So You Want to Buy a House: Natural Resource Issues to Consider when Buying or Building a Home

Part of what we do at Cuyahoga SWCD is to respond to landowner requests for assistance related to natural resource issues such as flooding, erosion and poor drainage. Sometimes there’s a relatively simple fix – stop mowing right up to the edge of the stream, for example. But other times a more complex, a.k.a. expensive, solution is required. From constructing costly streambank stabilization practices in order to protect a house or garage that is 10 feet from a streambank, to creating drainage swales, or attempting to sell a house that has been repeatedly flooded or recently classified as in the FEMA 100-year floodplain, homeowners who don’t do their homework up front with regard to potential natural resources issues on the property they are considering buying or building on often end up paying for it later. Often, these problems could have been avoided with a little extra planning or investigation before a home was purchased or built.

That’s why it was refreshing to get two calls in the last month from people doing their homework. In the first case, a county resident was considering purchasing a home adjacent to a creek. She had gone to the city and obtained a flood map, but she still had questions. Who is responsible for clearing out any log jams? Would she be able to build a shed? What additional questions should she ask the city and the current owner (she was not aware of the city’s riparian setback ordinance and how it might affect changes she might want to make to the property, for instance)?

In the second case, another resident was considering purchasing a lot in order to build a house. However, he had noticed that water drained slowly there, often seeing small pools of standing water days after it rained. He had paid for a soil test and wanted help interpreting the results. It turned out that the soil conditions were very limiting for building a house, especially one with a basement. The resident then indicated he would continue searching for a more appropriate building site.

In both of these cases, the residents saved themselves the time, money and frustration of dealing with natural resources concerns that could have at least been better understood, if not altogether avoided, just by doing a little extra work up front.

A Short List of Natural Resources Issues to Consider When Buying or Building a Home:

  • Is it in a floodplain?
  • Is it within a riparian setback as established by city ordinance?
  • Is there a conservation easement or other deed restriction in place?
  • Are any buildings or infrastructure within 25 feet of a river, creek or stream? Eroding streambanks?
  • Are there steep slopes that could potentially fail or otherwise affect your plans for the property?
  • What type of soil is present? Does the soil drain well?
  • Are there perched or seasonal high water tables?
  • Is there a sanitary sewer connection, or a septic tank?
  • If there is a septic tank, how old is it? When was it last inspected? What were the results?

There are many online resources available to help you find these answers and more - check out our previous "Online Mapping Resources for Landowners and Armchair Conservationists" blog for more info!

Blog Author: Jared Bartley, Deputy Director - Education & Watersheds

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