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Old February 23rd, 2021, 08:50 AM #1
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WV Property-Search thread:

I know that there are quite a few folks on the boards who are interested in possibly grabbing a piece of land in WV either for hunting/camping purposes or for more permanent settlements including vacation homes or permanent residences. I thought a thread that -if sticky worthy- could be stickied with advice from WV natives and transplants as a sort of FAQ for those interested in this sort of thing regarding how to go about finding a property, things to consider (mineral and timber rights conveying, altitude and drill depth for a well, etc), and other general tips and considerations to have.

How to find a property:

While Zillow, Redfin, and other highly-used apps in our region can give you some results for properties in WV, it's often better to use local or regional real estate companies to find what you're looking for. There are some exceptions like Landwatch which tends to have up-to-date listings, but a lot of what you'll find on Zillow gets hosted on the site rather late and many times, a property that just lists on there will already be under contract or pending. Some of the real estate websites to consider are:

Foxfire Realty - Dealing mainly in Pocahontas, Greenbrier, Summers, and Monroe Counties

First Tracts Realty - Dealing mainly in Pocahontas and southern Randolph County resort real estate near Snowshoe, WV

Red Oak Realty - Dealing mostly in the eastern highlands of the state from Marlinton up to the Petersburg/Morefield Area as well as Lewisburg, areas of Preston County, and central West Virginia.

All Seasons Real Estate - Dealing mostly within Randolph and Tucker Counties (Elkins and Canaan area) but also has a nice MLS search that covers at least half of WV.

Lost River Real Estate - Dealing in the Potomac Highlands region of the state (Grant, Pendleton, Hampshire, Hardy, and Mineral Counties).

There are numerous other agencies that can help you find your own slice of "Almost Heaven" as well, these are just the ones I know of from my time in that region. I'll update the listings as others chime in.

Things to consider:

How do you want to use the land? If it's for hunting, shooting, camping, and other outdoor-centered activities, you'll want to make sure that there aren't any covenants or ordinances restricting the use. There are a lot of sub-divisions in WV that don't seem like they'd be sub-divisions until you read the deed. They likely don't have HOAs, community utilities, or other things that you think of in a "planned" community, but will still carry covenants and restrictions on use. If the lot lines on the plats are rather uniform and rectangular, someone likely subdivided the land so you need to look into the property details. There may be a covenant that says only permanent structures (slab or foundation required) may be put up on the property to prevent folks just plunking down a camper or a wall tent next to a property with a half-million-dollar home sitting on it. Just because it seems like a pristine piece of wilderness doesn't mean it doesn't have covenants.

If you're looking to build a permanent structure (house, pre-fab, cabin, double-wide-on-a-block-foundation, etc). you need to make sure the property you are looking at has a suitable homesite on it. I've seen properties for sale in WV that consisted of sheer cliff face for 80% of the acreage offered. Is there a level, sizeable piece of land that will allow you to put down a foundation or slab? If not, is there an area where the gradient would allow digging to bedrock to allow proper footing and giving you the opportunity to build a block or concrete foundation that is only partially below grade (building on a hillside)? Is it possible to use a raised platform to build your structure (put a house on stilts similar to a beach house)? And does the site have reasonable access so you can drive to it? No sense in putting a house somewhere that requires you to take a long staircase or hike several hundred yards in away from your parking spot.

If your potential property has a building site, how about access to electricity, water, and sewer? If you're closer to a town that has public utilities for all of these, chances are, you can get public hookups taken care of. If you're out in the boonies though, you'll have to put in a well or find a year-round spring, install a septic system or old-fashioned outhouse, and possibly think about going off-grid with solar, wind, or water generation for your electric needs if the cost of running a line to your homesite is too great. Installing a septic system will require percolation testing and each county can have different standards for this test. Drilling a well is the first thought most of us have when it comes to self-sufficient water sources given that we're in MD where wells are fairly common, but if you're able to locate a property with a natural spring or even a year-round creek or stream on it, you can save yourself a lot of trouble. The house I lived in when I was working at Snowshoe had a natural spring that ran directly into a cistern in the basement/garage of our house. The cistern was big enough, and the output from the spring high enough, that we literally did everything with spring water. Drank, cooked, washed, and bathed in it. The spring was pure with no treatment necessary, so the only cost for the water was the startup cost of the cistern and pump to supply the house, and then the electricity to run the pump. Some springs may contain bacteria or minerals that would require treatment to keep your family safe and your pipes and fixtures from getting gummed up with hard water deposits, but the systems to treat these issues are still cheaper than drilling a well. A year-round creek or stream on your property can also act as a water source with proper treatment including a sand filter, carbon filter, and anti-microbial treatment like UV treatment or sub-micron filtration systems.

