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Building a Home

Closing on a Dream

Wow.

That’s the only word I can think of right now. 

Wow.

After many years of dreaming, planning, and moving the chess pieces…
After a year full of Covid market craziness…
After the longest real estate closing ever…

Wednesday evening I finally moved my Airstream to “my land”—my beautiful 10.5 acres of land—a few miles south of Twisp, Washington, a tiny town in the Methow Valley of Okanogan County at the foothills of the North Cascades. 

And here I sit, tucked inside my Airstream on a cold night with a few inches of fresh snow outside, completely in disbelief that I’m on 10.5 acres of my own land. I also can’t believe my plan is to live in my RV here this winter. What in the world am I thinking? But we’ll come back to that.

This all seems like a fairytale. And all I can think is “wow”.

Yep, it’s official! After many years of dreaming and planning and the longest closing ever, I’m finally a landowner in the beautiful Methow!

The end of a long journey and the start of a new one.

Sometimes adventure takes on all shapes and sizes. For me, it’s usually exploring on- and off- trail any way I can. My latest adventure though has been quite a bit different. Last year I sold my Seattle condo so I could return to the Methow Valley, a place I had lived previously for several years and yearned to return to. Of course I had no idea I’d end up trying to make a big life change smack in the middle of Covid.

For more than 20 years I’ve dreamed of being a landowner and building my own little home. Recently I wrote a post about my decision to put everything I own into storage, get an Airstream, and take a leap of faith to make it happen. Since June I’ve been bouncing around the Methow, staying in friends’ driveways, working extra jobs on the side, trading flooring installations for free rent, and saving every penny.

I’ve been fairly mum on my land closing because it’s been a very bumpy ride and the real estate market in the Methow has gone completely crazy this year. The last thing I wanted to do was jinx myself or speak way too soon.

Paths aren’t always linear.

Back in June I looked at a spectacular property and house a few miles south of Twisp. It had huge views of the surrounding farmland, Valley, and the stunning Chelan-Sawtooth.

I made an offer. Unfortunately I got into a bidding war and lost. To be honest, I was pretty heartbroken. It was shangri-la.

Over the next month I found a few more places, made some more offers, and not a single one went anywhere. I was trapped in a cycle of bad luck and terrible timing. Even my agent said my luck was particularly bad.

One night in early July I called my dad, lamenting my luck and feeling pretty down that nothing was working out. “Something else will come along” he said. I wasn’t so sure, but I also admitted that I had talked myself out of building a home, convinced it was too big of a daunting project to take on by myself. I also didn’t have the cash to make a land purchase outright and was told land loans were incredibly difficult to get.

I wasn’t quite ready to give up on the dream though, so I reached out to North Cascades National Bank about the possibility of a land loan. Thanks to paying off all my debt last year and having very stable income, they pre-approved me. That same day an online acquaintance told me that building her home was one of the most rewarding things she’d ever done. 

I realized that perhaps the properties I was looking at weren’t working out because they simply weren’t meant to. I often believe that the right things come along when you start looking for the right things. 

Finding my dream.

I felt re-energized that I could make my dream come true and in early July I made a resolve to stop looking at houses and start looking at land again. I went back through listings and remembered a 10 acre parcel for sale that I had looked at nearly a year before and loved. I’d had it bookmarked for months and got sidetracked.

I looked again and remembered how perfect it was. The same big views of the Valley and Chelan-Sawtooth as the property I lost out on and in the exact same beautiful area. 

When I finally went to see it, I knew the instant I set foot on it that this was the spot. 

The land was stunning and had a huge agricultural pole barn, a metal grain silo, and an old GMC grain truck. I’m such a sucker for old trucks that for me, it was perfectly fitting! The land sloped nicely up to a higher bench with stunning 360 views of mountains all around. To the west were Gardner and the Sawtooths, to the south were big views all the way down valley, and to the north and east more mountains and hills heading up to the Loup. 

The solar exposure was amazing, the views were unbelievable, the shrub steppe was gorgeous. The wide open space was incredible!

Yet again, it seemed way too good to be true.

