A Place to Park a House: Adventures in Buying Land (+ Free Guide)
Lessons learned from 6 months of seeking and chasing after the land of my dreams. Almost as difficult as finding true love.
Once I got the ‘grand’ idea of building my own home, I needed to figure out a place to put it.
I toyed with a couple of options:
Option 1: Buy land - but super expensive and difficult to find
Option 2: Lease land - less expensive in the short term, less permanent and pretty feasible, though not easy to find either;
Option 3: Takeover a relative’s backyard in exchange for minimal rent or doing chores - almost free, but relative may disown me sooner or later, also not many relatives with big enough backyards…
I decided to work my way down those options, moving on to the next as I get more desperate. First up, buy land.
I already had an idea of the house I wanted to build and the kind of place I would want to reside in, so I jotted down a list of criteria to help with my search:
Size: Small plot, something that I can easily manage on my own. A 5,000 sq ft bungalow plot seemed just right: roughly 1,000 sq ft for the house, and another 4,000 for a garden, a little driveway and space for my future yet-to-be-obtained cats to run around in.
Something like this.
Location: My life for the most part revolves around the city centre - that's where my family and friends are. That's where the hospitals, dental clinics, malls, and mamak stalls that I go to are located, and where work and interesting events typically take place. While I was up for exploring and living in an entirely new area, I didn't want to be too far away. My general rule was this: It should take less than 2 hours for me to drive or take public transport into the city.
Characteristics: I like nature and animals a lot, so I wanted to be surrounded by beautiful scenery and greenery. I don't like masses of people very much, so I wanted as few of them around me as possible. It would also be really nice if I could find a chunk of forest to hide in, maybe even have a river or a little stream winding through the property where deer, fairies and unicorns would come by to drink... oooooooooh~
Cost: My fantasies aside, the land had to be affordable. I am allergic to loans, and was determined that I wouldn't borrow money for this purchase. That meant I was limited to the tiny budget of what I have thus far managed to earn and save from years of working. That pretty much ruled out the city - I doubt I'd be able to afford a city land big enough to build a toilet on, much less a house. Luckily, I've been wanting to get out of the city anyway, so that didn't bother me much.
When I set out to buy land, I thought I knew what I was doing. I had a list of criteria ready, I had calculated the budget I could afford for it, and I had even prepared a timeline chart that confidently dictated that I would be a landowner in a month’s time. I mean, it’s just shopping… How hard could that be?
Three months later, way beyond my self-imposed deadline, I was no closer to becoming a landowner. Not only was it a lot harder than I had initially (and erroneously) anticipated, but it was also extremely frustrating, exhausting and time-consuming. At the rate I was going, I wouldn’t have a place to park my non-existent house until I turn 80.
The thing about buying land is that not many people do it, and those who do only do it once or twice in their entire lives (unless they are in the construction or land development business and transact property for a living, that is). Normal people don't have the moolah to buy up properties with 6-7 digit price tags every other weekend, so normal people don't have much experience or advice to give.
So basically, I was running around blindly, wasting the first couple of months looking at the wrong places and chasing the wrong leads. I did eventually get better, and everything worked out in the end, but am not going to lie - it was a struggle.
When will this end????
I wish there had been an easy guide or resource to teach me the ropes of buying land, but since there wasn't, I decided to make one.
All the lessons I learned, I put together in a short guide for buying your first piece of land. So if you are interested in buying land, or just want to poke your nose around in the event that you become interested in buying land one day, definitely check it out. I chronicle my land search efforts and detail out what to do and what you need to look out for to make sure you're not making a huge mistake with one of the biggest purchases of your life.
Six months on, and I finally (FINALLY!!) signed a document that said I was going to handover a large chunk of my hard-earned money in exchange for a lot of dirt. The search was over, I was poorer, but, at least I now have a place to put a house on! I am officially a landowner*!
(*well, technically, I am not a landowner yet as the transfer of the land title hasn't been completed - apparently, this process can take up to a year or more (?????), and continues to be 'work in progress')
While I wait for the authorities to do their job in that universally speedy way of theirs, we can go ahead and check out the property I signed away my soul for.
Remember my criteria above? Let's compare that with my actual purchase.
Size: I wanted 5,000 sq ft. Somewhere along the way, I found myself contemplating getting 10,000 sq ft. Finally, I ended up with 43,000 sq ft. Yes, I know. I know. It's a long story, you can read about it in the guide I made.
Location: This one was within the parameters I dictated previously. The land was located approximately 1.5 hours drive away from the city centre (1 hour if you're a faster driver than me), with easy access from the highway and about 10-12 km away from the nearest train station that could get me into the city in an hour.
Characteristics: It's got the trees, the wild animals, the amazeballs view of the mountain range that forms the backbone of Peninsular Malaysia... the only thing missing is a river. Oh well, sometimes life gives you a donut without the sprinkles. Nestled at the top of the hill, on a slope amidst orchards and plantations, it is far enough from the neighbours to give me the privacy I want, but close enough that the clinic, grocery store, market, school and other amenities are a short 5-minute drive away.
The view from my 'donut without the sprinkles' land
Cost: Within my budget (yasssss!). I won't state the price here, but I will eventually put up the full budget & costing of this Meraki project once things start happening, so stick around long enough and you'll find out!
While I did give myself a pat on the back for scoring a piece of land as close to my ideals as I deemed possible, there are some drawbacks to this purchase:
Con #1: Leasehold - I would have preferred freehold land, but this land is a leasehold with another 40+ years to go. Not a major issue, however.
Con #2: Agricultural - there are restrictions on structures you can build on a land classified as agricultural land, namely 10% of the total land area. That still gives me a good 4,000 sq ft to work with, which is way more than I need, so this is not a major issue either.
Con #3: Slope - the amazing view comes with a price: a steep slope at the peak of the hill. While I am more than happy to tower above everybody else (for once in my life!), this does add engineering and safety concerns when it comes to putting up a building there. But I think the extra trouble is worth it.
Having succeeded at option one (buying land), I didn't bother going down to the other options of leasing land or moving into my relatives' backyards (probably to their eternal relief).
In my excitement, however, I ended up with 8x more space than I needed.
All this land space...
What to do with all that extra land?
Luckily (or unluckily) for me, I’m surrounded by people who are just dripping with ideas about what I should do:
“Build a treehouse made out of glass!”
“Build a massive pool!”
“Build a flying fox!”
“Build a flying fox that drops into the massive pool!”
Not so sure about a glass treehouse… but the rest sound pretty reasonable! Though I don’t entirely know what I will do with the land (other than vague notions on turning it into a wildlife centre... or a homestead... or a small eco-resort...), I do know that figuring it out and building it up will be a major life’s work and a labour of love that I can’t wait to get started on.
But before we get to the pool and the flying fox, let's first figure out the house situation.
Next in the series: Going Small - A Tiny Home for a Tiny Person.
To get the behind-the-scenes of all this land-buying business and learn what not to do, get the guide I made!