Remember, if you're on top of a mountain, the view may be fantastic, but you're going to have to drill even further down for a reliable aquifer if you choose to go with a well. More depth = more $$$$.

Quality advice from traveller:
Quote:
Originally Posted by traveller
Wells and septic, Public Utility Districts:

As mentioned, drilling a well is not a simple as it is in the coastal plain in Maryland. There are fewer defined aquifers and sometimes you end up drilling a deep hole in the rocks and come up dry (or with a very low yield well). Many community water systems in WV use treated surface water that gets pumped considerable distances.
If you are close to a water line maintained by a 'PUD', talk to them about what the hookup-fees are. In WV, the role of the county in making your life easy is quite limited. Water for example is not provided by the county, it is often provided through a separate taxing entity called the 'PUD'. Many of these are rather small affairs with only a few employees. There are rules on who they can hook up and what they have to charge. Again, don't listen to the land salesman, if you are told that 'public water is available, verify that fact independently.

Mineral, Water, and Timber Rights:

WV is unique compared to a lot of other states in the fact that purchasing the land doesn't actually mean you own everything on, in, or under the land. West Virginia has long been a source of natural resources used to fuel and build the rest of our great nation. Because of this, coal, timber, and even water companies were able to get the state to create a system of ownership rights that determine what you can and cannot do on your land. It is extremely important to find out if the land you are considering purchasing has any of the rights sold off and if they will all convey with the property itself. In the coal-producing regions of the state, it's common for the mineral rights to not convey. Chances are, if the mineral rights don't convey, some coal company bought the mineral rights back in the late 1800s or early 1900s and either mined the area or are sitting on the rights in case the coal/oil/shale oil/natural gas under your property becomes profitable enough to mine/extract. In this case, you have two options. Either try to find out who owns the mineral rights and attempt to buy them back or hope that new mining activity doesn't start in your lifetime as the coal/gas/oil companies have the right to extract those resources, your house/home be damned. A good example of this is Mountview High School down in McDowell County. The school system bought the property for the high school for $1 but no rights conveyed. The coal company that sold them the land then went in and conducted retreat mining where they pull the support pillars of coal as they back out of the mine and allow the mine to then collapse in on itself. Of course, when you do this, the mountain tends to drop a bit as it fills the void in and that caused the school to basically crack in half. You don't want to come home some day to find that your house is now 5' lower than it was the last time you were there because someone dropped the pillars in a mine below it, or even worse, find a slag pile at your back porch or acid mine drainage messing up your drinking water because someone else held your mineral rights.

Timber rights are another thing to consider. If you don't own the timber rights to your property, you can't touch the trees. They are owned by someone else usually for the purposes of allowing lumber companies to selectively cut hardwoods for lumber. That said, some owners of timber rights are happy to let a lumber company come clear-cut a property just to get a paycheck out of it. Your secluded cabin in the woods can become a not-so-secluded cabin on a barren heath if you don't secure the timber rights.

Water rights are the last resource right that usually isn't a big issue, but can be in certain circumstances. If you are relying on a body of water for your source of household water like a stream, spring, river, lake, etc. it's important to make sure that nobody else is holding the right to the water on your land. Snowshoe Mountain Resort is beholden to a single local family for all of their water. That family was smart enough to retain the water rights to the streams and lake that the resort uses and basically lives off of the licensing fees they charge the resort for their water. You don't want to buy a property that has a nice artisanal spring on it only to find out that someone else retained the rights to it in hopes of licensing it to Deer Park or Nestle as demand increases.

In short, make sure that all rights convey with the property. If they don't think long and hard about what the implications may be in the future should you decide to forge on ahead.

The legality of access, easements, legal land boundaries, and who owns and maintains your road?