And indeed it was. Because it was an undeveloped property, meaning no water, power, or septic, a land loan would require 35% down. While I had saved a chunk of cash I was pretty short of having the down payment to buy this one.

I stopped by the land a few times in early July, each time wishing there was some way I could make it happen. There just wasn’t. It had been on the market, unbelievably, over two years. Maybe the property would wait for me, I thought. I was spending my summer trading extra side work for free rent and since I paid off all my debt last year I was living incredibly cheaply and saving every penny.

I told my agent I could possibly have the funds by August. Two weeks later I got a Redfin email saying the property was pending.

Noooooooooooooo!

After all the failed offers and then the loss of this fantastic property, I’ve never felt more bummed out in my life than I did that day. Sure, every property I tried to buy had something I loved, but this one?

It was the one.

Working hard and getting lucky.

I resigned myself to the fact that I might not find my property in the Methow. Covid had turned the market upside down, homes and lands were being snapped up everywhere, prices were skyrocketing, and I simply didn’t have the cash to compete.

“How silly”, I told myself, “that you thought you could ever afford a piece of beautiful mountain-view land in the Methow Valley.” 

I tried to put it out of my mind by working on my friend’s guesthouse remodel. Then a week later, I got another Redfin email saying the property was back on the market. I called my agent immediately to find out the details and apparently the buyers got cold feet on the land development.

I counted every cent and knew that the small amount I was short I could make up by closing. I told her I wanted to make an offer immediately and we did. I couldn’t let it go again. And for the first time ever, after a bit of negotiation, my offer was accepted! I was so excited I broke out in dance right on the spot.

From elation to overwhelm.

The next day I realized that although I had looked at the property several times, I hadn’t actually walked the entire property line! So I got back over there to walk the land I had just agreed to buy. 

Strangely, my elation turned to complete overwhelm. 10.5 acres of usable land is huge. As I walked I began to panic.

What in the world was I thinking!?
What would I do with a gigantic pole barn?
A grain silo?
An old broken down grain truck?
Could I actually build on this land, let alone the far upper bench?
Would I be able to get water, power, and septic put on the land? 

What in the hell are you thinking buying a 10.5 acre property way out here all by yourself?

It would take nearly everything I had saved to afford the down payment. Then I’d have to pay to develop the land and build a small home. It would be a year at best before I had the ability to even maybe get a structure on the land. What if I couldn’t get a construction loan? Maybe I should buy a house. It certainly would be easier.

To be honest, I felt so overwhelmed that my stomach was churning and I felt sick. This wasn’t how I was supposed to feel!

I walked to the upper bench of the land, sat down, and looked at Gardner and the Sawtooths and the incredible nature all around me. While the mountains had no snow, I knew what I was looking at and how beautiful they’d be with snow. This was the land of my dreams. Truly my shangri-la.

The listing photo I kept coming back to, taken in spring with the land full of balsamroot and beautiful snow in the Chelan-Sawtooth.

“Yes,” I told myself. “You can do this. And maybe it takes longer than you think, but you can do this. If you back out, you will never forgive yourself.”

And so I didn’t.

An exercise in patience and persistence.

My closing was set for September 10th and I spent the next several weeks sending paystubs and documentation to the bank and yet more paystubs and documentation. I kept saving every penny to have the cash for closing. I figured a mid-September closing would give me lots of time to live on the land for a while and get to know it. It’s always been my goal to build in a harmonious way with the land and walking it, understanding wind, sun, lighting, would be key.

In late August as I was excitedly ticking down the days to closing and wrapping up my friend’s guesthouse remodel, I got a call from the bank. Land appraisals were running way behind and they wouldn’t get the appraisal back until October 6. 

October!? 

I wasn’t sure I heard right. I was essentially homeless (again) at the end of August and now my closing had been pushed back five weeks to October 14. That was going to start pushing me closer to winter and and would certainly make it harder to get any services on the land. 

Luckily, the seller stuck with me and we signed an extension.

At the end of August, I moved into the Edelweiss guest campground since I was a guest of a friend. I spent about two weeks there until wildlife smoke drove me over to Pearrygin State Park. For most of September I bounced around between Pearrygin, my friends guest campground, and a few other boondocking spots. 

