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Your Experience Buying House or Land in the PNW

 
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Hi there, My partner and I travel between Australia and Portland, Oregon. We love Portland and Permaculture, and I guess I just wanted to ask what people's experiences have been with finding land in the Pacific Northwest. Did it take you awhile to find the right land? Did you choose land that already had a dwelling on it or not and maybe why you chose that? In terms of building houses (tiny, maybe eco) were there lots of hoops to jump through? What would you do differently next time? We read that collecting greywater was becoming illegal for individuals in certain states (OR i think) and so we were wondering if anyone found a way around this or any other dumb laws. Any info is much appreciated, Thanks.
 
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Location: PNW Oregon
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Hello Brett,

I have just spent more than 10 years looking for my Oregon land, and have settled on a place with a small stick-built home and large garage/storage building. Here are the first things that come to mind:

1. WATER - funny thing but in OR water is an issue that can make life and permaculture very hard. While lots of water falls during the raining months it also moves away quickly to the sea. So streams, springs, well-flow tests during Aug/Sep and ponds are the first items to look at when regarding a piece of land. Also how big/small are the parcels, 5ac parcels will have wells all taping the same underground water. I found these close/small holdings to have the most water issues in the summer, sometimes not enough water to run a household forget about a garden and such. If the land has a year-round creek, make sure that it has water rights to the creek too or you can look but not touch! And lastly, as you say capturing water in OR is legislated. However water that comes to the surface (hits rock or wall of clay) on your land, and then soaks back in before leaving or land is YOURS. Spring water is yours, as long as it doesn't turn into a creek that obviously feeds into other water systems. So you can start to see that some privacy is a good thing to help you develop 'water' on your land, which takes us to #2.

2. PRIVACY - land at the end of a road or near the end of a long dirt road, land with heavy forest, land with housing way-back, off the main road, etc. All help one to fudge around the excessive, democratic laws of all the western states. You will want to collect rain water, run grey water systems and develop water all on the QT shhhhhhhh. Even if it is legal. Developing one's land in the open can draw attention that will lead to other headaches. So keeping a low profile is always a good way to operate IMO.

3. Established HOUSING - starting out with some type of housing will make your 'getting starting' witch is hard enough so much easier. And should you decide to build something natural, off the grid your established house will serve as the decoy. Also, OR laws are real hard to get around when you want to change zoning from something without dwellings to something allowing single family housing. So starting with zoning for residency (even an unlivable dump of a trailer) is the best way to jump start a homestead.

4. CONSIDER - how far-out will you be happy to live? Until you've done it (lived way far-out from any city) you just don't realize how much it impacts your daily life. So plan a strategy for how to address this issue before you start looking.

5. SUN EXPOSURE & SLOPE- seems most land for reasonable $, is on the north side of a mountain (little sun exposure) add to this lots of rainy cloudy days and it's dark existence for sure. Valley/Flat-ish land is the most expensive as farmers and horse people's demand runs the prices up. I prefer land with some slope so I can use gravity to my advantage, but no matter if you like slope or flat you'll want to take into account the sun exposure and land orientation.


We love Portland and Permaculture, and I guess I just wanted to ask what people's experiences have been with finding land in the Pacific Northwest.

Did it take you awhile to find the right land?

Yes, it took me a very long time, but I had a tight budget to deal with and land with good water sources is hard to find.


Did you choose land that already had a dwelling on it or not and maybe why you chose that?

I believe I answered that above. Each thing you want to do with land has it's own hurtle so starting with some type of dwelling is a huge help to you, this way you are not dealing with to many things all at once.


In terms of building houses (tiny, maybe eco) were there lots of hoops to jump through?

When I started with permaculture it was 1996 and OR had no Echo friendly building codes, now a straw-bale code has been added, and you can cover this with cob. But total cob buildings are still not coded as far as I know at this time.

I would get a legal pole building put up, and then assuming there is no line of sight from the road, and your entrance gate is locked, some time later finish it with cob walls
After I moved onto my land I called the tax assessor to find out about tax credits for forest land. Some time later the assessor, without my knowledge, came out while I was gone and had himself a look around my property OMG! He told me of this saying many years ago when he needed to update his records he really couldn't because of fencing and a locked gate. He could only look from the road! Lesson learned - fix broken down fencing and install a new, lockable gate.

