The Local People
The local folks will always help you if you're in need. Sometimes even when you're not. Make lasting friendships with your local neighbors whenever you can. These are the same folks that may be pulling you out of the snow at some point. The locals guys always wave to you when you pass by along the road. Gals, too, sometimes. They don't know you, but they still wave. It's just plain old country courtesy to do so. You fellows should wave, too. Be friendly. Ladies, you may want to think about this one... ;-)
few things I REALLY like about
living in West Virginia
1. NO LINES at the motor vehicle dept offices.
2. NO LINES at the post office. Walk
right in and do your business.
3. NO LINES at the voting locations.
Walk in, vote, you're done. Onward.
4. NO LINES at the local movie
theater. Walk in, sit down and often get a private showing.
Restrictive Covenants and unrestricted land
Before you bristle up and tell me you don't want to be in a subdivision (the usual notion), consider the practical realities of it. Our country subdivisions are NOT the same as those you have in town. I should know... I lived in Reston, VA for ten years. We don't tell you what color to paint your mailbox or door frames, or that your car must stay in a garage, or that your cat must be on a leash. In the communities you'll see on this web site, the most common restrictions will be concerned with mobile homes (usually NO), hunting (sometimes no), 4-wheelers (often no), junk cars (always no), commercial uses (varies), farm animals (varies), further subdivision of lots (usually no), minimum size of homes (usually 700-1000 sq ft), excessive tree removal (discouraged), road maintenance fees ($200-600/yr), utility easements and setbacks (30-50'), RV use (varies, but usually permitted for no more than 10-11 months per year) and lots more. All of these are important for you to understand and most are to assure the owner's continued enjoyment and property values... not just your enjoyment, but all owners' enjoyment. I always have a full copy I can email before you see a property that interests you. I prefer to save a few trees and not print or mail the document out before you see the property, so at the risk of appearing too nosy, I often ask what you want to be able to do with your property. The reason for this is that I can head off later conflicts or useless showings if what you were looking for was a place to set up a firing range, HAM radio towers, auto repair business, or a place for you and your friends to hunt and run your all-terrain vehicles. There is a place for everything, but we need to start off knowing just where that place is and not be wasting precious time looking at the others that cannot work. Help me out with a little info (or a lot of info) when you ask me to do a property search for you. Big payoff in time saved and satisfaction after the sale.
Things that are NOT usually found in rural covenants, but are often the concerns I hear from buyers, would include house pet restrictions, maximum home size, requirements to build right away or by a certain date, minimum home cost requirements, home style, color and rental restrictions. These are rare, but additional home design standards DO exist in some communities where they desire design uniformity (like log cabins) or low visibility homes.
Generally, in the WV countryside, county and state laws generally do NOT address the issues that ARE addressed by many local laws in the Metro areas. Things like junk cars, farm animals and old mobile homes nearby will not enhance the value of your high dollar home. Hunting, 4-wheeling and excessive tree removal can affect your privacy and security, making your new home less desirable for you and eventual buyers (NEVER forget resale issues). Setbacks and utility easements, typically part of the covenants, assure that all land owners can obtain the needed utilities and that no one will build right on the lot lines. Keep in mind that without those utility easements, you may never get utilities to your property. It happens. Road maintenance fees attempt to establish minimum fees and standards for your private road. The state does not generally take over maintenance of private subdivision roads, so it's up to you and your neighbors to have a system of dues collection, available contractors, work standards and owners who are on site to call for needed work and supervise it. Never forget that you will someday want to sell your property. If your home now looks at those new chicken houses on the unrestricted land nearby, or you've never been able to get your utilities past your adjacent neighbor, or only 4WD vehicles can get you your property, you may well have to take a loss on any eventual sale, if you can sell it at all. Without covenants, your neighboring land owners can do about anything they want... and they usually will.
If you purchase what we call "unrestricted" property, meaning not part of a "property owners association" (POA), you may be on your own for road maintenance. You need to make certain that the road you use to your property is either state maintained, or POA maintained. Otherwise, it falls to you. And, yes, some "subdivisions" have no formal road maintenance agreements. We need to be wary of these. Others collect so little money from the owners that they simply cannot perform dependable year-round maintenance. Consider calling the President and/or Treasurer of any POA you consider buying into to determine the financial condition of the POA. I can always give you contact info on that. If you buy a very large property and choose to build well within the borders, then, of course you will have a long driveway to maintain. For many, the sense of privacy is well worth the cost of owning a snow plow or tractor or having a contractor handle it under contract. I can usually give you the names of local fellows who do plowing. See more on this issue below, under "4WD or AWD Vehicles".
