all the big trees, and the ground starts to move. Between the steepness of the slope and the potential for unstable soil, most buyers will pass, and I can see why these properties have not sold.
Is this a nonstarter? I don’t think so. When buying land you have to ask the right questions and you have to be willing to consult experts. Before passing judgement on the viability of development an engineer with both soil and hydrological expertise would need to take a look at the property with a clear and precise property line flagging that would allow for exact determination of the necessary setbacks and specific determination of the building envelope. It looks to me like there might be one, possibly two reasonable building sites. What is the relationship to the probable building sites to the property boundaries and cost and feasibility of developing the driveways accesses? Are both lots equally developable, or is one of the two lots clearly superior to the other? And finally, would it better to combine the lots, and straddle the property boundary between the two lots for the best development potential?
These are not questions the seller or realtors can answer except in most general terms. Only an engineer or site planner can give accurate information regarding these critical questions. It might cost $3000 to $5000 to get a detailed report that would determine the development costs of these properties.
Cheap property almost always requires expert evaluation. You might spend that $3000 to $5000 to find out that this property is not viable for development. Would that have been a waste of money? If you are thinking you would not want to spend money on professional guidance in the inspection period before the close of escrow, I want to suggest an alternative approach. Money spent on inspections and reports can be a huge asset for you as the new owner. You know exactly what you are buying and have a good idea what the development costs will be once you take possession and start to put in your infrastructure.

Vacant Land, Single Family Home Lots in Wildwood: 13726 Sun Forest and 14380 Lake Wildwood, both priced under $30,000

I do not frequently look at vacant land, but I see so many houses in the Lake Wildwood subdivision it makes sense to go out and look at the underlying land prices and see what can be learned from looking over available property for building. Both these lots are listed under $30,000 and I drive past each of them several time per week, but I have never stopped to look, so yesterday I took my camera with me, shot some video and have produced it here for the Corner Office.
Back in January I did a similar search for vacant lots in Alta Sierra and found pretty much the same pattern. Lots priced under $50,000 are almost universally difficult to build, expensive to engineer, and have typically been for sale for a year or more. There is no shortage of inexpensive property that would be very expensive to build out, require extensive dirt work to get in a driveway, and would result in steep slope foundation along with all the disadvantages therein.
Buyer preference now strongly leans towards ranch style homes on flat lots. In every price range and over a wide range of conditions two-story homes are discounted to the premium when it comes to the sales price, as buyers demonstrate with their pocket books that a single story home with a flat driveway is the most desired of all floor plans and types. The lack of buyers for lots like these reflects the expectations of spec home builders that after they will not be able to recover the additional cost of design and engineering because the final product, a two story house on a steep lot simply is not what buyers want.

16837 Lena Court, Alta Sierra vacant lot, priced to sell at $29,000 Why so cheap?

It did not take a long walk on the property to see the challenge. The surface ground is covered in boulders and rock outcrops which means any kind of septic system is going to be difficult and expensive. In deed, the seller has done some soil testing and even with a an advanced treatment system that costs about $40,000 for installation this property will only be useful for a single bedroom septic system. Small house required on this lot.

Spring is the season for spec builders… we will just have to see what unfolds here.

19064 Dog Bar, residential vacant land, listed for $25,000: Is that a good value?

I noticed there was a lot for sale near Alta Sierra that is almost a full acre, and it is listed for $25,000. I thought this might be a good value, but I knew I would have to go look at it to make a determination. Unlike houses, where a few pictures tells the story about value about what already exists, the value of vacant land is determined by the future cost of development. If you are thinking of building a home, the cost of developing the lot is a very important consideration.

This lot is about 550 long but only 80 or 90 feet wide at the road frontage, and gets narrower as it rides up the hill. Plus, there is a seasonal water course that traverses the property boundaries from top to bottom, creating a riparian zone that will require setbacks. All this, plus the property is in an area where the soil type is known for its general difficulty in percolation testing, and it is presumed that a very expensive septic system design would be required. Add in the cost of a well and bringing power up to the building site, and this property very quickly looks like it is not such a good deal after all.

When I was doing my research I looked at the areal photos and noticed there is similar shaped property right next door and when I did a little more homework I saw it had been listed for sale last year, also for $25,000. I had walked on both properties when I was out looking, so I had a good idea of where this second parcel was located and if a driveway could be constructed using both parcels then it might be possible to get up to a building site. A neighbor had used the same strategy in building their driveway. The areal photos show how a neighbor had purchased a property further up the street next to his property and build a long serpentine driveway up to his home. This parcel could use a similar approach, but it would take an engineer to site the driveway to make sure there was enough room for the switchback that would be required to get up the hill.