Solid Advice From Traveller:
Quote:
Originally Posted by traveller
Who owns the road to your property?
Are you on a county-owned road, is owned by an association or does it simply run across someone else's property? I was looking at a really interesting property that was made up of 4 parcels, one of them was a 2ac strip that contained a road to a hillside subdivision. There was no recorded easement for the road or the utility poles alongside it. The road was maintained by the people living on it and they would have had a good claim for a prescriptive easement based on having documented use of the road for the past 40 years, but there is always the possibility that those kinds of things have to be settled in court.
Who 'owns' the road may not be the one who maintains it. Many private roads are just maintained by the owners. Someone has a tractor with a box-blade and a length of rail on some chains that they use to smooth out the bumps a few times a year. If you buy property on the road, are you expected to chip in on a load of rock to resurface the portion down by the county road? Are you part of the work-party when the next storm washes out a culvert? Is there a crossing, what is the load rating?


Surveys and historic property descriptions:
If you buy something that is not the result of a semi-recent subdivision, your deed description may be something 'from the bumpy oak thence to the old fence line at the crest of the hill thence 2 chains and 20 paces to the crick. Don't rely on what the county GIS shows for the property line. Property sizes on those old plots are truly '80 acres more or less. All that doesn't matter as long as your neighbor is a local and nobody really cares which side of the line some tree is on. It does start to matter once some asshole lawyer from DC buys the tract next to you.


Buying into the family holler:
If the road to your property is called "Carl Diffenbaughs Road," you guessed it old Carl cut the road and 3/4 of the people on it share some of Carls DNA. Just make sure that the lot you are buying on the end of the road is not a contested piece of property. You know, the lot that Carl gave to uncle Fred in '55, but Fred went down to the bank in the "City" (Cumberland or Winchester) and put a mortgage on it which he promptly turned into beer and whiskey in one of the taverns. Since that day, every outsider who has owned that property has been the recipient of the ire directed at the long-deceased uncle Fred.
Owning in that kind of family holler is great if the family likes you. If they don't, well you might find yourself with your 'driveway' replaced with a ditch because you can't prove that the right to use that access to 'their' road came with the property (see above 'who owns your road', chances are you have a customary easement, but you may have to argue it).
Permitting and code requirements:

Permitting is dependent on each county and city that you are looking to build in. Almost all instances of building a new residential structure, or adding onto one, will require permitting in some form from the county. As to the codes that you are required to follow, most will adhere to the minimum standards of the national building, electrical, and plumbing codes which are very straight-forward. Inspections are usually hassle-free and inspectors take their jobs seriously, show them what they ask you to show them and note anything that they note needs to be addressed and get it done before the final inspection comes around. My father was an electrical engineer, lighting designer, and certified and licensed electrician for a major architectural and engineering firm in WV for most of his life. He is now the staff volunteer electrician for Habitat for Humanity of the Kanawha Valley. In all of his years dealing with inspectors and final punch lists, he never came across an inspector anywhere in the state that tried to make his life miserable "just because." Check with the county, follow the codes, pull your permits (which are usually dirt-cheap and ready for you the moment you hand over the money) and things will go very smoothly for you.

A good starting point for where to pull your permits is here: https://www.hbawv.org/resources/buil...lding-permits/

More on permits from traveller:
Quote:
Originally Posted by traveller
Building permits (or the lack thereof):
99% of the buildings you see from the highways in rural WV were built without a permit, or more precisely before permits became a requirement. While WV is far more reasonable on all of this, there are still requirements you have to adhere to. Just because it's "wild and wonderful," it doesn't mean you can just dig a ditch, fill it with gravel and start infiltrating sewage into the ground. You need perc tests and various permits once you start putting up a permanent dwelling. While you can probably build something like a 'container house', you can't just drag a container onto your new land and start hanging drywall.



I'll keep coming back and adding stuff to this first post as I have time. If you have any advice or suggestions, please comment below and I'll continue to work on this as time goes on.