Wrong... the deer's garden, the bird's garden, the raccoon's garden, the bear's garden, but certainly not your garden. OK, good fences can do wonders for a garden, especially the new quick & simple electric fences (careful you don't back into it). But you still may have the mountain "soil" to deal with and maybe even a low yield well, preventing the needed watering. Raised planters and rain barrels will help, but if you have a wooded lot on a mountain, there's very little you can do for your garden unless you cut down the trees, haul in the soil and deliver endless water to the garden. And then you still have to divide the proceeds with the wildlife. If you are set on a big garden, you may do best to buy a property with alluvial soil in the flood plain of a river, where the best soils have been deposited over time, but you still have the deer issues. Don't forget, the deer were here before you were. The deer are not the problem... WE are the problem, for messing with what was once a balanced habitat, for removing the predators, for placing so much emphasis on hunting those big bucks (rather than the does who do all the baby-making) and for bringing our city exotics to the country and then getting miffed because the deer see these as rare delicacies, which they are. There's help though... Google for "Deer Resistant Plantings" and the like. Here's one from WVU: "Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer Damage" at http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/hortcult/treeshru/resistan.htm#Rarely%20Damaged
Yes, we have bear (black), snakes (some poisonous), coyotes, foxes, bobcats, as well as endless other interesting critters. You'll marvel at the calls of various owls, the howls of the coyotes, the huge hawks and bald-headed eagles. The coyotes, foxes and bobcats are rarely seen, but they're always out there. Deer come in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. Occasionally you'll see a piebald or albino one (which I did recently in a protected, gated community). All these animals are a part of our community. You need to know them, respect them, and avoid some of them. But always remember... they were here first. OK, their names aren't on your deed, but they have rights and you should consider learning to live with them all. West Virginia is a wonderful place to just watch the animals. If you like to do so, consider a gated, No Hunting type of community with larger lots.... you'll see more wildlife. Here's more about bears... :-)
And while we're talking wildlife, keep in mind the issue of deer in the road. Deer can destroy your vehicle and even kill you when you hit them at high speed. You must drive with extra care at night, especially during September through December. Keep your speed down and your eyes open for those deer who often decide to cross the road right in your headlights. This cannot be overemphasized! Now that was serious, but this is funny... those "Deer Crossing" signs are not to tell the deer where it's best to cross... they're there to tell you to be especially aware that there may be deer crossing there at times, due to high deer populations. Of course you knew that, but listen to this on-air caller making a complaint about the need to relocate the deer-crossing signs to safer places! Cute.
Before you buy land in WV, you should consider your thoughts on the hunting issue. Some communities may have a high % of hunters as owners if hunting is not restricted and especially if the land borders National Forest, other public land, or WestVaco tree farm land. Unless there is a clear and fully enforced prohibition against hunting, there will likely be hunting going on all around you from September through January (and illegal hunting before and after). Associated hunting activities (scouting, 4-wheeling, dog training) always take place throughout the year. If you do want your land for hunting, be sure to tell me right up front. If you want to totally avoid hunting activities, you should also tell me, as we should just focus on the very few places where it is totally forbidden AND totally enforced. Those that don't think they care either way should know they will likely have it going on all around them.... and not just by the neighbors, but by all the locals for miles who seem to prefer to hunt on other's lands rather than their own. This starts to become a security issue as well as a hunting issue. Its about ten times harder to keep hunters off your 5-10 acres as it is to keep them out of your entire "No Hunting" subdivision, mostly because you're not there most of the time, but when it's a community rule, your full-time neighbors will be there keeping an eye on illegal hunting in the community as a whole and on your property for you. There is no polite way to tell hunters to stay off your property. The rules are logical and simple: WV is a traditional hunting state... if you hunt, you have lots of places to do it; if you don't want hunting taking place on your property, then you'll need to be in a gated "No Hunting" community. No other really good choices.
Please don't tell me you don't mind hunting, as long as the hunters stay off your land, are following all the laws and being respectful of your property rights. The State says that if you haven't clearly and completely "posted" your property against hunting, then hunters have a RIGHT to hunt on YOUR land! Yup, you read that right. That's why you need to tell me your preferences so I can show you properties you'll be happy with. There are some places where hunting IS permitted, but is not common, so middle ground does exist, but must be selected carefully. If you still don't get it, read THIS, as an example of what can happen in hunting season.
