Buying Mountain Homes & Land in Colorado - What Buyers Should Know:

Mountain property buyers should proceed with caution after studying a variety of factors that impact the value and desirability of each home. Here are a few things to consider if you want to buy mountain property:
1. Is it a legal lot? It's not a matter of being on the correct side of the law. If a parcel of land is sold with a proper deed, it's legally owned but still can be an 'Illegal Parcel' if it was not properly subdivided through county or local government processes. If this happens then it may not be possible to obtain permits to build or improve the property, including repairs requiring a permit, unless/until the situation is corrected. It may be possible to rectify the situation but you're going to want to know up front if the subdivision wasn't properly done. This normally isn't a problem with platted lots but can be on metes & bounds parcels.

 2. Zoning & Covenants - What types of buildings exist or could be built: Prior to purchasing a property, make sure what you want to build is allowed. Normally if the zoning allows for a duplex it would be OK to build just one house on the property. Some neighborhoods have protective covenants that might limit fences, pets, etc. There also will be "set backs;" i.e., minimum distance from property lines to structures. Make sure you can live with the rules before purchasing the property.  

- What other use might be made of adjacent parcels? Buyers need to be aware of surrounding land uses, including not only existing uses, but also planned uses. The county or local municipality's general plan shows what types of uses are permissible. Just because nearby land is vacant doesn't mean it will stay that way. If you’re planning a coffee shop, you’ll want to know if plans are in the works to start a pig farm next door.

3. Who has access to the property? The ability to develop a specific parcel depends on the owner having both legal and physical access to it. Do any legal or illegal easements exist? There may be electrical, phone or other utility easements, neighbors may have the legal right to use portions of the property to access theirs, or they may be using an illegal easement.

If an illegal access has been in place for some time, it might become legal. This is called Easement By Prescription or sometimes Adverse Possession. The claimant’s use must have been continuous, exclusive, open and without the owner’s permission, though the owner must have been able to learn of it. If you think there may be a prescriptive easement or a potential adverse possession claim on land you own or are considering purchasing, it is recommended that you consult an attorney experienced in land title law.

Physical Access. Real estate law says that no property owner can be prohibited access to their property. However, if a property is land locked with no public road accessing the property and no legal easement then it may be very difficult to obtain access. If the property is land locked and surrounded by 6 other lots, which of those property owners can be forced in a court of law to allow access? How will you present the argument to a court that the particular property owner must be the one to grant you access? Even if you are able to get a judgment allowing you access, the court may very well assign compensation to the property owner granting the easement. In the end, it probably makes more sense to determine beforehand whether an adjoining property owner will grant an easement.

4. Road Maintenance: In many areas the county or the city plows the snow and maintains the roads. Some neighborhoods have their own metro district set up. Some areas do not provide county road maintenance, so owners must arrange for maintenance. Sometimes a group of owners will hire someone to perform the services and share the expense.

Some counties have recently begun to establish and enforce minimum standards for roads. Just because other homes already exist in the area, do not assume that you will be allowed to build or add on. If the access road does not meet county standards, you may be required to bring the road up to standards before you can begin construction. If roads to a prospective property are found to be substandard, you may want to check with other property owners in the area to see if they might be willing to share the expense of improving the road. They may want to do this because there have been instances of existing homes suffering fire or other damage and being refused rebuilding permits by the county due to substandard roads. This has happened even though the roads in question were ‘County Maintained.’ The county did not assume any responsibility for upgrading the roads to standards.

 Are any new road construction projects or major repairs being planned which will affect the property? Consult local, county & state governments for information pertaining to such projects.

 5. Survey: It is always a good idea to have a survey of the property with the corners staked. Who pays the cost of the survey is an item that can be negotiated in the purchase agreement. Prices for the survey vary depending on the type of survey being done. Any survey including placing or verifying property boundaries will likely cost $1,000 or more.

If you will be financing the purchase of the property your lender may insist on a survey as a condition for granting the loan, though not normally required for platted lots. For existing residential properties a complete survey may not be necessary. At the discretion of the title company and/or your lender, you may be allowed to just provide an ILC (Improvement Location Certificate) survey. This type of survey is less time consuming & therefore less costly. It consists of simply locating the property boundaries and providing an illustration of the land with the locations of any structures marked. Cost is usually about $350 for most lots.

Sometimes, a prior survey may be used, if it isn't too old, providing that sellers provide an affidavit stating that no changes have occurred since the last survey.

