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Visiting NE Washington state to look at property, any tips?  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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Hello everyone,
I will be flying out to Spokane to look at mostly raw land in Stevens county in a couple days, and will be meeting with a realtor that deals in land sales. I've made a list of properties that interest me, and wanted to ask for any last minute suggestions for things to consider while I'm there. Fortunately this trip isn't my one and only chance to buy something, so there's not an immediate pressure beyond the realtor wanting to make a sale while this bird is in the hand I guess. My plan is to retire in about 5 years, so I wanted to find land now and plant trees so they have time to grow. Some of the things I've been considering include:

Physical access to the property: this area has some serious mountains, so several feet of snow is probably the norm in winter. Many properties will have access by dirt or gravel road, so not only will the vehicle need to handle those conditions, I'll have to consider how to plow snow, and grade the road to keep a proper crown to avoid ruts and pot holes. So either a truck that can have a plow attached, or perhaps a tractor/excavator with said attachment. So that is an extra cost to consider for steep access.

Access to water: some properties have a well, some a year round or seasonal spring, and most have neither. Especially on property that is higher up a slope, drilling a well that may or may not hit good water could be very pricey. So a property that has a good well already will score many bonus points. I'd also hope to have a storage tank at a high/the highest point on the property so that I could pump water into that, and then gravity feed water to the tap. That way a pump could run less often but for longer to improve lifespan (is that a correct assumption?), and if the power goes out then I would still have a good supply of water available. I already own a Berkey water filter, so I would hope to filter all my drinking/cooking water through that. Well logs for nearby properties are available, but I think that's just an educated guess relative to a new well.

Rainfall also appears to vary greatly between the west half of the county which is dryer, and the east half as it gets into the mountains and is much wetter. It seems a few miles can go from 20" a year of rain and 25" of snow, to 50" of rain and 45" of snow or more. Depending on the property, I hope to install several ponds and swales that will feed the ponds with rain. The higher up I go into the mountains, the more precipitation I can get but also the steeper the properties and the tougher the access. Terracing could be an option if I got that tractor to help move the dirt, or renting an excavator now and then. But I'm certainly no sepp holzer, so a slight slope is fine but I'll pass on the Alps.

South or southeast facing slope: some properties I have marked off as no good due to being on a fairly steep, north facing slope. I definitely plan to plant a bunch of trees and shrubs for food, firewood, and to probably make a hedge around the property to keep out deer and elk that would have at my tastier plants. There would also be a veggy garden to boot, so if all of that were in shade I don't think I would have a good time. Terracing and hugel beds that help provide some more south-facing surfaces could help, but then I'm fighting hard just to try and break even. Then there's the cold factor, it's already cold enough there without eliminating most options for solar gain on a north-facing slope.

Neighbors: there are 2-3 nice pieces of land just 3 miles east of Colville for good prices, with good road access... but they are sharing a property line with either the local outdoor gun range or the city landfill. Likewise I expect I will find some properties are too close to the neighbors, like some lots are thin, long rectangles. You end up being within 100 feet of your property line no matter where you are, so privacy is minimal. If I build a wofati/Oehler type structure, I'd prefer not having nosy neighbors watching from the porch and calling up code enforcement to give me a hard time.  8)  On the other hand, having neighbors close enough to hear me yelling "ouch! it really hurts when this bear bites my head!" could be handy, assuming they like me enough to help! Of course building berms and thick evergreen hedges can help create privacy, and if I find a property in the next few months I'll have 5 years to grow those hedges up. Having lived in both rural areas and in the urban sardine can, I definitely hope to have a couple hundred yards between me and the neighbor as they work on their ATV.