If you're looking for weekend property, keep in mind that you'll be leaving your home unattended for weeks at a time. If your home is so private that it can't be seen from any other home or the road, you could possibly have a security problem. Local law enforcement folks tell me that your typical B & E is done by opportunists who will simply go elsewhere if you make things inconvenient for them. So do so! Some of our most secure communities tend to be those that are gated. Folks are security conscious there and usually keep a sharp eye out for each other's places. Get to know your neighbors, especially the full time ones who tend to see everything. In addition, or if not in a gated community, consider a locking chain or gate across your driveway when away. Of course 4-wheelers, if allowed in your community, can always (and will) get around that. Next line of defense is motion lights and security stickers on the windows. The new gold-standard is the broadband-connected, motion-activated, security cameras that can notify you and show you what's going on at your mountain cabin. Buy kits online or at Costco. There seems to be some disagreement about locks... some folks say never lock your door when away, other say get good locks and use 'em. Most folks are NEVER broken into... others are again and again. You can control 90% of it by doing smart things. We'll talk more about this issue as we see specific properties. I had weekend property in WV when I lived in Northern Virginia and have a few observations that can help you (my cabin near Berkeley Springs was broken-into 4 times in 10 years). One great thing about WV is that YOU are not in danger personally (safest state in the US), but your stuff may be at risk, if you make things easy.
Being next to
National Forest or other Public Land
It's not always all it's cracked up to be unless you hunt or hike, in which case it comes in real handy. It's not your private backyard... it belongs to 300 million Americans who are allowed to hike, camp, hunt, plus possibly even do commercial logging and drive vehicles through it. It may adversely affect your peace, quiet and security. But it also MAY have great access trails for hiking (or may not). Just check it out carefully before you buy so you know how, and how much, that area is being used, what the future plans are for that area of forest and whether it's really easily-accessible to you, or just to everyone else. Building close to the property line may affect your privacy and security.
A perc test (short for percolation) is done prior to installing a septic systems in order to assure that the soil is of such a nature to accommodate your septic effluent in a safe manner. The idea is for the soil to filter and allow oxygen contact with the liquid effluent so that the good bacteria will safely and completely digest the not-so-good stuff. Soil that has too much clay, too much sand or gravel, bedrock close to the surface or too much water, will not do the job properly. In those cases there is often an "alternative" septic system available which will still allow you to build, but may be more costly and require regular maintenance and annual inspections.
Perc tests tend to cost from $200 to $300, depending on the location and contractor. The perc test only gives you "feel-good" data, though... it has no legal value without going a step or two further. What you must have prior to building is a Septic Permit (add another $125). That comes from the County Health Dept. and is done immediately after the perc test and requires a close inspection of the perc test by a county Sanitarian to assure it was done correctly and to write the specs for the system to be installed. The Septic Permit is only good for one year, so one rarely does one unless they are pretty sure to install the system shortly, however, some counties will allow you to pay a fee each year to extend the permit. This all varies by county. Hampshire County is the most strict in the Potomac Highlands area.
Beginning in 2004, some counties (Hampshire, being one) started a new status called a "Site Approval", which approves a future septic system for ONE specific location and no other. For that approval, you do not have to install the system right away or pay an annual fee. But if you want to change the location just 50-100', you have to do it all over again. In Hampshire County, they even require you to have a certified surveyor come out and draw up a plat showing the precise location of the perc test and proposed septic system. Add $350-500 to the cost and 2-4 weeks to the delay for that headache.
In the past, developers generally provided you with ONE "valid" perc test paper, showing that they did a perc test. Again, it's a "feel-good" thing simply showing you what they did, where they did it and what the results were. Some go to step two and provide a "Site Approval", but they typically do not go the extra step for the permit. When you're ready to build, unless you have a completed Site Approval, or a current Septic Permit, you'll have to do some steps over again to get the permit. No big deal though, because the developer rarely does the test where you'd want to build... he generally does it where it's quick, simple and easily accessible for his contractor. If you're buying a large lot, there are usually plenty of places where the septic would work. If you're buying a two acre parcel, though, it might be critical for you to know if you can get a Septic Permit, before you buy.