 4. Water:

       a). Is there any? Is there a community water system or well? You’ll be charged for usage for community systems. If a well exists, you will want it tested for water quality and production. Low producing wells can serve well for many years by use of a storage tank which holds water for immediate use & refills when demand is low. If the well is inadequate, you may have to drill to find a better source, which can be expensive. Drillers usually charge per foot of depth, and costs vary from about $15-20 per foot. Don’t just go with the lowest quoted per foot price. Find out if any surface preparation is needed or if any other expenses. Find out exactly what is included in the per foot price and what, if anything, is needed that will be extra.

 Your well will most likely be household use only. A domestic permit is required to water large animals. To get a domestic well permit in Colorado, you must have at least 35 acres of land. Usually, the only way to legally water horses on smaller acreage is to haul in water. Sometimes a larger property with a domestic well has been subdivided & well rights have been maintained, so in some cases it is possible to have a domestic well even though the property is less than 35 acres.

Household use means usage outside the house is prohibited. A household use permit does not allow for car washing, garden use, watering animals or any outside use. In some areas augmentation is available and limited additional usage privileges may be obtained by purchasing shares in a reservoir company. Well depth may vary. If the property is in an area which undergoes water shortages for all or part of the year, an augmentation plan may be required. Check these links for more information about water rights & uses in Colorado and

Jefferson County *.

      b.) How much water do you need? It is estimated that each person uses approximately 75 gallons of water for their daily usage, including drinking, bathing, laundry & waste. There are 1440 minutes in a day so a well producing 1 gpm creates a total of 1440 gallons per day. A family of 4 would use about 300 gallons so a well producing approx. .21 gpm could be sufficient. It's never a bad idea to be water aware and low flow washing machines are highly recommended. These will also have the added benefit of extending the life of your septic system. Good water usage planning also makes sense so you'll want to carefully schedule showers, laundry and dishwashing so as to not have demand overload supply at any time. 

c.) Is water quality good? Well water may contain impurities such as radon, iron, bacteria and many other contaminants. Don’t assume water quality is good and don’t assume that just because it is filtered for one, that others will be removed. Anyone considering the purchase of a home using a well should give serious consideration to having extensive testing of the water during the inspection phase. Although this can be fairly expensive with costs running in the area of $500, the cost to one’s health can be much more costly. If the inspection reveals that the water contains nothing of concern, you can be confident in your water supply but if harmful materials are found to be in the water you will have negotiating leverage with the owners.  

Minimum water testing is for coliform bacteria. These bacteria of themselves are not harmful but do indicate that the water may contain other organisms which could be harmful. If testing for coliforms is positive, the buyer usually asks the seller to treat the well and provide a clean retest. Treating, or shocking, the well consists of adding bleach to the well and letting it sit for a couple of days, then flushing and retesting. In most cases, this solves the problem because the bacteria are usually in the plumbing, not the well. If the retest is also positive then the seller is usually asked to install a treatment system to eliminate any bacteria from the water after it leaves the well & before entering the house. Since homeowners are required by law to disclose any negative facts known about their property and they now know there are problems with the water, it makes sense for sellers to resolve the issue with buyers who are already interested in the property rather than going through the entire process again with other buyers.

5. Sewer: Is there a community sewer or does the property have a septic system? If a sewer system, you will have to pay for usage. If a septic system, you will want to have it inspected to make sure it is in good working order. Some counties, like Jefferson, require that existing septic systems be certified when the home is sold. Sewage Disposal In Jefferson County.

 Septic systems may seem intimidating but with a little knowledge and proper care, they can serve for many years. Though average estimated lifespan is 15 years, there are some septic systems in the area which are over 100 years old. If you want your septic system to last a long time, treat it well by not putting in things that may clog or contaminate the system. Do not put eggshells & coffee grindings in the system.  Oil and grease should NEVER go in. Limit use of garbage disposals. A good rule of thumb is if you're not sure whether materials are safe, don't introduce them into your septic system.

Septic tanks hold solid waste and have a finite capacity. It is imperative these tanks never be allowed to fill up with solid waste. If this happens solids will find their way into the leach field, which will then be contaminated. Septic tanks should be periodically pumped to remove the solid waste. Pumping frequency depends on the size of the tank and the amount of usage. The more people using the system, the more frequently it should be pumped. If you are unsure of how often to pump your septic, consider having it done annually. Your service person should do a visual inspection of system components and let you know if any repairs are needed. They can also tell you if you need to pump more or less frequently.