Last edited by tallen702; February 24th, 2021 at 07:30 AM.
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Old February 23rd, 2021, 09:16 AM #2
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This is fantastic. Thank you fort getting this going. I am about 18 months or so out from being able to purchase, buy I have already started looking to get an idea of what I can afford and where. I know very little about WV other than it's way better than MD politically and offers cheap land. Initially I'm just looking for a spot to shoot, camp, 4 wheel etc. Maybe eventually look at building on it.
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Old February 23rd, 2021, 09:24 AM #3
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Another thing to consider is the various ways to pay for the land. I read a while back that land loans are harder to get without collateral because it's riskier for the banks. A home equity loan sounded more workable in that regard. I'll be interested in hearing from others that are further along in the process or already own land out there.
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Old February 23rd, 2021, 09:34 AM #4
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I've looked for years for property in WV after selling our 75 acres in Gilmer County ten years ago. I've been looking in Morgan, Mineral and Hampshire Counties. The biggest issue I see is HOAs, seems everything is controlled by them. I'd love to pick up 30 acres or so.
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Old February 23rd, 2021, 09:37 AM #5
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Old February 23rd, 2021, 10:12 AM #6
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Thanks tallen702 for the info very informative.
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Old February 23rd, 2021, 10:28 AM #7
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Very generous of you to offer this advice..
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Old February 23rd, 2021, 10:34 AM #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by G8tor View Post
Another thing to consider is the various ways to pay for the land. I read a while back that land loans are harder to get without collateral because it's riskier for the banks. A home equity loan sounded more workable in that regard. I'll be interested in hearing from others that are further along in the process or already own land out there.
a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) can be used for this, just be careful as the variable rate on the loan can come back to bite you in the butt if you rack up a lot of debt this way. Another way to be successful in securing a loan is to do a buy/build loan this incorporates the cost of purchasing the land into the building loan so that there IS collateral for the bank to rely on to recoup a potential loss. You can then convert that type of loan to a more traditional mortgage once the construction is complete.

Lastly, there are capital firms that will do seller-financing on land they have bought. Gokce Capital is one that I am familiar with. The trick with these is that you have to want to buy the land that they own and there's a lot more research to be done on your end regarding any liens, restrictions, etc. on the property as they only come with a Warranty Deed which certifies that they didn't incur any liens or restrictions on the deed while they held it. Gokce's newsletter is worth signing up for. They often send links to new properties as they come up (they're all over the US) and have some decent information about things to consider when purchasing land. The nice thing about them is that their rates are super low and you have a much shorter loan life than a traditional mortgage. That said, I would be wary of committing to buying land from a capital firm without reading the fine print. Seller-financed sales can come with all types of hitches regarding late or missed payments and what happens.
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Old February 23rd, 2021, 10:45 AM #9
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We are thinking of moving to west virginia. Our family is in md so it would be a big change but we cant find a house to buy here after almost 2 years of looking.
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Old February 23rd, 2021, 10:49 AM #10
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This is fantastic. Thank you fort getting this going. I am about 18 months or so out from being able to purchase, buy I have already started looking to get an idea of what I can afford and where. I know very little about WV other than it's way better than MD politically and offers cheap land. Initially I'm just looking for a spot to shoot, camp, 4 wheel etc. Maybe eventually look at building on it.
Central or Southern WV is likely going to be your best bet for those activities. Land is cheap and plentiful with few HOAs or other restrictions. Most of the eastern part of the state is covered with national forests that don't take too kindly to four-wheeling and the existence of resort communities in the area means your money doesn't go as far.

If you REALLY love four-wheeling, I highly recommend searching for something near the Hatfield-McCoy trail system which offers hundreds of miles of ATV friendly trails connecting all types of former mining communities throughout the southern part of the state. The caveat is that the southern part of the state IS very much economically depressed with the death of mining as a permanent, lifetime employment opportunity. The towns may be a little uglier and you'll see plenty of run-down places.

That said, there are plenty of deals to be had.

For example:

Hacker Lick Forest in Webster County is 126+/- Acres for $119k

Panther Forest in McDowell County (deep in coal country and the poorest county in the nation, but beautiful and rich in nature) is 112+/- Acres for $78k

Chessie Forest in Fayette County (home of the newest National Park in the US) is 80+/- Acres for $138k

All of these would likely fit your stated purposes of shooting, riding ATVs, camping, hunting (assumed), etc. with plenty of land and potential house sites. Some are a closer drive than others, but you're not going to be more than 6 hours from the DC or Baltimore region for any of those properties.
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