If the property you're purchasing never had a perc test, or the owner cannot find the paper to prove it, you might add that the seller is responsible to provide a successful perc test as a condition of the sale. We can then add the Septic Permit to it and you're ready to build. But beware... many perc tests fail when done in the months with no leaves on the trees because the ground water tends to be high during those months and rain, snow and ice really mess things up, so keep that in mind when planning to buy a property or test the soil. Get your perc tests done between May and September, if at all possible.
Take note that asking for a new perc test and Septic Permit prior to settlement can add as much as 2-3 months to the time to settlement... and that's in the good months. Trying to do one in March may serve only to give the property a black eye if the ground is wet, since some county sanitarians will not allow you to re-test any location that failed once due to water in the hole. Another point is that you may have to live with the marginal results, if done when the soil is wet, meaning a more costly system being required. Choose the time and the reason that you do one carefully. It's really best done just before construction, as long as the ground is not wet. Perc tests and Septic Permit inspections seem to take absolute lowest priority with both excavators and the Health Dept., especially if there's no construction going on. If you're in a hurry, expect some gray hairs before it's done! On the good side though, I've rarely (only once) seen a lot that failed to perc, although, on a rare occasion, you may have to test several locations to get the results you want. The excavators usually charge a much reduced fee (like $100) for subsequent holes/tests and the Health Dept does NOT charge the $125 again for the second test if they failed the first.
Health Department regs for septics vary from county to county, from year to year and even for the date the property was first subdivided! And they refuse to provide this info in writing.... believe me, I've tried! The above is a general overview and is not applicable to all counties. Best thing to do is to talk to the county Sanitarian in the county of interest to you. Here are the phone numbers of several county Health Departments (email me for others):
County Health Departments (For
information about wells, perc tests and septic systems)
Grant County: 304-257-4922 Cullen Sherman, Sanitarian
Hampshire County: 304-496-9641 Jim Kender, Sanitarian
Hardy County: 304-530-6355 Bill Ours, Sanitarian
Mineral County: 304-788-1321 AJ Root, Sanitarian
80% of the requests I get from potential buyers are for waterfront property. Hey, this isn't Florida... we're in the mountains here! Our steep mountains seem to take up about 90% of the land area, with the flood plains the other 10%. Finding the property you have imagined and desire may be a difficult search, but understanding what is available will help to shorten it. Not everyone will find what they want, but I'm going to try to help you. By the way, the "MLS" button on the front page of my web site will search for additional waterfront properties for you after you click it and select "West Virginia" and a county. Then scroll down to "Advanced Search". "Waterfront" is just that. "Water Oriented" on the MLS database means view or access and may include waterfront, too. Descriptions are scanty, and (could this be true?! ) the properties may not always be what you imagine. Sometimes, listing agents call a property "waterfront" when it's actually not, but the community has common property on the water. Hmmm.... is this fair? Oh, and then there are the stock photos of water frontage (again, common property), attached to listings that are as dry as the Gobi Desert. Foul! I can fill you in with more info on any MLS property if you give me the MLS #. You might make a point to tell these agents exactly what you think of these tactics when you run into this. Of course you might not find out until you get there.
Lakefront... Before you get your heart set on a spacious lakefront property in the Potomac Highlands, you need to get yourself a map and look for the lakes. There are few, and what there are tend to be primarily owned by the state for recreational lakes (no lots on or within sight) such as Jennings Randolph Lake & Stonewall Jackson Lake, or owned primarily by a power company (Mount Storm Lake & Stonecoal Lake). Smaller lakes and ponds tend to be owned by single owners or, in a few cases, a subdivision, with a few narrow lots on a very small lake. Forget about privacy on a lake... it doesn't exist, as the lots tend to be very narrow. There has occasionally been a waterfront lot for sale on Mt Storm Lake, but rarely, as there are only a very few vacant lots there, and those owners tend to want to keep those lots. If you look in my "SOLD" list on my site you may see one or two that I've sold in the past. By the way, The Preserve at New Creek Lake is adjacent to a lake, not on the lake. No lake frontage, due to a wide buffer area around the lake. That lake is owned by the City of Keyser as a municipal water resource. Although heavily stocked throughout the year for fishing, no boating or swimming are permitted. If you really MUST have lakefront, it would be best to get familiar with the area and be ready to jump on a new listing the moment it becomes available. Or, you could just move to Florida or Minnesota. :-)
Riverfront... Also has its own set of challenges. Our riverfront properties come primarily in two flavors: wide flood plain between your building site and the river, OR, your building site may be 50 to 300' above the river with little opportunity to access it. Some properties have the combination of both. In any case, there may be little or no view of the river. The reason for this is our mountains and the way they shed water quickly, causing the rivers to rise abruptly with each new storm and fall quickly afterwards. The local flood plain regulations will define the proper and safe use of riverfront land so that you will qualify for the National Flood Insurance Program, if you so choose, or your lender requires it. Be sure to ask about flood plain maps and regulations when looking at river property with any sales agent. Demand proof. I will be prepared with all the info for you for any riverfront property on my web site and I have special pages (but not visible links) that I will send to you for maps and more info when you become interested in a specific river property.