In the event that your septic system shows signs of failure, it is possible to extend the life of the system by a process which uses compressed air to create new fractures to allow leaching.This process is relatively inexpensive compared to rebuilding a system, usually under $2000. Ask your septic expert for more information and details.

6. Utilities. There are positives & negatives to various heating/energy systems. Whichever you are considering, it's a good idea to obtain previous utility records to prevent any unpleasant surprises.

    a).  Natural GAS:
Many areas have natural gas supplied through
Xcel Energy. Some properties may have gas nearby but have never hooked up to it. If you wish to hook up, there will likely be a tap fee & costs for labor & materials. When natural gas is not available many people elect to use propane gas which is delivered to the home and stored in a tank. Some homes are heated with electricity, which is normally more expensive month-to-month but keep in mind that if an electric heating element burns out, the repair costs are usually considerably lower than other heating system repairs.

Propane gas is derived from petroleum and therefore subject to market fluctuations related to oil prices.

   b). Electricity: Is electricity already run to the lot? If electricity is on or near the property, lines could be run to the building site. Current cost for this is approximately $3,500 per 200 feet of line, including the poles and installation. In some areas, electric lines are far away or not available at all. In these situations alternative energy is an option. Solar energy and generators are popular choices and are widely used in the area with great results. A solar system capable of powering a 1500 sf home will cost about $20,000 today. Considering the price of running power lines 1000 feet and the future savings of no power bills, solar energy is a great option economically and environmentally.Batteries collect power when the sun shines & then it can be used when sunshine is not available. In addition, it is a good idea to have a backup generator which can be used to insure continuing power in the event of extended periods of unavailable sunshine.

   c. Telephone. Does the property have access to telephone lines? If so, there will be a charge to hook up. If not, you may have to pay to have lines strung to the property and those charges can be substantial. If no phone service is available, it may be possible to forego land line phone service if a good cell phone signal is present.

   d. Internet & TV. While it's usually possible to get internet and TV service, not all mountain areas have cable or high speed internet. Sometimes DSL is an option but not available in all areas. There may also be 4G coverage through Verizon or other providers. If you need very high speed internet service it's a good idea to check availability.

7. Fire Danger. Is the property located in an area that is prone to wildfires? Is there a fire department nearby? In case of fire, where will water come from to fight it? Does the area around the building site need to be cleared to comply with local fire mitigation regulations? In some locales, if a property has not been properly mitigated for fire defense, firefighters may choose not to try to defend it in the case of large scale wildfires, instead focusing their efforts on properties judged to be more defensible. Consult your local fire department for information on these issues.

If there is a volunteer fire department and you are able-bodied, consider volunteering your services.

8. Tree Health. Colorado is home to many wonderful tree species, with many non-deciduous varieties including Ponderosa, Lodgepole, Bristlecone pines, Blue & Green Spruce, Douglas Fir and others. Ponderosa and Lodgepoles are particularly susceptible to Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) attack and these majestic trees can be brought down by the tiny little insects. When MPB attack a tree they burrow in and lay their eggs which hatch the following summer. Virtually all MPB are infected with the Blue Stain Fungus. It is this fungus, not the beetle itself which kills the tree by spreading through the trunk and blocking the tree’s ability to distribute vital nutrients. The tree literally starves to death, beginning from the top. There is no cure once the tree is infected, but infection may be prevented by spraying preventative chemicals which deter MPB from attacking the tree. Spraying should be done before newborn beetles fly in search of new homes in which to lay their eggs, usually in July and August. Spraying can cost between $7-15 per tree.

Another tree killer is the Dwarf Mistletoe, sometimes called ‘Witches Brooms.’ Dwarf mistletoe primarily affects Lodgepole pines but can also attack Douglas Fir, Ponderosa and other species.

Before purchasing land, consider having the property inspected for infection by MPB, Mistletoe and other pests. If infection exists, large numbers of trees may be lost so it is important to take whatever steps necessary to control and/or mitigate the problem. 

9. Homeowner’s Associations (HOA) or Property Owner’s Associations (POA): Your Realtor should provide you with documentation of any HOA/POA. This will include whether membership is mandatory or optional, membership fees & dues, current financial statements, covenants and rules. Sometimes though the HOA may be voluntary, they monitor for compliance to covenants tied to the property.

