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Buyer Beware: 5 issues to consider before purchasing a property

As development occurs consideration is not always given to location, land cover, and how existing conditions may affect future use of a property. Many of the landowner assistance calls that we receive at Cuyahoga SWCD are related to drainage, streams, soils, easements, and storm water controls, all relating back to property location and land cover. There are several items you should give consideration to before buying a property.

1) You’ve found your perfect dream home and you love the yard. It’s got a great patio and lots of space. But on your walk around you note that the rest of the neighborhood is uphill from your property. The yard you love is where all the water that lands on the development drains to, and without well-draining soils, the yard you love may be too wet to utilize for much of the year.

Before purchasing a property consider the grading and drainage patterns. Make sure land slopes away from the house to prevent basement flooding. Ensure the property isn’t the low point of the neighborhood. Check to see that soils on site drain well. A home inspection should include any notes about water in the basement and crawl space which would also indicate poor drainage.

2) Streamside property may sound like a dream. A nice wooded lot with a babbling brook in the backyard does sound scenic and relaxing. But before you consider purchasing a property with a stream be sure to research the existing floodplain and potential for flooding. You can access an interactive map on the FEMA website to determine if a property is in a floodplain.

In addition to researching potential for flooding you should also consider potential threats to any planned infrastructure that may occur because of future development. As development occurs upstream, streams become “flashier” and start to erode at a faster rate. Until a stream reaches a new equilibrium it will continue to erode and widen. Streambank erosion can take out infrastructure and property. Consider the potential for a small creek to widen and meander before purchasing a property with a stream.

3) Wetlands are great habitat and wonderful for wildlife watching. Wetlands act as nature’s sponge and assist with flood control and water quality. Many new developments build over existing wetlands and mitigate by creating new wetlands somewhere offsite. Loss of these wetlands could lead to future drainage issues. Determine if the land you intend to purchase has wetlands or had wetlands before deciding whether or not to purchase.

Wetland maps are available from the National Wetlands Inventory, Cuyahoga County, and CSWCD via our resources page.

Just because a wetland is not identified by these sources does not mean an area isn’t a wetland. Soils maps can also be used to identify if hydric (seasonally saturated) soils are on site which would indicate the potential for wetlands. Soils data are available online from NRCS.

4) When buying a home be sure to ask about property easements. Easements grant the right to use and access a part of your property and can limit what you can grow or build. Easements can grant the right for utilities and their maintenance, like water lines or cable. Easements can be given for drainage (underground and above). Conservation easements may also be given to preserve a natural landscape feature like a wetland. Easements can even be granted to preserve a neighbor’s view.

Be sure to request county records, subdivision maps, or a formal survey to understand any and all easements on the property and what restrictions will be involved before considering purchase.

5) New development can require the construction of a storm water treatment facility like a detention basin, bioretention cell (engineered rain garden), or underground detention system. In some instances individual property owners may assume maintenance responsibility of these features. A view of a water quality pond may sound enticing, but if maintenance and maintenance costs for the basin isn’t high on your priority list be sure that you didn’t “buy the pond” before purchase.

It is easy to overlook many of these issues when falling in love with a house. Just make sure you go into a property purchase with your eyes open to the potential for future issues related to land cover and location.

Blog author: Elizabeth Hiser, Natural Resources Coordinator

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