Real Estate Shopping in Homer, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a two-part post on real estate shopping in Homer. If you missed Part 1, check it out here.  Again, take these observations for whatever they’re worth to you. No refunds.

If there’s one thing you better be comfortable with as a Homer resident, it’s water. The bay is a source of employment, recreation, and sustenance. Our close proximity to the ocean means we see plenty of water falling from the sky. On the ground creeks, streams, and wetlands abound. The latter became particularly significant in our real estate search. Homer and the surrounding area contains a lot of glacial moraine. The soil has some organic material on top, and then silt beneath. When rainfall hits the top layer it’s absorbed and starts filtering down until it hits the silt, which severely impedes the water’s flow. This means the soil doesn’t drain well, and after the top few inches become saturated you get standing water or very sloppy/spongy vegetation.  Nearly every piece of property we examined had some wetlands. Creeks, streams, small areas of flowing water, and spongy ground are all very, very common. Unlike the great plains in the center of the US, Homer’s anything but flat. Set between mountains to the north and an ocean to the south, water is continually making its way to the sea and much of it does so above ground.

Here’s a topographic map with major water features

That’s not to say all water travels above ground. There’s certainly water below the surface too. With all this water, you’d think drilling a well for those outside the reach of city sewer/water would be common. Wrong. The water quality outside Homer is bad. (To be clear, inside city limits Homer operates a municipal water/sewer system just like every other municipality. The water’s treated with chlorine and fluoride, and for a fee your waste can become someone else’s problem.) North of Homer in Anchor Point, I hear the water’s great. Around Homer, and certainly east of town where we purchased land, wells are far less common than one might imagine. The aversion to drilling a well comes mainly from 2 factors: cost and quality.

First, the cost. Wells here can be anywhere from 30 to 300 feet deep. Where we purchased land, we were told to expect somewhere between 100 and 200 feet. At $42/ft drilling a well can get expensive, fast. Particularly when you don’t know how deep you’ll have to go until you start drilling and you might not even hit water. Adding to the expense, wells need to be cased lest they plug with all of the silt down there. But let’s say you’re up for the dice-roll that is finding water, and you’re able to hit it successfully. You’re not out of the woods yet. Even after all that, your efforts might be foiled by poor water quality. High quantities of arsenic and iron are filterable, but again, it’s another expense. And depending on the degree to which filtering would be required, perhaps a prohibitively large expense. For this reason, many people choose to have water delivered. That notion was completely foreign to us when we began searching for real estate, but became normalized as the hunt continued. About half of the properties we explored had holding tanks and contracts with local companies to receive delivered water; the other half had private wells and typically a whole house filter.

I touched on this above – the topography slopes to the sea. We’re in one of the most geologically active areas in the world. Millions of years of tectonic movement have given us beautiful mountains and plenty of smaller “big hills”. It’s a far cry from the prairies of the midwest. Finding large parcels with flat, usable land is difficult. Between the wetlands and the topography, even large parcels may only have one or two potential building sites. There’s a flat “bench” a few miles east of town, but this area is the exception not the rule.

As far as the actual structures are concerned, it seems that anything goes up here. If building codes exist, no one’s enforcing them. This is particularly true outside city limits. Houses with Tyvek housewrap but no siding are common. Decks 3-4′ off the ground without railings, and interior staircases without railings are also common. Older homes are frequently built piecemeal. It’s obvious that one or more additions took place over the years, yielding floorplans that don’t quite flow smoothly, and finishes that don’t exactly match up.

We were also quite surprised by the frequency of covenants. I expect covenants in middle class subdivisions in second ring suburbs of major metropolitan areas. I didn’t expect them 10 miles out of town, in Alaska. Though, I guess it makes sense. As mentioned in Part 1, it’s expensive to develop land. There are many subdivisions made up of 0.5-3 acre parcels. Developers of these subdivisions want to be able to sell the parcels, so they establish rules to ensure a desirable neighborhood. Other times, a family that has owned land for a generation or two decides to sell some of it off, and wants to retain some control over what new neighbors move in. But goodness gracious. Some are just ridiculous. We’ve seen it all from minimum square footage, to specific exterior colors, to house plan approval by a special committee. Commonly, the covenants will restrict the same things they restrict everywhere else: animals/livestock, rubbish, commercial activity, and the number of homes per lot.

Shopping for a new place to call home has been a learning experience, to say the least. Now that we’ve finally found a place, we begin building the home. I have no doubt that will be equally educational!

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