Vacant lot next door sale pending, should we lawyer up now?

121 Replies

Our primary residence is on an acre of land on a hill overlooking town. The lot next door just went under contract. 

I saw the buyer out there the other day so I walked up and introduced myself. We chatted for a bit and I asked him what his plan was for the lot (which is steep, very hard to build on). His plan is to completely block our view, and he'll need to do a lot of blasting/excavating of the hillside to get a house in where he wants it. The lot has a deed restriction that was put in place by the previous owners of our house who at one time also owned both lots. The idea of the deed restriction is to prevent any future house on the lot next door from blocking our view. The deed restriction reads "in order to preserve the desirability, beauty and value of the land, no building shall be constructed outside the above described parcel, unless the building does not exceed 1.5 stories in height." 

The buyer wants to build within the deed restricted area, and says he'll see the house to 1.5 stories in order to circumvent the restrictive covenant. If his plan is approved, our property will become undesirable to us, lose value, and instead of looking at a great mountain view we'll be looking directly at the side of his house. 

We have been stressing about it and wondering what to do. Should we lawyer up now? We love our house, and plan to fight the neighbors plans. Our town has strict building codes, and I think he's planning to apply for variances on several codes such as driveway steepness, making adjustments to a drainage, building in a wildlife migration corridor, and the potential conflict with the deed restriction. 

Does anybody have experience with a similar situation? Anyone have advice on how to proceed? I actually researched buying and building on the lot ourselves when it went on the market, but I didn't even think it would be possible because the hillside is so steep and the Boulder County Site Plan Review process is so onerous I couldn't determine if it would be possible to build anything. For example the setbacks are big which doesn't leave a lot of room for a house, the lot is very steep which makes it nearly impossible to get a driveway in, and there are 3 nearby wells that have setbacks also. The driveway and the septic system in particular seem very challenging. 

I asked the new owner about this stuff briefly and he didn't seem to think any of it would be a problem. He owns a local remodel/construction company. He's currently doing his DD but also said he doesn't want to pay for a survey which made me wonder if he knows what he's talking about because the site plan review/permitting process will definitely require a survey. He pointed to the place where he wanted to put a garage and it was actually on our property. 

I'm hoping he learns some more details and the deal falls through, but I want to be ready in case the buyer decides to move forward with the purchase... A year of construction noise and dust outside our peaceful mountain home with 2 kids trying to nap doesn't sound like what we signed up for when we moved into this quiet mountain neighborhood! We'll probably fight any project that is proposed on that lot, and move if we lose. I have no experience with anything like this, if anyone else does and feels like offering advice (or knows a good real estate lawyer in the Boulder area), I'm all ears! 

Why don't you buy the lot?  I realize that's no small thing, given Boulder prices.  But you seem to want to be able to control that parcel.  And you don't seem to want anyone to build anything there.  So that seems simple if its really a deal killer for you.  Buy it.

A year of construction noise and dust outside our peaceful mountain home with 2 kids trying to nap doesn't sound like what we signed up for when we moved into this quiet mountain neighborhood!

Well, yeah, I think this is what you signed up for when you bought a house next to a vacant lot.

@Jon Holdman  

@Jon Holdman we looked into buying the lot but the asking price was very high, and boulder county warned us it is a real possibility that nothing can be built there considering the deed restriction and inability to get a driveway in. The current owner applied for a driveway and was denied, that’s why he’s selling it. It’s been on the market for years, literally every builder in boulder looked at it and passed. Knowing all this about it I couldn’t justify the price ($350k). We’ve only been here 2 years but all our long time resident neighbors informed us that the lot has been under contract and the buyers have backed out of the deal ma y times over the last 20 years, so we’re hoping g that happens again. We actually made an offer in the land based on comps that came in closer to $80k, the seller got offended and we just didn’t have an extra $350k lying around to spend on a lot that could be totally worthless since it’s  so steep, deed restricted, etc.

I would say you can either buy it or hope that it falls out of contract. You could talk to an attorney but I get the feeling that spending a lot of money on an attorney would be throwing good money away

Don't variances have to go before a county board? Abutting neighbors have a lot of weight in committee if it comes to that. 

Are there any endangered species around? they sure can kill a development deal.

Is there any way to mitigate the impact? Lower down the hill, landscaping, fencing, etc.

I assume the developer knows you are going to be extremely displeased? if not make sure he knows! 

