Garden Betty Builds a House / House & Home

And Just Like That, We Are Officially Landowners

And just like that, we are officially landowners

In other big news (the first being baby number two, which you can read more about here if you missed our announcement), we just closed on our first piece of property! [Insert ear-to-ear grins and happy dances]

Before I get into the when, what, why, and how of our house hunt, let’s rewind two years (has it already been that long?!) to this previous post I wrote about our impending move to Central Oregon.

We had decided back in October 2016 that we would make the move to Bend by October 2017. That gave us a year to tie up loose ends, settle our nerves (we were really going to be leaving California!), and study the housing market, with hopes of buying a home in Bend before we moved.

Related: My 14 Most-Asked Questions After 5 Years of Living in Central Oregon

We found an excellent real estate broker (Carrie DiTullio and her team, if you’re in the market for a home—they are incredibly helpful and patient with out-of-state clients) and started looking at MLS listings daily (as well as Zillow multiple times daily, just in case we missed something).

By April 2017, we had found a few listings that looked interesting, planned a road trip to Bend, and toured those properties (as well as the surrounding neighborhoods) with Carrie. It was a little disheartening because while we loved the town, we just didn’t love the houses we were seeing in our price range.

We returned to Los Angeles, eventually found a rental house in Bend that summer, and continued to obsess over real estate listings right up until we moved to Oregon in the fall, and almost every day since.

Sometime in the winter of 2017 after driving by dozens of property listings and giving our housing situation some serious thought, we started opening ourselves up to the possibility of buying land and building a home.

We realized that even if we did find a nice house, it would need a lot of (rather costly) updates by the looks of what was currently on the market. After all was spent and done, we could probably have a brand-new house built exactly how we wanted it.

But building a home sounded like a pipe dream. And it sounded very expensive, given Bend’s limited land supply, hot real estate market, and high labor costs.

Searching for land in Central Oregon

We were secretly hoping for a market correction so we could buy at the bottom, but who knew when that day would come…

After a few more disappointing months, we decided to back off on the house hunt and let the market cool off a bit. (But I was still casually cruising Zillow every day because, well, who else is with me on how addictive it is?!)

Our landlords (who were wonderfully supportive and kind) also allowed us to extend our lease a year, so we were no longer in a rush to find housing. We were able to take a step back, save up some more money, and prepare for the day the right house will come along. (We’re optimists.)

Because we now had the good fortune of time on our side, we also had the good fortune of being a little pickier with what we were looking for.

Our wish list for the ideal property included views (of water, mountains, or trees), water rights, good southern exposure, a quiet neighborhood (not backing a major thoroughfare or railroad tracks), and at least an acre of fairly flat land so we could spread out and breathe a bit. Easy access to our favorite trails and proximity to downtown were pluses.

Looking for a new place to call home

Then, we found out we were pregnant in January 2019. With all the changes that come with a new baby, home-buying moved a few notches down our list of priorities (especially since competition with other buyers really ramps up in the spring here).

We didn’t expect to start looking again until the end of the year. (If you’re still keeping track, it’s now been two years since our initial home search.)

At the end of April, we were down in California for our annual Easter trip to visit family. It was our last day in town and that morning in bed, per usual, I clicked over to Zillow. (I get daily emails from the site based on alerts I’ve set up; I wrote about how we found land to build on and what you should know before buying land, should you be in the same boat.)

A new listing popped up that randomly caught my eye. It was a large lot (check) in a rural neighborhood (check) with water rights (check) and ample southern exposure (check), just 10 minutes from the center of town (check!).

It actually sat along a small stretch of road that we’d explored a year ago and loved, but we had more or less crossed it off the list. Not very many homes on that block came on the market, and the ones that did were always out of our price range.

To see this type of property for sale was honestly kind of astonishing. It was kismet.

The catch? There was an old mobile home on the property (plus a couple of rundown wood sheds) that had to be removed before any building could take place.

Buying a tear-down in Bend, Oregon, to build on

I showed Will the listing, not thinking too much of it since it was a bit above our budget anyway.

He took one look at it and immediately said, “Let’s check this out when we get home.”

That was on a Wednesday. The timeline from that point on felt like life on fast-forward:

Thursday morning: Spent the entire drive home (nine hours in all!) talking about the property and whether we could make it happen, timing- and money-wise. Started daydreaming hard about building a house for our family.

Thursday night: Came home, unpacked, went to bed. Unable to sleep because I kept thinking about the house, I shot off a quick email at midnight to our real estate broker, whom we hadn’t talked to in almost a year.

The email went something like this: “Hey Carrie, I know we haven’t really been looking at homes, but we just saw something on Zillow and wanted to get some info on it. Could you please let us know what you think?”