Trees: to build a wofati or Oehler house, I'll need some decently sized trees to use as posts and beams. Most of the trees in the area are Douglas Fir and farmed by the timber industry, so while it's not a total monoculture I'd have to assume that is my starting point. So I hope to find land that has enough decently sized trees that I could harvest and dry out a year in advance to use. I don't know if hybrid poplar would be structurally sound to use or grow in zone 5b. That might be an option to plant some of those and they could grow say 25-30 feet in 5 years. But I'd much rather have trees that are already there versus hoping seedlings survive and mature when I'm over 1000 miles away and visiting 2-3 times a year. I would hope to create a hedge using Osage Orange (Hedge Apple) and honey locust as the base, and include other support plants like rugosa rose, holley, or siberian pea shrub to provide habitat and food for animals. The locust and osage would be woven together to create a living fence, and hopefully each year the new shoots are also woven in to increase the height. Once it reaches my head height at 6'6", I could let the new shoots just do their thing and not need to worry about deer jumping over it. It should be pretty wide as well as tall and I would add more plantings to widen it over time.

I would also want to add a mix of wood that can coppice well for firewood, including black locust, maple, maybe hazel? So while a decent amount of existing trees would be nice, I also need enough room to plant more and have enough light for them to grow. Being able to "observe, observe, observe" all in a few minutes per property visit isn't likely, especially without knowing if I plant things in a spot where I later want to put something else. If the property doesn't already have a building (a few have cabins) I can plant a camper or yurt and spend more time learning about the property such as summer and winter sunlight exposure for gardens and passive solar design. I hope to visit at different times of year to document this as well, and if I put my firewood grove in the wrong spot, I can plant a second grove in a better spot and when I clear out the first area I can prevent new shoots from coming up.

Soil Quality: With lots of mountains, there can be lots of rocks and with lots of clear cut timber farms can come a lot of soil erosion. I haven't had much luck using the GIS web sites that provide sample readings of soil composition, and unless the sample was recently from the exact plot it would only be a guess. I'm less concerned about this area (perhaps that's a big mistake?) as I figure that if I can't dig down much to build then I could have some fill dirt dumped to use to berm the house? And I would start composting everything I have into hugel beds for gardening and to build up soil quality with heavy mulching as materials become available. I'm not really sure what I can check, outside of verifying that property which is upstream isn't a super fund site, or a CAFO dumping pollution into the ground water.

Does anyone have other thoughts/suggestions, or corrections to my assumptions above? I really appreciate any insight! And if any of the local folks know of a good property for sale, maybe not in the MLS, I'd love to hear about that too! I've been filtering properties to be at least 15 acres, most are 20-40.

Thanks!
 
gardener
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I think you're well on the right track having a list of criteria to check off while you search for land. My wife and I just purchased some land earlier this year, and there will likely be some sort of compromise. I myself would avoid the land near the landfill. The landfill is toxic (people throw away things they're not supposed to, like batteries for example), and it has contaminated the ground water, and I'm willing to bet it doesn't smell great when the wind blows the right direction. I imagine the land by the landfill and gun range are affordable too, perhaps because no one wants to live next to those.

I'm drilling a well here in the near future, and well pumps have a ballast tank and pressure switch in-line with the pipe, so well pumps never run constantly. The ballast tank fills up, and when it gets too low and the water pressure drops, the switch turns on the pump to refill the ballast tank. Or you could have the storage tank you mentioned with a float switch in it to turn on the pump when the tank gets too low.

If you have the time, consider going back to your favorite property and knocking on the neighbors doors. They'll likely have pertinent information regarding living in the area you may find helpful, and may know about a crazy neighbor that perhaps might be a deal breaker for you.

We were able to meet a neighbor right away before we closed on the land, and he's a super nice guy. We're "outsiders" moving into a small community, and he's been so helpful and made us feel very welcomed. He's told us a little about other neighbors, who does for hire work (like liming acres of pasture), and he's lived in the area his whole life and knew some history behind the tract we purchased.

I ran around the property and took soil samples before we closed on it to get some idea of what I was up against. Like you mentioned about neighbors, or industry, upstream, I spent some time looking at aerial pictures to see what sort of businesses, if any, are within a several mile radius.

Hope this helps!
 
steward
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Mark , it seems that there are all sorts of properties, in that county, on Landwatch. Have you seen all of them ?  Stevens county land here.
 