So, that idyllic log cabin by the gentle flowing river may be real hard to find... or nearly impossible. The compromise, for those wanting riverfront property, is that most quality subdivisions with waterfront lots also have one or more sections of common property on a better piece of the river where you can swim, picnic and launch your boat. This also serves as access for those that don't have frontage at all in the subdivision. Still, try to accept the fact that waterfront property is always in short supply and will inevitably cost you more... lots more. I work real hard to have the best waterfront properties in the Potomac Highlands on my web sites, but they often sell in one day.
Many upscale subdivisions restrict your right to cut trees on your lots to only those that must be cut for your home, driveway, septic, etc. The idea here is that we have these great forests and we shouldn't be coming out from the city with our new chain saws and laying waste to the forest without first understanding the results and alternatives. If you MUST have that panoramic view, try to buy a land parcel where it's already in place. I often have them available. Don't forget, this openness will usually require some regular maintenance because brush, brambles and trees will try to grow back. That land may have been open due to the grazing of farm animals which are no longer permitted in the new subdivision. Or it stayed open because someone cut hay regularly, which you won't likely be doing. Consider having someone cut it for you every year or so.
Not into the work required for that kind of view? Alternatives include buying very steep land where the slope falls away so abruptly in front of you that only the treetops block the view. You have some choices there, but do NOT cut the trees down on a steep slope.... they are what is holding the soil to the mountain. On lesser slopes you can remove the small trees, plus the weak, sick and damaged trees, plus some lower limbs and get a very nice view without having torn up the forest. I suggest this be done slowly and sensitively over several seasons or years and NEVER before you build the house. Many folks will consider that the very best view is the trees themselves. Try to content yourself with the shade, privacy, and other advantages that the forest provides to you. And don't forget, we have leaves on the trees for only six months at most... if there's a "real" view beyond the trees, you'll have it anyway from mid October through mid May, without cutting a twig!
Last, but not least, keep firmly in mind that laying waste to several acres of trees for "your" view, quickly damages everyone else's view looking back at your place. Nice as your home might be, nobody really wants it in their view of the mountain! And while we're on the subject, please, please, leave the blue, white and yellow vinyl siding for others! Natural wood and wood-toned materials will blend in with the forest and help to keep your home from being another bright scar on the forested mountain. This is how we quickly turn a beautiful mountain into just another big hillside full of homes with lawnmowers running all weekend... just what we've all been trying to get away from! Let's all try not to create suburbs in the country. Great views can be had looking THROUGH the trees, yet preserving everyone else's views at the same time. Now, wouldn't that be nice if everyone would do that? :-) Let's all do what we can to keep our WV mountains looking natural. It's entirely up to you.
Up & Down
Local custom says that when you're out traveling around, if you're going "up" to Smalltown, that means you're going up in altitude (as in "up the creek"), regardless of which way it appears on a map. From Keyser, you go "down" to Cumberland, although Cumberland is 25 miles straight north of Keyser, you should just know that it's "downstream" on the Potomac River. Conversely, from Cumberland, you go "up" to Keyser. In the city, up usually means north, which is "up" on a typical map. Who knows whether it's actually up or down in altitude (get out your GPS)? You'll need to be more knowledgeable in the country. Probably a carry-over from some time ago when you really knew whether it was up or down because you did it by horse or on foot. By the way, if your trip takes you up then down, or down then up, that would be "over", as in goin' "over" to Mathias from Moorefield.
Why are all the
Look at little towns like Onego, Harman, Davis and about all you'll see is white buildings. This is because they are mostly older buildings, lacking air conditioning. The reflective white exterior keeps them surprisingly cool even in the long sunny days of August. That works fine for them, but please don't paint or vinyl clad your mountain home white. The less visible we can keep our mountain homes, the better the mountain view will be for the rest of us. We all like to feel we have the mountains to ourselves. The best thing you can do is make sure your home has plenty of shade from big trees.
Annual WV Rainfall: http://www.ocs.orst.edu/pub/maps/Precipitation/Total/States/WV/wv.gif
You'll pay as much for trash pickup here as you will anywhere else, and you can about forget about curbside recycling. Trash pickup is nonexistent on the private roads inside of a subdivision. You'll be assigned a location to place your trash bags on a certain day and may be given stickers. If your pickup day is Thursday and you're a weekender, you'll not make any friends by dropping your trash on the corner on Sunday night. Animals will scatter it in a day or so. Weekenders might be better off to take their trash home with them where they can also recycle. Full-time residents may prefer to take their trash to the transfer station, if one is nearby, or on their normal route. In our area, there is a transfer station 2 miles north of Romney on Route 28, another, one mile south of Petersburg on Route 220, and the actual dump (where it all actually ends up) is in Tucker County between Davis and Thomas. There, it all goes into a huge "environmentally-correct", EPA-approved, former coal mine site.
Why do things
take so long?
If you're in a hurry for settlement, oftentimes we can do it in as little as two weeks from the day you first see the property, even with financing. Sometimes it doesn't work that way, though. Many of the professionals that we will use for things like perc tests, surveys, home inspections, termite inspections, appraisals, etc., are one person businesses (and that includes me). If one person has the flu, is off at a professional seminar, or is on vacation, or it's hunting season (the worst delay), we may experience delays. The next one on the list may be backed up because he's doing the other's business as well. What you call "Overnight" mail, we call "second-day or same week" mail. Sometimes we can work around this... other times we may just have to wait. Keep in mind that the laid back manner in which WV folks often operate is an important part of WV's charm, even when it doesn't seem so charming. Make sure you let me know early on if you have deadlines that must be met and we can work to meet them, but please keep in mind that few operate at a Beltway pace in the mountains and even fewer work on the weekends, or during hunting season.
Despite all the hype from developers and real estate people, we're NOT running out of land in WV. Whew! While some developers (and low interest rates) often work to drive the prices up, others seem to specialize in promoting "cheap land". And how about some "wholesale prices" on frightfully expensive and not-so-great land! You MUST be especially careful when selecting a large-acreage land purchase. Know what you want it for, how you would use it, what features it must have and don't get caught up in buying land just because it's cheap. There's usually a reason. Don't expect land to go for under $2000 an acre around here unless you just want it for hunting. Cheap land is cheap for many reasons: it doesn't have frontage on maintained roads (meaning you may have difficulty getting to it at times), because it has little or no chance of getting power & phone easements to it, because it cannot be subdivided (lack of sufficient right-of-way width), because its unlikely to perc, because it's too steep to effectively use, and numerous other reasons. Some other reasons might include subdivisions with really bad roads, poor covenants, lax enforcement of covenants, junky lots, junky houses, junky trailers, etc... what you might call "distressed" neighborhoods. It may be hard for you to get reliable information about the "quality" of the land and neighborhood from ads. Just be sure you inspect the whole area thoroughly when you see it! Good, usable land, with road frontage, gentle grades, views, attractive woods/meadows and access to utilities (ask about DSL), should cost a minimum of $2,000 per acre for large tracts (100+ ac), to $3-7,000 per acre for medium tracts (20 ac), and up to $8-12,000 per acre for small rural lots (3-6 ac). Smaller lots, with paved roads and underground utilities show prices of 20,000+ per acre or more (2012)! More for waterfront. This can vary due to proximity to services, roads and water, as well as for the level of "management" of the association. Communities with stricter covenants, flawless enforcement and excellent finances are in the very highest demand, and because some of those communities actually have "waiting lists" for available properties, the property values and prices tend to be higher. Remember, these guidelines are for GOOD land, not mountainsides. Don't get stuck paying $7k per ac for 20 ac with 18 acres of land too steep to walk on, unless the view is to die for (and some ARE)! And don't expect $3k per ac land to be prime land... it won't be, but parts of large tracts may be so. Always DEMAND a topographic map (by email, ahead of the visit) of any land you propose to look at! If its riverfront, then INSIST on the flood map, as well. Remember another thing when buying rural property... some day you will need to re-sell it. The quality of the land and community have a great deal to do with the ease and return on resale. Don't build an expensive home on a really questionable piece of land... it will be a tough resale.