Garden Betty is building a house

Friday morning: Carrie emailed back at 7 am and suggested we get in to see the property stat. It was in a desirable, up-and-coming area that was going to blow up in the next few years, and she thought it was a great choice and investment for us.

The property had only been on the market for three days, but she wanted us to view it right away in case any offers came in over the weekend. Whoa, whaaaat?!

What had started as just a casual, curious request on a property we hadn’t even been looking for, suddenly turned into an urgent, time-sensitive matter because, well, there was a strong possibility that we might actually put an offer on it. I had anxiety all day while waiting to hear back from the seller’s agent.

Friday afternoon: We met our agent at the property and right away, we were smitten. We knew it was The One. We walked up and down the green, grassy parcel—lit with big blue skies and dotted with beautiful mature trees—and saw potential everywhere.

We visualized where we’d build our future home, food forest, vegetable garden, wild meadow, greenhouse, chicken run, swimming pond, even a little treehouse and pump track for the kids to play on.

Update: Here’s a look at my garden plans for the property!

Our home-building journey begins

But—always a but, right?—there were concerns about the condition of the septic system, how we’d demolish the mobile home, and all sorts of issues we needed to do our due diligence on to make sure it was a suitable piece of land to build on.

Not to mention the biggest issue of all: money. Because we hadn’t been actively looking for a house, we had no mortgage lender. And because of the age of the mobile home, local laws didn’t allow for financing unless we had the home decommissioned and the property reclassified as bare land before closing.

Financing in this manner meant it could take months before we closed. However, if we got all our ducks in a row, we could potentially have a new house built by the time our current lease ended.

So, we crossed our fingers and went all in.

Saturday and Sunday: We were so nervous that someone else (namely, a developer with boatloads of cash) was looking at “our” property. We wrote up lists of questions to ask the county building department, figured out how much money we could put together, and really, truly hoped that this was the home we’d been waiting for all along.

The following week: After many calls to excavators, asbestos surveyors, and the county to estimate what we’d be in for, we made a cash offer ($25,000 below asking) with a heartfelt letter about our family and our dreams for the property.

The seller sent a very fair counter offer the next day, and we accepted! (Though we were the first offer, our agent felt that our “love letter” definitely helped sway the seller in our favor.)

We closed without a hitch less than four weeks later. It’s been an exhilarating, eye-opening, and surreal experience, and to say that we are now officially landowners blows my mind away.

Getting ready to build a home for our family

A little more about the property: It’s 1 1/2 acres on a wedge-shaped lot surrounded by other acreage properties. A rare parcel in an otherwise densely forested neighborhood, it’s wide open and sunny with deeded water rights, lush green pasture, and a sprinkling of some of our favorite evergreen and deciduous trees (spruces, willows, and aspens).

(In Oregon, all water is considered public water. Property owners cannot divert ground or surface water from its natural course—along a river or canal, for instance—for their own personal use. Having water rights, however, allows us to irrigate our land with water from the canal.)

There’s a concrete cistern in the back that stores our irrigation water, as well as irrigation lines running the whole length of the property (which we still need to locate and will probably have to replace as we start excavating).

Our lot in Bend, Oregon

Because there’s an existing home on the property, there’s already a 300-foot driveway in place, fencing on all sides, and utilities trenched to the building site. That saves us a great deal of money, as our initial land improvements will start with removing the mobile home and installing a new septic tank and drain field.

We are currently undergoing a septic feasibility study, consulting with builders, and shopping for a construction loan, which is making our dream just a teeny bit closer to becoming reality.

We’re still not sure what route to take—custom home, production home, prefab or modular home?—but hope to make some solid decisions as soon as we work out our financing.

Update: We decided to go for a custom home, and I discussed all the reasons why.

This is such an unexpected and exciting turn of events for us, and to say we’re grateful, relieved, anxious, and eager for the opportunity is an understatement. Not only is it our first home purchase ever, it’s the first home we’ll be building from the ground up! Eeeek.

I’m very much looking forward to sharing all the peaks and valleys of our homebuilding adventure with you over the next year!

Join Garden Betty on her home-building adventure

If you’ve built a house or are in the middle of building a house, what insights can you share that might make this go a little smoother? Are there things you wish you would’ve done differently? I’d love to hear all of your experiences!

And if you have any contacts or referrals in the building trades here in Central Oregon, send them alllll to me! I have stacks of notes, business cards, brochures, and catalogs that I’ve been collecting on all things house building, and the infinite amount of decisions to be made before we even break ground is mind-boggling.

Questions? Please ask away and I’ll try my best to answer them as we ride the rollercoaster of building our very first home together.You can also bookmark Garden Betty Builds a House to follow along as I document the whole process!

This year is about to get real, real fast! Aaahhhh!

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About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring—all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »