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Posted by Cara in Orlando, FL on 5/29/2005

Sunday, May 29th, 2005

In October of 2004, Jason and I put an offer on an acre of land on a lake in Wedgefield, which is a community east of Orlando. The property turned out to be part of an estate sale, which greatly complicated the purchase process. In addition, the seller's realtor wasn't the most friendly, helpful, or organized individual. Luckily, we had a wonderful realtor who was assertive, kept us calm, and spent countless hours doing research or following up on things for us. In March of 2005, we finally closed on the property.

For those of you who've never built a house before, it isn't as simple as just buying a plot of land and then plunking a house down on it. Oh no. There are hoops, many hoops to jump through before you can even break ground. And costly hoops they are :) So, now, as June begins, we are finally beginning the process that will lead us to a groundbreaking sometime in September.

There might be a lot of technical (read, boring) stuff in this journal to help me organize the whole process. I promise I won't be offended if you skip those parts. I'd do the same thing, if I was you. Eventually there will be pictures (if there aren't, blame Jason) for those of you that are interested.

Let the journey begin...

11:23 A.M.
The Property

The property itself is 150 ft. wide by 300 ft. deep, with the road on the South border, and the lake (or pond, if you ask Jason) to the north. We currently have a neighbor to the east, but none on the west. The southwest and northeast corner are inhabited with cypress trees, which are sort of the sacred inhabitants of Florida wetlands. You don't touch cypress, if you can at all avoid it. There are a few sizable slash pines here and there, and a good-sized maple tree near the front of the property, but other than that, there is most just scrub brush and small trees. The driveway will eventually come up the east side of the property and curve around to a side-entry garage on the east side of the house. The well will be on the east side as well, as our neighbors have already put their well on the western edge of their property (thus making a septic system on that side impossible). The septic will go either in front of or even with the house, to the west or south of where the house is. We will be able to clear the driveway, housepad, yard, and everything embedded in the cypress dome (other than the cypress). I like the cypress anyways, as it provides some blockage from the street and will make for a nice quiet area. It's not swampy cypress either, and has been completely dry every time I've been to the site. The whole middle third of the property is herbaceous (crappy) wetland, meaning we can destroy it but will pay to do so. There's no avoiding this, so it is what it is. We're allowed to "limb" any trees to preserve a lake view or any other view if needed. Once all the underbrush is cleared, it should be really nice. We're even allowed to build a walkway out to the lake through the cypress if we care to.

So, that's the property (pictures to follow eventually, I hope).

11:32 A.M.
Environmental Consultant Meeting

Just a note here, first- I forgot to mention that we are owner-building. For those non-construction types, this does NOT mean that Jay and I will be out there swinging a hammer 8 hours a day for 10 months. TRUST ME, it doesn't mean that... If it does, I quit ;). Hypothetically, what it means is that we forgo hiring a contractor and instead manage the construction process ourselves and hire our own subs. Some of the finish work we will actually do ourselves. I think we're capable of it, although we may end up retaining a contractor on an as-needed basis for advice, connections, order of operations, etc. We've read a ton of books and are intelligent people. I'm really good at project management, and J is good with the construction type stuff. Unfortunately, banks don't necessarily have as much faith in our ability to build a house, so financing will be really tricky. I think the plan is to get through wetlands, begin to clear and fill, and get our house plans done. This will allow us to get estimates from subs, which of course will drive the bottom line we are asking the bank for. Luckily, the value of the property above and beyond what we owe, in addition to any money we've put into improvements/fees counts as equity. I'm pretty secure in the whole process except for the part about knowing the steps, the timing, and the order of the steps. I'm still confused with all the permits, order of permits, answering to different jurisdictional authorities, etc. Hopefully, I'll soon be an expert.

Because of all the wetland stuff, we've retained an environmental consultant to take us through the wetland determination/mitigation process. The wetland area determination (county) is the first part, which will take two to three weeks. But then there is also a state part, although they can't double charge you for mitigation. Basically, for any wetland you impact, you will have to pay a mitigation fee. Mitigation is a really interesting concept. Since we are "destroying," say, half an acre of wetland, we must pay to preserve an acre elsewhere. Of course this thought process is flawed, since there is still a net loss of wetlands in the end. But whatever, it's the rule. Until recently, how much you had to pay in mitigation was dependent on what type of wetland you were going to destroy. For example, you good, detail-oriented readers will remember that cypress wetlands are the most valuable. If you destroy cypress, you will pay maybe a 10 to 1 ratio (destroy 1 acre, preserve 10). This gets really expensive, and the mitigation wetlands available are really limited anyways. So now the county is just using the following straightforward formula:
appraised value (per county)* percentage of property where wetland is impacted=mitigation cost.
So, for example, an acre property appraised at $42,500 where you plan to impact a third of an acre will cost you $12,750.

Anyways, I met the environmental consultant, Steve, at the site this morning. In typical survivalist/naturalist fashion, he was there with camo pants and fishing vest. Love that guy. He also pointed out two deer that were just chilling about 100 feet from where we were standing. So cool! We'll have nature in our backyard! At least, whatever nature Jada will tolerate.

Steve has really good relationships with all the wetland decisionmakers, which will really help us. He advised that we try to be at any meetings as "proof" that we really do have a desire to preserve nature and plan to make Wedgefield our permanent home. He'll be submitting our initial applications within a week or two, and as soon as they get approved, we can begin to clear. We can fill after we go through the site plan submission process with the three required agencies, and it looks like we are on target for an October groundbreaking! Perfect!

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