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Hi Mark, sounds like you have a good plan. I retired 2 years ago and so hope to address one thing that you mentioned that I believe can help you immensely to develop raw land. I have a smallish (39hp) 4x4 kubota tractor with a removable backhoe attachment, box scraper and loader. I can't begin to tell you how often and how many things a tractor can be used for. From moving and setting rocks for retaining walls or for building, to digging holes to plant trees to grading your road, to leveling for a building pad, to setting power poles, digging swales, ponds, moving and setting large timbers, etc. For me, the importance of buying of a tractor was only second to choosing the right land in the right location.

One thing you haven't mentioned is where you will live while getting these things done. A piece of property with a trailer, power source, water and septic would be ideal and would go a long way in staying away from big brothers required permits, fees, engineering, inspections and all the frustrations of dealing with a bureaucracy.

Good luck in your search!
 
Mark Tudor
pollinator
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Miles Flansburg wrote:Mark , it seems that there are all sorts of properties, in that county, on Landwatch. Have you seen all of them ?  Stevens county land here.



Yeah that's one of the sites I used when searching up a list of properties, along with landsofamerica.com, landandfarm.com, and the typical realtor.com/zillow.com. It's odd how many duplicate listings one site will have- 200 results is actually 50-60 unique listings.

Jack Tassoni wrote:I have a smallish (39hp) 4x4 kubota tractor



One of the tougher things I've had to learn is that while I'm a pretty big guy, I'm not 25 any more and using tools to save my body is important! At the very least, I had planned to rent an excavator to dig out a lot of soil for building, but depending on my ability to secure it I think buying a tractor would be the better investment. Like all the things you listed, I expect I'd be using it for a lot of that as well, and renting would add up fast.

I'm avoiding any locations with CCRs which block campers or trailers, and if I go with a property that doesn't have anything in place already I'll definitely look at a travel trailer for temporary shelter. If there isn't already one, I would hope to have a well installed before moving up there so that would be covered, but then powering the pump and everything else might involve a solar power setup, etc. So there will be a lot of moving parts early on while trying to get settled in, I shouldn't have trouble sleeping at night after all the work I expect to tackle 7 days a week!

Fortunately Stevens county doesn't require permits, inspections, or fees for an owner-built residence as long as you're over 100' from your property line. So other than filing for that exemption if I have to, I shouldn't have too many issues there. Just a matter of becoming friends with any neighbors so there isn't a reason for them to hassle me, and of course having friends is a good thing!

James Freyr wrote:If you have the time, consider going back to your favorite property and knocking on the neighbors doors. They'll likely have pertinent information regarding living in the area you may find helpful, and may know about a crazy neighbor that perhaps might be a deal breaker for you.

I ran around the property and took soil samples before we closed on it



This is one of my biggest concerns, and a big unknown. If I can meet and greet that would be ideal, otherwise I can only judge the books by their covers based on what I can see from the road which is unlikely to be accurate. Soil samples will definitely be on my to-do list, since so much of the area is near timber company land. I'd hate to find out after all my deciduous seedlings die that there;s persistent broadleaf herbicide in the ground.
 
Mark Tudor
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Well coming up here while there was some weather was a good deal, as I got to see how the different elevations were impacted. In the valley areas it's been in the high 30 range, and higher up it's stayed below freezing. So you get a pretty cool looking snow line in the mountains and when looking at several properties you get a small feel for access issues. Several spots were high enough up that even a 4x4 had trouble in spots, while properties lower down were easier. Of course all aeas will get more snow but this really helped sink it in how I would need to prepare.

I have a budget to stick to which meant the price per acre meant there would be some issue with certain places, mostly the slopes and soil. A few properties were tough to reach on foot, so a lot of earth works would be needed for a usable driveway, so added expenses to account for there. Also the ground in certain locations was really rocky, like a few inches of soil on top of 500 feet of rock, no way a well could be drilled in those rocky areas without serious expense.

Another property wasn't too steep or too rocky, but was totally north facing slope except for a small corner. With a lot of trees on an adjoining property upslope, the light levels would be pretty limited. One other property had decent exposure and already had a well, but also a rat infested trailer, a rotted travel trailer, a collapsed little log cabin, and several piles of trash all around. So a rather big cleanup job, although the location was right off a quiet paved road and otherwise was a good fit if a bit far north, a few miles from the Canadian border.