I doesn't sound like a lawyer would help since he is planning to follow the deed restriction to the letter(if not the intent) 

If comps at $80k, the developer is probably under contract for way less than $350k

A good developer or builder knows how to grease the wheels . A new house means tax dollars to the county . Variances , all the builder has to show is that something similar has been granted before . A good civil engineer familiar with the local rules and government can and will get it thru .  " blocking your view" is relative , you may not have the view from your living room window , but from the corner of your lot you do . So your "view " isnt blocked .  Deed restrictions can be fought and won . " desirability , beauty and value of the land "  is a vague statement . It can be viewed different ways . 

Does this deed restriction say anything specific relating to your property and the view ?  If not , I would be prepared for a new neighbor . 

Maybe you can show the seller what you will enforce if the sale goes through. Maybe he'd have to disclose to potential buyers. And maybe he'd be willing to sell to you at a lower cost.

Get an attorney to review the situation and your options. If it's your dream home, then a couple of thousand with an attorney is nothing.  

@Will G. developer is under contract at around $300k. I think he’s overpaying by a significant amount but raw land is hard to come by in Boulder County so comps are tricky. Yes the site plan review includes a period for public comment, all the neighbors will be out in force, nobody is wanting to see this lot developed. It was the neighbors who blocked the driveway from going in before, same neighbors still opposed to said driveway. I don’t think there are endangered species in the lot, but it is a wildlife corridor (deer,  bear, bobcat, cougar, etc.). I noticed the site plan review states no building in wildlife migration corridors. The best way to mitigate the impact would be to build within the parcel indicated in the deed restriction, but in order to do that the developer would need access to a private road as well as an easement from the guy above us to build the driveway and that guy doesn’t want any house on the lot so he won’t grant an easement or share his road. Basically all the neighbors surrounding the lot have an agreement to do whatever possible  to block anything that is proposed, which is another reason we shied away from buying the lot, we didn’t want to do battle with all the old timer neighbors. 

If he is a local builder then I would guess he is confident he can get things through. You guys can kick and scream and fight it, but the only real way to stop it is to buy it. If he does buy the land and you are successful in stopping him from building on it, I would guess he might just find something else to do with it. Pig Farm, manure pasture, large snake habitat, tent city for child molestors that cant be within so close to a school, pet cemetary. 

If you want to control property its best to own it. If you dont own it someone else will decide what happens with it.

Can you imagine if those same neighbors were dicks about the person building the house you live in?

I understand you want to totally screw the current owner of the land in to basically giving you the same rights  as if you owned it. But shoudlnt he have a couple rights himself? You’re basically asking him to bury a couple hundred thousand of his dollars in the ground and then pay property taxes forever so that his neighbors are better off? 

You don’t think it’s worth a couple, hundred thousand of your dollars to have a better view but he should pay a couple hundred thousand of his dollars so you can have a view. 

@Bill Brandt  it’s a bit more complicated than that: the seller got the land from bankruptcy proceedings from a woman who inherited it. He’s a billionaire who has never been to the property. It’s not clear that the lot was ever intended to be built on. He’s just looking to offload it to a sucker, and none of what you wrote is remotely accurate, jump to conclusions much?

If all the neighbors want to leave it open, then you all should pool together and buy it. Then donate it as open space. The Republic loves their open space. 

Can you add a story to yours and thus have the upper floor be taller than his? Maybe add an awesome roof deck that will tower over his 1.5 stories.

I know, I know, it sounds simplistic, but if the guy pays 350K for the lot and puts that much money into  new construction, then the values around the area will likely go up and you'll have justification for the extra money spend. 

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. ;-)

@Steve K.

What part isn’t accurate? You don’t want him to keep paying property taxes forever and never build on it? Are you saying it’s ok if he builds on his lot now?

I thought the whole point of your post was “This son of a gun wants to build on land he owns and block my view, how do I stop him...” or was it just “should we get a lawyer and start threatening him with legal action?” If it was the latter, then no, you shouldn’t, you should let him enjoy his land and his rights. If it was the former then its seems I was 100% accurate. 

It doesn’t matter how he got it or even what he paid for it. I guess you and your neighbors can feel like you screwed up not buying it yourselves at the bankruptcy proceedings. But I assume no one wanted to pay anything for it then either. They just wanted free use. 