What would you do differently next time?

Work out ways to have help with the labor - either machinery or man power from the beginning, and buy more land *grin*

We read that collecting greywater was becoming illegal for individuals in certain states (OR i think) and so we were wondering if anyone found a way around this or any other dumb laws.

Yep, that's the law. Out-o- sight is the answer....

No neighbors or others such as government workers able to have a look around. Be careful who you invite onto your property. It may feel weird and unfriendly, but meet people at the gate and chit chat there, unless they are friends/family, you've known for a long while with like minded goals.

* Place your catchment inside buildings, or at least covering in some way as to make it appear to be something else.
* Disguise your grey-water system to look like a circulating landscape feature with a fountain or fish pond.
* Tell people a building is 'just for storage' and no...can cannot have a look inside. A person I know put electric and plumbing inside a large shed, after being tipped off my neighbors seeing light a government man showed up one day snooping around and asked to have a look, they said NO, making an excuse. He had to leave, no warrant, no evidence to get a warrant. So a simple shed it remains on the books.

So think ahead - think about fly overs, think about line of sight, think about inspectors and other government agencies, think about how easy is it to walk onto your land. Think about getting grumpy dogs





 
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I have some friends in Central OR who were allowed to put up as many tiny houses as they wanted with no permits. I think they're 5'x5' or so. So they did.
John S
PDX OR
 
Jami McBride
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Location: PNW Oregon
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Yes less than 200 sf of 'non-living' space needs no permit. This is excludes electric and plumbing of course.
You must add a permit for any electric.
You must add a permit for any plumbing.

So build your pole building (any size) - add electric and have it permitted. Then come back and add your cob walls and compost toilet after the fact (no permit).

I've seen property with a single-wide trailer - and one little building (LB) for sewing/crafts, one LB for tools and construction, one LB for a pantry/household storage, and one as a bunk house for company. With cell phones this set up becomes even more comfortable, not being so isolated from the main house. None had bathrooms, but did have electric. I do not believe any were permitted, as they had high electric fencing and electric gate around one ac of the building area, and lots of blocking vegetation. They were the last ones on the road and surrounded by BLM land. So light shining from a window would not be reported. I almost bought this property.

There are different code regulations for electric, and for plumbing to consider when talking about buildings.

I've been told that one can add a large shed (greater than 200sf) for agricultural property (without electricity) no permit required. It would of course be challenged, my neighbor's was, but with some research and facts and standing your ground you can refuse permitting for large farm use buildings. Electric could then be added underground, with no road facing windows, and some power cords running from the house to the shed all other night-time glows could be explained away - my neighbor has had this set up for years. So much is done by law enforcement through bulling AND us not knowing the law. It is not their job to educate, just to enforce.

For example, a neighbor called animal control about a wild dog in his yard and mine, back when I lived in the city. The AC guy came out to investigate damage done to the front yards, he heard my chickens in my backyard as he investigated. He said in a stern voice to me "You cannot keep farm animals in the city limits" to which I replied "you are legally allowed to own 2 chickens" SMILE (he did not have line of sight to my 14 chickens) but he then smiled, his voice changed and he said "oh you know the law". As if to say - smart reply lady. If he would have seen, OR if I would have opened my mouth and let out how many I kept, he would have been forced to ticket me for breaking the law and come back to inspect I had removed the extra chickens. By admitting to 2, any comments about chickens by the neighbors would not make him suspicious. The look on his face told me he knew I had more than 2, but as long as he didn't have proof he didn't have anything to do. So another good point is - know the laws in your area.

Ooops I forgot - different counties in Oregon can have slightly different laws regarding building codes. So do your research based on the county your property is located in.


Edited: for clarity.
 
Brett Anthony
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Thanks so much for everything you wrote Jami, it's given us a lot to think about for sure, something we will be coming back to a lot, and thanks John. That's a great story about the chickens. The Tiny houses under 200sq ft is definitely something we will be taking advantage of.
 
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