Due Diligence Considerations When Purchasing Outside a Municipality in Washington

The typical buyer of residential real estate located in a municipality does not run into legal due diligence challenges. Residential parcels within a municipality created by a platted subdivision typically require less due diligence because: 1) easements are referenced; 2) road access is required; 3) zoning is well-defined; and 4) water, sewer, and power are provided.

Outside of a municipality the story is quite different. Many circumstances of a parcel can impede its use, title, insurability, or financing. The following documents should be reviewed if one is considering investing in real estate outside of a municipality:

  • Survey. Unless there was a subdivision of a larger parcel and you can find the monument corners for your subject parcel, a ground survey or drone mapping flyover is recommended as a contingency of a purchase contract. A ground survey will determine the true boundaries of the parcel, rather than relying on alleged markers like hedges or fences, which frequently are not accurate representations. A drone mapping flyover will allow analysis of topographic and other features.
  • Zoning. Regardless of the parcel’s zoning, you need to know what is allowed, including conditional uses, and whether a variance may be required for your planned use. Visit your county planning department for zoning information.
  • Septic. If your parcel needs septic wastewater treatment onsite, you may need percolation testing. If there are significant rock outcroppings or other obstructions to provision of an underground septic system, particularly with drainage fields (primary and backup) but also with piping, significant additional expense may be determinative of your purchase decision. It may help to check with your potential neighbors for their experience with their land. Oral representations should be gathered as a first step, but never should be the deciding factor in your purchase decision.
  • Water. Water rights in Washington are gained by diverting water from a natural source to a beneficial use, and whether diversion is from surface water or from a well a permit is required from the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE). If there is a well on your prospective parcel, you will need to contact DOE for the well driller’s information. The priority of use in Washington is “first in time, first in right.” In Washington, water shortages have been more visible recently as drought conditions have affected the state. Vacant parcels not served by an existing diversion will likely have no water rights, so don’t look for or expect them.
  • Special needs. Be sure to account for special needs for your planned use, such as physical accommodations for handicapped persons or assessment of public school education.

This posting is not legal advice. Legal advice is based on specific facts. This information is necessarily general in nature.

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