The final property I looked at appears to be the best bet. It's in the valley and has a good, short private road from the paved road so access is good. The property is very level which from a permaculture texture microclimate perspective isn't ideal, but all 20 acres is actually usable-several properties I saw had more like 3 acres you could actually use and 17 that you could look at and possibly climb to with a rope 😀. If I were to add a pond or five then that excavated soil could be positioned to create a little texture.

Water appears to be good, all the wells that are within a half mile are about 100 feet deep with water at 80 feet producing 15-30 gallons per minute. Other locations I looked at had nearby wells at 400 feet producing 2 gpm, and considering you're paying about $50 per foot thats a big savings and good production.

Soil quality looked good, and there was a good mix of trees including some older seed trees. So it looks like a good fit, I'm going to see if the price is appropriate and make an offer. If that's accepted I'll get a well installed and a power pedestal installed to power the well, and see about some kind of timer for watering new plantings to get them established and keep things watered if there's a dry spell. Might be a tricky setup when not living on the property. Might also rent an excavator at some point after I come up with a layout, to practise playing with it and if my well spills enough water to create ponds out of it oops! That was never my intention inspector folks!

A small part of the perimeter has fence from a neighbor, but I would likely need to add more to protect seedlings I'd want to grow for the perimeter hedge of Osage orange, honey locust, and the rest. Deer and elk are everywhere here, and this property even had a hunting blind and tree stand in place. So keeping the wildlife from eating everything would be a priority, and it would take about 3200 feet of fencing... so that might be an investment in seeds the first year and hope for the best. Same for black locust, maple, and other firewood trees to plant. This property has a few small Aspen in one spot but is mostly spruce and Douglas fir. I'd want to plant a variety of trees throughout the area and then thin out just enough for building, and leave those big trees to thicken up to become posts and beans for an Oehler/wofati design. If I get lucky and perimeter plantings aren't eaten, after a couple years they would be high enough and thorny to protect interior plantings, and I could add fruit and nut trees. That's several if-thens down the road from now however.

Another surprising observation was the length of day difference between here and sothern California, the sun sets a full hour earlier and comes up a lot later as well. So I can better understand that winter seasonal affective disorder from lack of sun. Of course the summer days are much longer too, so while the growing season is shorter between Frost's, you get more sun per day during the season to make up for it, or so I hear!
 
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Mark,
I did very much the same trip your talking about 2 yrs. ago. I was looking for  a place to retire. grow my own food for the most part and raise chickens and pigs. ( all of which would go into the freezer in the fall, so I could travel).
I spent a year on the internet on all of the real estate web sites ahead of time. Long story short.... It sounds like your on the right track.
I found one place I liked north of Kettle Falls, $200K with a house & outbuildings 29 AC. near the boarder. It had 3 wells that were VERY deep. & Water rights to a creek 1 1/2 miles away which someone had taken the time & money to run a water line. ( A lot of time and money into all of the above??? I had a friend along with me luckily and he talked kept me in check in the long run...... I also found the country to be a lot steeper than I pictured. Then shortly afterward a big fire came through & covered a very large area.
Anyway I decided to stay in Alaska & just closed on 140 acre of raw land( less than $1K an acre)
3800 ft.+ of lakefront. 2.5 miles from the end of the road. My buddies say I just bought a work farm! Luckily I have buddies & they will be there to help fix up the old log cabin (for the short term) I intend to have the real Cabin / House built. All off grid, in the next 4 years before I retire. Now for the investment of excavator, snowmachine, dump bed truck, genarators, solar, pumpso
Best of luck in your search! There is a lot of great land in that area.
 
Mark Tudor
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Thanks Doug, yeah when I first started looking at the area I was using just Google Earth, and the relative sizes just don't do justice to the scale of the mountains. Driving up them in the winter was certainly a good reality check as to what to expect!

I should be getting the official paperwork to make an offer on the land this evening, fingers crossed it's accepted and then the real fun begins!
 
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Hi Mark,

Just wanted to check in and see how your land search is going.  I'm a born and raised NE WA'er so can answer questions if you have any.  Was your offer accepted?
 
