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oh joy builds a house: how we found land to build on!

2018_07_03_Joy-House-8-blog

First of all, thank YOU for your super kind words and messages after our big announcement last month on our very big, new personal project of building a house! I'll be sharing the whole process from start to finish as we finish the house build in real time. For these first few months, I'm going to catch you up to how we got to this point in the first place. Then, as we get closer to the house being finished, we'll ramp up to more regular updates into the nitty gritty of design and so much more! Today's post is all about...how we found LAND to build on...! 

So let's go back to 2014 (OMG, it's crazy this process started FOUR years ago!). We were ready to take a big leap and felt that building instead of buying a house could be for us. But we needed to find land to actually build on. Los Angeles doesn't have a ton of open lots just sitting there. Typically people tear down old homes or whatever land is left is super small or tricky to build on (otherwise a developer would have already scooped it up). So here are the steps we went through to find land...

1. Location, location, location. In the same way that people go about deciding on neighborhoods to look for a house, those are the same factors we kept in mind for land. We wanted a neighborhood we loved and could stay in for a very long time, somewhere near good schools for our kids, and land that was big enough that we could have a flat yard for our kids to play.

2. Search real estate sites like Redfin and Zillow. Next, we did a basic search on real estate websites. We had already been previously on all of these sites looking for a house, so we just had to change our search criteria to allow for land. Some of these sites even have a category you can check for land only. Now, those sites will show land IF someone chooses to list the land. But a lot of land simply isn't listed on a real estate sites.

oh joy builds a house: how we found land to build on!

3. Scour the earth and Google Earth (seriously!). Because not all plots of land are listed for sale, we then drove around looking for any area that looked empty. Since it's hard to aimlessly drive around all the time, we relied on Google Earth to really search and looked for open areas of land from the aerial view in our choice neighborhood. It was through Google Earth that we first spotted the land we now own today. Once you find land in this way, you can certainly grab the address, visit the site, and see if it happens to have a for sale sign. In our case, part of the land was owned by one owner and part was owned by someone else. If you feel comfortable knocking on strangers doors, you can ask neighbors if they know who the owners are. But if they don't know, you can find out from the city or county's assessor's office.

4. Visit or call the City or County Assessor's Office. One part of the land we found had a "FOR SALE" sign! Sweet! But the other had nothing, and it wasn't actually for sale. We needed both parts to make it worth even getting the land. For land that is unclear who the owner is, you can look up the address at the Assessor's Office of your city or county. That can involve a phone call or a physical visit to the office. From there, you can contact the owner to see if they are willing to sell the land. The same thing goes for a house that may be empty or in disrepair and no owner is present living in the house.

5. Contact Land Brokers. We ended up getting in touch with a land broker who was listed as the contact for one part of the land. He had helped us to broker the deal with his client, but then he also ended up helping us find out who the owner of the adjacent lot was and negotiate a price with them as well. Just like finding a house and working with a real estate agent, you can find a land broker to help you find land from the beginning. They do the same thing that a house broker does and can help you find, put in an offer, and negotiate for land.

Remember what I said about land that is usually available in Los Angeles is often small or tricky to build on? That's basically describes the land we got! We ended up combining two lots together that on their own would have been a bit too small for our house, but together would work. Also, because the land is on a hill, it's more challenging to build on and therefore a developer never wanted to put in the extra investment into something they needed to sell and make a quick profit. However for us, since this is our forever home that we are building to live in, we were okay with something that may not be the quickest or easiest to build. Hence, why so many years have passed since we found this land and more which I'll tell you in upcoming posts!

oh joy builds a house: how we found land to build on!

This is what our land looked like from street level. No one would have ever known there was land on top to build on if we hadn't found it from above! Also, I wanted to share some common questions you guys have asked...

What's the difference between building on Open Land VS. a Tear Down? Open land that has never been built on can be really hard to find, especially in large and densely populated cities. So often, people tear down old houses in order to build something new. The downside to tearing down a old house is that you're having to buy a house in order to just get rid of it, and a house costs more than empty land. We didn't even consider doing a tear down because we would not have been able to afford an existing house on top of the price of building a new one from scratch.

However, the benefits of a tear down versus empty land is that permitting tends to be easier on an existing house. Since the existing house has permits from whenever it was built in the first place, you can use those permits to help build your new house instead of starting from scratch if you keep some of the existing frames or walls of the house. It took us TWO YEARS to get permits for our project because of various reasons but mainly because we were starting from scratch with difficult land that has never been built on.

Are you building on flat land or on a hill? One thing you will learn about me through this journey is that for some reason, I never seem to be able to take the easy road :). We are building on a hill. We would have loved to build on flat land but that's even harder to find in Los Angeles. While we love having a view that a hillside home brings you, building on a hill also takes much more structural and foundation work to get a flat area to eventually build a house on.

oh joy builds a house: how we found land to build on!