Then my agent asked if I’d do her flooring, haha! So I moved to her driveway in early October and worked on yet another side job, continuing to save money and tick down the days until closing.

Sharing my dream with my folks. And more delays….

I had been talking to my dad and stepmom about a visit. Covid had definitely put a damper on our usual get-togethers and they decided to drive up to the Methow from Reno the week of my closing. I was so excited to see them, show them the land, and couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate!

I booked a week long stay at Pearrygin State Park and they booked one of the little cabins. The first night they got here they actually stayed with me in my little Bambi, which was pretty awesome and also pretty funny! We were all cozy and Hudson loved the company!

The next day I took them to tour the land and it was pretty amazing, standing there with my dad, looking out at the beautiful views of Gardner and the Sawtooths, freshly coated in snow. It really did seem like a dream come true and it was hard to believe it was real. My dad told me he had every faith that I’d figure it out and end up with a fantastic little dream home. I think it made us both teary-eyed to think about it and walk the beautiful land that would soon be mine.

To know he had such faith in me really made me so proud. I was so glad I was staying the course. 

Then the next day, I got another call from the bank. I would be required to carry an insurance policy on the pole barn and grain silo and the insurance requirement would delay my closing another week to October 21.

Sadly, I would not be closing while my folks were here. I can’t even express how disappointed I was. I was pretty grouchy most of the day after all the delays, telling myself somehow this deal would fall apart. It really was too good to be true.

But, we made the most of it, the seller yet again hanging in there for another week. Without the closing lingering over my head, I spent a wonderful 10 days with my folks, hiking all over the Methow, enjoying the Valley’s first snow event, and soaking up some much needed family time. We even celebrated my dad’s 1,900th peak! Yep, 1,900 peaks climbed! Amazing!

And finally…. a dream comes true!

My folks hit the road back to Reno on Monday before incoming weather and I went back to work, biding my time until my closing on Wednesday. Never has three days seemed so long!

On Monday, escrow called to schedule my closing appointment and I drove to Omak on Tuesday to sign documents. 10/20/20. Somehow that seemed like a magical date to sign for my property!

Wednesday was another full day of waiting and finally, at 4:30pm on Wednesday, October 21st, the Okanogan County recorder’s office made it official. I was a landowner!!!

Moving to my land.

An early season winter storm was forecast to hit in just over 24 hours threatening several inches of snow and single digit overnight temps. All week I deliberated about whether I should head to the RV park in town with full hookups and power, or head to my land, where I’d have no power or infrastructure.

Ultimately, I couldn’t pass up going to my land and decided that the cover of the pole barn, despite having no power or water, would be awfully nice. Earlier in the week I bought a 3000W generator from Harbor Freight to have a second power source other than solar. I hooked up my Airstream, packed my truck to the brim with a 100-pound generator, 50-pound solar panel, 46 gallons of water in both the Airstream and truck bed, extra water containers, propane, and all my winter and ski gear in one fell swoop.

I tell ya, the Tacoma gets five gold stars for towing it all! I knew I was getting pretty darn close to maximum towing capacity. I also have many thanks to a new friend in Twisp who met me on the land and helped me unload my heavy generator. By sunset I was settled under my pole barn for my first night on “my land”.

It felt surreal. It also felt really disappointing I couldn’t be celebrating with my folks.

That first night I couldn’t get over how quiet and peaceful it was. I’ve never slept better! I was filled with so much gratitude for all the people who have helped me the last few months. It’s really been humbling and I couldn’t have done it without all of you: my friends, my agent, and both old and new local friends. Y’all know who you are.

The feeling of waking up to my first morning on my own land with gorgeous views of the mountains isn’t one I’ll soon forget. Even before I had breakfast and coffee I grabbed Hudson to walk up to the upper bench of my land and take in the views. I kept pinching myself because I couldn’t believe this was real!

After walking my land, I knew my relaxation would be short-lived because the winter storm I mentioned was incoming that evening. It would be my first time weathering snow and possible single digit overnight temps in an RV without full hookups. Despite getting a generator and preparing as much as I could, I worried that I wasn’t at all ready to survive snow or single digit temps.

Next chapter coming soon…..