10. Taxes: In Colorado, vacant and commercial land is taxed at a higher rate than residential properties. Be sure you understand what the tax liability will be before purchasing the property. Normally, once a home is built on vacant land, the tax rate is reduced, but since the value of the property with a home on it will be higher than when it was unimproved, the total taxes due will probably be higher after building.

Is there a Special Taxing District? In some areas a special taxing district will be created to procure funds for things not covered by regular property taxes. These items might be for road improvements, fire protection or anything else deemed necessary. Check with local governments to learn if any special taxing districts exist. 

11. Mineral Rights and Mining Claims: There is a long history of mining in Colorado and most of the raw land in Clear Creek, Gilpin and other Counties were originally patented as mining claims. While mining claims may have some different rules about them, they are not normally that different from any other property, esp. if they have never been mined.

These claims are usually 150 x 1500 feet totaling 5.16 acres. Prospectors would search the hillsides for minerals in the rock. When they found promising areas they would patent one or more claims with the local mining district's patent office. The patent office would issue a unique number known as the "Mineral Survey Number" (USMS#) or Patent Number to the claim, and the person patenting the claim would give it a name.

Claims were intended to follow a vein of gold or silver and this explains the long & narrow shape of most claims.  Very often you will find that several claims criss-cross each other. In this case the intersection of two claims is owned by the claimant with the earliest or smaller patent number. In some cases, this can result in the newer claim being split by the prior claim – in other words, since the earlier claim has precedence, a later claim may result in the claimant owning property on either side of the older claim.

Over 100 years later, these claims remain as the boundary system for most of the land in the area. Some have been combined and sub-divided, others paired with larger lots, but most of the claims are as they were when they were patented. Most have never seen any mining at all, others may have a few small "prospect holes," just a few feet deep and 4 or 5 feet across. Others have had mines of all depths and sizes dug on them, mill sites erected, and even rail tracks laid to haul ore. Along the way, the mineral rights may have been separated from the surface rights and sold, or even portions of these rights divided up among different owners.

You will want to know whether the property you’re considering includes mineral rights. Mineral rights owners have the right to extract minerals from the property even if the surface rights owner has constructed a residence.

It is more desirable to own both the surface and mineral rights; however, not having the mineral rights should not deter anyone from buying a piece of land. The low yield ore in the area makes it very difficult and highly unlikely that anyone would actually mine on your property without owning the surface rights. In addition, there are laws governing the process which in most cases would require the mineral rights owner to restore the surface to its original state when they are finished and would limit the level of disruption they would be allowed to impose on the surface rights owners. As the surface rights owner you'd own the property & have landowner's rights. All properties, whether mining claims or not are subject to the laws and covenants of local, state & federal jurisdictions. Ergo, if there's a covenant that prohibits parking a motor home, then you wouldn't be allowed to park one on your mining claim.

If the claims had actual mining history they might have to be cleaned up & this can be costly. There are regulations in place for such cleanups & for funding them.

As the owner of the surface rights, one has the right to build only one home per claim, even in the cases where the claim is split into two non-contiguous pieces.

Miscellaneous Items:

Horses are allowed on claims in accordance county requirements. However, in order to legally water them, you must have a domestic well or bring in water from an outside source.

In Clear Creek County, there are two different zonings for mining claims; M-1 & M-2. M-1 is mining and residential while M-2 is mining only. M-2s have lower taxes, but you can't build on them.

Despite all the challenges, mining claims can make great building sites, often offering panoramic views, seclusion and sometimes a bit of history.  If you are interested in buying a mountain home or vacant land, or if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. I hope I've answered your questions to your satisfaction but if I haven't, let me know & I'll do whatever research necessary to get the answers for you.

Note that this is not intended to be a comprehensive list to cover every possible issue. Some other considerations are healthcare and emergency access, food, television/internet access & postal delivery. No two properties are alike so each parcel must be evaluated on its own merit. If you have legal concerns regarding the above or other issues, it is recommended that you consult an attorney experienced in mountain residential/land transactions.

Information deemed accurate but not guaranteed.

*Not all county governments have comprehensive websites. Since Jefferson County’s website is very good and covers a lot of issues, I’ve linked most often to their web pages. Other counties may have information covering the same issues as Jeffco &  you should go to those web sites if you have questions specific to a particular county. Sometimes information can be obtained by calling the county or government office if not found on the internet.