4WD or AWD
You may be able to get by without one, but you'll really wish you had one if you'll be spending any time in the mountains in the winter. All wheel drive (AWD) seems almost as good as 4 wheel drive (4WD) until you get into heavy snow. The very best thing to have is 4WD, a manual transmission and a lower range of gears as well, but that seems harder and harder to find on newer vehicles these days, which are tending to be AWD and automatic transmissions. One needn't spend $50k for a new SUV... $20k will buy a great late model Subaru Outback or similar vehicle to use for your WV adventures. A few bucks more will get you a good used Forester (no... I don't run the local Subaru dealership, but I drive Subarus and love 'em). Look in the Washington Post classifieds for used cars for use in WV. Keep a nylon tow rope, jumper cables, good flashlight, cell phone (rarely works in the mountains), battery charger and a few other emergency items in it. These will save the day (or weekend) again and again. Local folks will always pull you out with a smile when you get stuck. I do so all the time with my little Subaru station wagon.
Don't expect your city guests to be able to drive right to your property in their 2WD car in winter weather. You may need to pick them up a few miles away or make other arrangements. Don't expect the auto club to rescue you behind locked gates or on private roads... they don't go there, but our local guys will, if you know who to call. Our state-maintained secondary roads are low priority for the state guys. After a storm, you really need something more than 2WD even on the state roads. Do not underestimate this. And our private subdivision roads are usually maintained for AWD or 4WD access in winter weather, not 2WD (and I know of large subdivisions where they do not even plow at all). The snow plow contractors tend to NOT scrape the road surface with the plow or you lose the thousands of dollars in gravel that you paid to apply in Spring and Summer. They adjust the plow to run several inches ABOVE the road surface, which leaves a packed layer of snow on the road until it melts. That's why we don't even call the plows out until 4 or more inches has fallen. EXPECT to have and use AWD or 4WD in winter weather and it's not impossible that there will even be a few days each winter when your roads can be iced shut. This can be dealt with by the use of cable chains, obtainable at any auto parts place (or online) and easily installed and removed. If you live here full-time, might be good to put studded tires on November through March. We don't spread salt over dirt/gravel roads and few contractors have the equipment to spread cinders on ice. This winter road situation is something you just have to accept or make efforts to avoid when you own mountain property. But every place is a bit different. I can usually tell you about the roads in the places where I sell property.
Don't forget that your long driveway, taking you well into a large lot, can be the final hurdle to easy winter access. You may have to hoof it, at times (some folks bring a sled!). That's why some folks build close to the road even on these huge 20 ac lots. Many contractors will do your driveway if you make arrangements with them before the season starts. I can often give you the contractor contact data so you can work it out ahead. When you lay out a new driveway, try to make it slope toward the south or west so the sun hits it as full as possible in the warm part of the day. I can help you lay out a hypothetical drive on any lot we look at! A smart driveway could make the difference between getting in and out, or NOT.
Service, or NOT
Cell phones and waterfront don't mix in the mountains... HUH?? Think about it... waterfront is down low, well below the hills and mountains, where the cell signal goes 100-1000' over your head in most cases, skipping from high point to high point along the hills and mountains. Mountaintop, OK, as long as it's the mountain-TOP, not mountain-side. Waterfront... get used to being without, unless you can see the tower. Watch your signal as you drive around here. Usually weak or nada. Also, some signals may be entirely absent (like ATT), so you may get no signal at all... ever. Things will get better eventually, but I've been saying that for 15 years. I just don't even bother with a cell phone. It so rarely has a decent signal and none at my home/office.