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Hey Mark, I'm in Stevens county and if your looking in the valley it is prone to flooding brother. Last year it got so bad some roads were closed. We are way up in the mountains which as you stated has its own problems but we love it.
Couple of things your realtor wont mention...hunters and huckleberry pickers. We wanted isolation and these folks rob us of that for a few weeks out of the year! Put on your tin foil hat and really take a look at the neighboring properties...and the ones that are close to them.
 
jim hughes
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Oh! and no need for anything fancy on these roads. We have six miles of non maintained primitive road and the best vehicle, after all the trial and error, was an old Honda CRV with studded tires. I have a snow plow on a k-5 blazer with chains all the way around. plowing isn't that bad.
 
Mark Tudor
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My offer was accepted so now I'm the new owner of 20 acres! Hunting is certainly active, the was a tree stand and hunting blind on the property when I looked at it. As long as I don't find any salt licks or other bait then that should be fine, my main concern is animals feeding on new shoots as I try to grow trees from seed. Between deer and turkeys I'm going to assume little to nothing will survive, aiming for success through mass seeding! It's in the valley but looking at elevations it doesn't appear to be in an area that floods. There are several houses in the neighborhood with shallow wells with great flow rates.

I'll be making a trip up this spring to thin the existing firs so the largest aren't crowded, hoping to have enough to use as building materials down the road. I'll also be bringing up a lot of seeds to try to establish some hardwoods. Some will be for a protective hedge to keep out deer and turkey, others for coppiced firewood. Later if the hedge develops and gets high enough I will put in a gate and get a well drilled, and plant a variety of fruit and nut trees, and try to work out an automated irrigation system. That will be tough being 1300 miles away!

I just received a few seeds this week-3000 Osage orange, 2000 black locust, 1000 red maple, and some others. The Osage is for the hedge, will plant as big of a hedge as I can reasonably handle, and was thinking of renting a chipper to turn what I thin into mulch to try to help the seeds out. I will honestly be shocked if I come back in the fall to find more than a few twigs growing since I won't be there to water or weed, but it's what I can do for now. If they all sprout and are sufficiently watered by spring rain to establish then I can clean it up for winter and mulch a bit more, and repeat each year until the hedge is big enough to deter pests. We will see!

The locust and maple are for coppice firewood if all goes well, was also considering hazel but early on without a hedge I'd be concerned it would just be another food source for deer, so maybe in 3-4 years I can add them. I'm also looking at a wide variety of accumulators I can so by seed around the property to hopefully improve the soil. I have a big list of plants that I need to confirm survive zone 5 with low water needs as the area get 20 inches of rain plus whatever the soil holds from winter snows. Same deal as the trees there, if something can survive and establish that would be great but I'm not holding my breath! 😀
 
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Mark,

Don't drink well water unless you have tested and made sure it's potable. There are many contaminants that your Berkey cannot filter.
If the well is closer to a farm, better test for Nitrates. Bacteria and arsenic can be present in levels that exceed epa limits.
At least get a reverse osmosis filter that fits underneath you kitchen sink to fulfil your drinking water needs.
Good luck!
 
Mark Tudor
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That is a very good point, there is some uranium in parts of the county too, so definitely will be testing the waters for everything before I drink it!
 
Doug Steffen
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Mark ,
Congrats on your new place!
I'm well into my new place( 140 acers in Alaska)  that I closed on 6 months ago. Kinda of a work farm... I've got the old 50's homestead log cabin log cabin fixed up to the point that i can sleep in it.
Had to tear out the the floor framing and install new window & door. the front deck is next, then the screen porch.....woodstove... and I'll be set for winter.
This is all a weekend at a time. Great fun!!!
I wish you the best!
 
Mark Tudor
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Hey Doug that's great! 140 acres sounds huge, are you going to try a batch box RMH? I've heard those do well up there, you might make the mass wide enough to sleep on it, so it doesn't take up extra space relative to a bed and wood stove.

I'll be heading back up before winter to check on all the trees I planted, fingers crossed some actually made it!
 
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