Here's a flashback photo to right after we finally purchased our land in 2014! Ruby was just 2.5 years old, and my youngest, Coco, wasn't even born yet and happily growing in my belly at the time. This is a journey for sure, but it's fun to look and see that we've finally made it to the point of getting closer and closer to an actual house!

Check out my post over at Architectural Digest's Clever where I interviewed a few friends from other parts of the country about how they found land...it's cool to see how they approached it in different cities...

{Top photo by Lily Glass}

BIG NEWS! We're building a house!

BIG NEWS: Oh Joy! Builds A House!

I can't believe this is actually happening, but I am excited to FINALLY tell you that...we are building a HOUSE! Are we crazy for doing this? Yes! Is this process going to give me 267 ulcers and a head of grey hair? Probably. Is it going to be the project of a lifetime? Heck, yes! Here's how it all began...

We have been living in the same rental since we moved to Los Angeles 8 years ago (before kids, before my husband started his current job, before Oh Joy grew to being more than just me). We only had a few days to find an apartment when we decided to move to LA in 2010 and rented the top floor of a little duplex (with a great little balcony and view of the city) thinking we would eventually move into a real house with a backyard once we had kids. But Bob and I were both building our careers, and we had a really great deal on our rental so we took the time to save money for a house. We had no real rush to buy anything and no desire take on all the responsibilities that come with home ownership. Our place felt just fine with one child. However, once we got pregnant with Coco in 2014, we felt ready to make the leap and do what grown-ups think they should do...buy a house with more space for their growing family.

Four years ago, I wrote this post how we were looking to buy our first house in Los Angeles and how not easy the process was. Los Angeles isn't a cheap place to live, and the prices of homes here are pretty insane. We spent a good year looking while I was pregnant with Coco as that balcony with a great view didn't seem as amazing anymore when all I wanted was a backyard for my kids to run around and play in. As I had mentioned in that blog post, our first house offer got outbid by someone who had ALL CASH (how do you compete with that?). Then, we decided to up our budget a little bit and found another house we liked even more...thinking, "THIS is why that other house didn't work out. We were meant to get this one!" We put an offer on that 2nd house, only to get outbid WAAAAY over our budget. We started looking at fixer uppers that would be in a comfortable budget, but then we'd still need to spend a ton of money on renovations after the fact to make them livable. Feeling deflated, we kept looking and realized to get the moderate-sized house with a flat yard in the neighborhoods we wanted, we would need to increase our budget more than we could afford. No one wants to be house poor, so we were ready to stop the hunt and keep saving so that we could come back with a bigger down payment in another year or two.

THEN, during one of our drives around the neighborhood looking for open houses, we ran into a friend who had just finished building their house. They invited us in to see it, and we were floored. The value of their house when finished was double what it cost them to build it. The thoughts running through our minds as we talked to them were...

"Yes, of course this house is amazing because it's brand new and custom-designed."

"It's always been my dream to build a house!"

"We could never afford to do that now."

"Wait, what? It costs you HALF the price to build a house in Los Angeles then to buy one?"

Our friends, Cleo and McShane from Project M+, who happened to have also designed their own home, set the path for convincing us that if we had the patience, we should build a house instead of buying one. At the same time, a childhood friend of mine, Melissa, had just moved to Los Angeles. She was an architect as well and told me how she was about to begin designing and building her own family's house, too. And I was like..."Wait, what is happening here? How are these people who are still building their careers, like us, able to do this?" Yes, they were both architects and knew what they were doing. But, it turns out that in Los Angeles (unlike most of the country), the real estate prices here are so ridiculously high that it actually cheaper to build a house from scratch then to buy one. Who knew? Now, that does NOT mean it's quicker to build a house because if that was the case, this post would have been posted a lot sooner than today.

So, that was 2014...how it took until now for me to tell you this story and announce that we are actually doing this is....to be continued. We started construction on the house about six months ago, and it will take another year or so until it's done. I'm excited to share details about this ENTIRE process from start to finish and share snippets with you in real time as we go. I'm also so excited that we will be partnering with Architectural Digest's Clever to tell the story on their channels as well over the next year to completion. We'll be providing additional tips and takeaways over there so you'll get a lot of great information. I have learned so much, and it's really so fascinating (both the fun and not-so-fun parts about it). Here's a little peek!

If there is anything in particular you want me to share, please (please!) leave a comment below. Do you want to see photographed posts or video posts? Do you want to see things in a Pinterest board, Instagram, Instagram Stories...all of it? Do tell! This project has been my second job for the last couple years, and I can't wait to tell you everything I've learned. 

BIG NEWS: Oh Joy! Builds A House!

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will talk about how we found land to build on, and how went about buying it!

{Photos by Lily Glass and video by Jenner Brown