How far on to his property do your rights go? Do his rights go just as far on to your property? Maybe you could let him build a shared driveway that connects to yours. It is kinda funny that you think a billionaire would go around trying to screw people on some tiny land deal.

@Matt M. I approached the neighbors with a similar idea when it came on the market: splitting it into 1/4ths and incorporating into our lots instead of donating to OSMP. Nobody was interested, they’re all convinced it’s not possible to get a house approved there so they don’t think they need to spend a penny on it. Their strategy of doing nothing and scaring away buyers with the deed restriction has worked for many years, but I’m not as confident as them that the county and the neighbors can block anything and everything, especially with the local market the way it is now. People have built on steeper lots after all. I wish we could have gotten an agreement in place and bought it together, but alas here we are. 

@Michaela G. Unfortunately we're already at the height limit, no 3rd story for us. 

@Bill Brandt I think you're confusing the seller with the buyer? The seller (Billionaire who got the property from a woman who owed him money who went bankrupt) tried to get a driveway in and couldn't, so he's trying to sell it to someone banking on them not doing their due diligence. The BUYER is a young builder looking to build his dream home, who doesn't know the history of the seller being denied a driveway permit, or even where the property boundaries are and is hoping to build a garage on my land and a house outside of the deed restricted area. I'm just looking for the deed restriction, my property boundaries, and all the building codes that run with the land to be enforced. He has the right to build within the existing setbacks, codes and restrictive covenants, on his own property, if he can get approval. I've only had one extremely friendly conversation with the buyer, never met the seller. Your comment accused me of being a dick in the first sentence and then accused me of screwing over the current owner (seller) in the second sentence. I'm looking for advice on a forum, not looking to get falsely accused and name called. If the BUYER proposed building within the parcel that the deed restriction calls out for the house, it would be fine with me, but he wants to build a garage half on my land and a house blocking our view, so I'm not too happy about that would you be?

@Mike Cumbie thats what I'm worried about. Definitely want to avoid a situation where he just clear cuts the land or something out of spite. If he can get approval for a driveway on the top side of the lot it won't ruin our view, but the neighbor above won't let that happen. I will feel bad for whoever buys the land, it's not going to be an easy project. I am involved with a new build on a somewhat similar but bigger and not as steep lot nearby and it took 5 years to get it through permitting. Boulder County is a challenging place to build even without all the issues this lot has. 

Originally posted by @Steve K. :

@Mike Cumbie thats what I'm worried about. Definitely want to avoid a situation where he just clear cuts the land or something out of spite. If he can get approval for a driveway on the top side of the lot it won't ruin our view, but the neighbor above won't let that happen. I will feel bad for whoever buys the land, it's not going to be an easy project. I am involved with a new build on a somewhat similar but bigger and not as steep lot nearby and it took 5 years to get it through permitting. Boulder County is a challenging place to build even without all the issues this lot has. 

 If you are working on something nearby, don't you know the proper authorities to contact and lawyers you may need already?

@Steve K. I have been in contact with the county: all they can tell me is that the deed restriction is recorded and enforceable and that it's possible the lot is not buildable, but the responsibility of doing due diligence to determine that is on the buyer. The other project didn't require lawyers, I don't know any lawyers who specialize in situations like this. The main issue with the other project was also the driveway.  

It's unfortunate when your nice situation isn't so nice anymore, and I'm sure there are options, especially given that it's Boulder, but at the end of the day, you don't own the land. If someone else does, they should get to use it.

Feels like a lot of folks believe in free markets and dislike protectionism until they're the ones affected. 

You know the saying with land, they aren't making anymore of it. Its inevitable the less suitable lots will get built on as codes change and technology advances to make it more affordable. 

We could have the builder on this forum asking questions of how to make this deal happen and he'd be more deserving of help and advice IMO

@Tim Gordon "We could have the builder on this forum asking questions of how to make this deal happen and he'd be more deserving of help and advice IMO"

Okay then let's say I'm the builder: Help me figure out how to get a variance on a driveway that has been denied previously, bury a septic system next to my neighbor's well, circumvent a deed restriction in order to build my house directly in my neighbor's view, and build my garage on my neighbor's property. 

@Tim Gordon they actually are building more land. They’ve built Custom islands in the Middle East.

@James Free Unfortunately for buyers in real estate it's caveat emptor. Just because a piece of land is sold doesn't mean it's a buildable lot. The whole reason the seller is selling it is because he couldn't get a permit for a driveway. There's no legal access. 

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