TV and Internet:
Satellite, DSL, Cable
You want TV in the country? Most do. Cable is rare in rural areas. It only goes so far from town (and just SOME towns) and only to specific destinations. Satellite dish receivers are often the ONLY way for a good TV signal. Same for high-speed Internet service. DSL Internet service (by phone wire) goes only 3-4 miles from the phone company switching center and no further, but the phone company has installed new switching centers nearby to many subdivisions and even two centers within Ashton Woods for 100% coverage there. Don't worry, by FCC rules, NO covenants can restrict your right to use a small satellite dish on your property, but trees and steep north-facing hills can! When we look at property, think about where a satellite dish could be placed. You may need to know which service you want and the specs for the specific satellites. Generally, the dishes need to be pointed a bit to the west of south (about 220-230 degrees) and with a 30-40 degree elevation. Go to these sites for more help:
or search from http://www.dishnetwork.com/ or http://www.directv.com/
You may need to plan ahead a bit to be sure you have a good spot. Some end up placing a dish close to the road, on a tall pole, or on a neighbor's lot (with permission), if needed. You may have to cut some trees in some cases, but it's a rare property that can't get a signal in one way or another.
Large high-voltage power lines are a fact of life in the country. Don't forget who they are servicing... the folks in the city and suburbs, which probably means you! Large power plants tend to be in rural locations but large power needs are in population centers. Folks coming out to the country for the quiet and the views need to keep in mind that we in the country live everyday with those big power lines and they aren't doing us any good because they run straight to the city. In the process, large power plants chew up thousands of acres on WV land and the required coal mines do even worse. Won't it be nice when we find a green solution to power issues? You may well end up with a power line in your view from your new mountain property, or even crossing your property. Since these lines tend to run east-west about every 5-10 miles and that great view you want may view 20 miles, you're almost bound to see some big power lines from any great high-elevation view. We'd love to remove them for you, but then it would be cold and dark in your home when you get back to the city! :-) You may have to learn to accept a power line in your view. We who live here already have.
one might be tempted by a property with the power lines very
close, or even on the property, due to the great views the cut
right-of-way opens up for you. For those with a line
on their own large acreage, they may even provide additional
recreational opportunities such as for 4-wheeling and hunting. For those property
owners directly compensated for right-of-way land by the
TrailCo line in 2009, many owners received credits for perpetual free
electricity! I list and sell some of these parcels
and the advantage of lifetime free power is a big one! Ask me
for information on these.
Some folks have asked me if exposure to these high-voltage lines are harmful to one's health. Answer: I don't know. Nobody does (kinda like cell phones). A very good web source for that info is http://www.greenfacts.org/en/power-lines/ . A Google search will give you lots of articles, both pro and con. At any rate, exposure to EMFs (electromagnetic fields) seems dependent upon many factors, primarily including voltage, distance from the source and time spent at the location of the exposure. For your occasional weekend place 400 yards from a big power line, you might be more concerned about the view than the EMF issues. I have property in Ashton Woods very near one and still plan to build and live there, full-time.
Exploring in the
Potomac Highlands of WV
I often recommend potential buyers get in the car and explore the Potomac Highlands of WV. The process of exploration should be one of discovery and surprise. I feel the best way to explore is to take a good map and go looking for interesting places without a rigid plan. Get into WV a ways and take some side roads then some smaller roads and see what you find. There are few really great communities right on major roads, as the best ones tend to be well hidden along the back roads. I can't send you to what I feel are the most desirable communities because they are mostly gated. One big purpose of the gates is to reduce traffic in that community, so I cannot send you into any gated community without defeating the purpose of the gate. You can get a feel for some of the locations of properties I've sold in the past from the "SOLD" web pages on the site. Go to those ZIP codes and wander around with a good map. If your interest is in skiing, then explore the areas around the ski areas. If it's water sports, then identify the rivers you like and explore the roads along those rivers. If it's National Forest, then wander around there. Doing so will give you a "feel" for those areas and will also show you lots of places you will NOT want your mountain property to be near. When we look at some gated communities together, you will then see the difference! Best map book there is: DeLorme WV Atlas & Gazetteer (state topo maps) Buy it online! http://www.delorme.com/atlasgaz/
How Far Will You
Be Willing To Drive?
Everyone has their limit of how far they are willing to drive. PLEASE, make sure you know that limit BEFORE we spend a day looking at property that's too far for you. For many, that magical 2-3 hours is the limit, but it may not take you far away enough for the kind (and price) of property you seek. Once you tell me your limit, then we're going to strictly stay within that limit as we look for properties for you. ALL my properties give very good time estimates to drive there from specified points and my Google maps all have a red pin on the property to allow you to customize a route from your home with time and miles. I'm also happy to do estimates from your home to any property before we start looking. Google tends to hit the mileage exactly, but over-estimate the drive time, so my time estimates for you may be 15-20% high, but they're unlikely to be too low. You have to drive them to know.
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