Brendan and I had been looking for land for the past two years in Asheville. When we purchased our house five years ago, we knew it was going to be more of a 3-5 year house rather than a forever home. We have always dreamed of building a house someday, and it finally felt like the right time to pursue it.

However, the real estate market went bananas with low interest rates and people flocking to Asheville because of the pandemic and remote work options. We discovered that houses were being picked off the market in a matter of hours. We decided it probably wasn’t the right time to move…until we happened upon THE lot.

When we visited this piece of land (after seeing many, many others), Brendan and I both felt an overwhelming sense of peace and spiritual calm. I feel like God’s voice is usually heard in more subtle ways, but we felt like it was loud in this instance.

We did our due diligence, investing about $550 into the property before we even went under contract. We checked all the boxes, made an offer, went under contract on the land, and then we were ready to list our house.

I will miss the cherry trees the most from our old house.

Our house sold in 48 hours with five offers, all above asking (the highest 25K over!). We were blown away. It felt like a huge blessing from the Lord, and everything from that point on went smoothly.

…until it didn’t.

I remember this week vividly. I was in the depth of peak season with multiple weddings and sessions on my calendar for the week, as well as four weeks deep in edits. Not to mention, we were packing, packing, packing; touching up paint; and arranging everything to button up both properties.

Three days before closing, I was on a mountaintop with one of my couples for their engagement session. While they were changing, I checked my phone briefly and saw a text come through from our realtor that said “call me.” I tried to get a text out to Brendan to see if everything was OK. He replied, “everything is not OK.” Of course, I was in an area with very limited cell service, not to mention I was in the middle of a session! I tried to shake off the bad vibes, focus on my couple, and wrap up the shoot. It was one of the most beautiful fall evenings, but as I hiked down, my anxiety climbed, not knowing what Brendan was going to tell me once I finally could get a call through.

We learned that major information was withheld from us, and our lawyer dug up some troubling information in the title search with the lot. 80% of the land was unbuildable due to a drain pipe easement owned by the neighbor.

We were devastated.

We had spent at least $3K and weeks designing our house with an architect. This new information basically meant it was all wasted. And, we weren’t even sure if the land was buildable at this point.

I was already emotional from selling our house that we brought Kitt home to as a newborn. We loved our house. It wasn’t perfect, but it was ours. We sold it because we felt like it was time to build something that felt like our future.

We cried so much that week. It was a mess.

The last morning in our “hudson house.”

Brendan and I drove around during every spare hour we had (which were very few with packing/moving/editing/shooting), trying to find another lot that might work. We kept coming up empty.

We had planned to temporarily live at my parent’s cottage in Michigan through the winter, as I typically don’t have many (or any) sessions/weddings scheduled until March. We left Asheville with heavy hearts and a lot of uncertainty.

We spent the next four months digging and digging, uncovering more skeletons and issues with this property. At this point, you’re probably wondering why we were still pursuing this particular piece of land with so many issues? The only answer I can give is that we fell head over heels for it. We had explored Asheville for years trying to find land, and nothing compared or felt right.

It’s very challenging to find a piece of land that is not in a subdivision, that does not have a ton of restrictions, and that is close to town. This lot has access to city water, sewer, and schools, but it is just outside of city limits, which means less taxes. It’s 15 minutes from downtown, a few minutes from the parkway, and it’s almost an acre on a creek! It seemed too good to be true (and it was).

Every time a door would close with this piece of property, another would open. We prayed for God to shut it down if it wasn’t meant to be. And, we kept finding solutions for all of the problems that kept arising. It’s been a long road of letting go and trusting God through each step along the way.

It’s commonly said that God pulls us closer to Him in difficult times. Without a shadow of a doubt, I felt like I was hanging on by a thread, and prayer was the only thing keeping me sane throughout all of this. I would beg and plead for certainty. In the past few weeks, I came upon this verse in my quiet time, and I would meditate on it to help center my thoughts: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). It reminded me that God is bigger than whatever wall we were trying to break through. It was a conscious reminder to release the false control that I felt like I had on the situation, knowing that whatever happened was how it was meant to be.

The most challenging thing was living in a state of limbo for five months, not knowing if the property was going to work or not. Here is a brief sampling of the things we had to work through in our additional due diligence. Again, this only paints a small picture, as I have intentionally left out some details for legal reasons:

We spent a month trying to determine if we could move the drain pipe (the drain pipe is essential to their house and cannot be removed). Without boring you all with the details, we discovered that while we could move the pipe, it required a lot of red tape with our neighbor’s lender, and we didn’t/couldn’t wait months to clear it up. However, with this discovery, we found out that we had two places on the property that we could build around the pipe. The spaces required a different house plan and a bit of creativity to make it work. But, we now knew that the land was buildable.

We spent another two months trying to determine if we could build on the section above the creek, which would avoid the drain altogether. This involved purchasing additional land from our neighbor because of the setback requirements. While he was (graciously) willing to sell us the land, we ultimately were unable to do so because the additional land did not conform to the county slope requirements.

Just when we thought we were ready to close, we found out that we were facing some serious legal issues. When we FIRST emailed the seller’s agent before we were under contract, we asked if this property had any restrictions. The agent told us there were no restrictions, and she sent us a document that displayed the previous covenants were released. However, our lawyers discovered that the covenants were NOT, in fact, released properly or legally. Therefore, the original covenants were still in effect.

One of the reasons we loved this property was that it was not in a fancy subdivision with a review board, HOA, etc. We wanted creative control over our design without having to go through a bunch of hoops. In Asheville, it is very challenging to find a lot that is not constrained to elaborate covenant rules.

We found out that the covenants that were attached to our lot were originally designed for a much larger subdivision that never took off about 20 years ago. These covenants had an HOA requirement, an architectural review board, minimum square footage requirement, etc. Currently, there are only three properties connected to the covenants, so the covenants didn’t really make any sense, as an HOA had never been established.

In the legal world when things are unclear, it leaves a lot of room for lawsuits. For example, since there wasn’t an HOA, our neighbors could technically sue us for any aspect of our design that they did not like, as there were no parameters in the covenants for the design specifications that were acceptable. We also wouldn’t be able to get adequate title insurance, and if we ever wanted to sell our property, our buyers would be facing similar risks/issues. We consulted two law firms, and both strongly advised us to not purchase the property without a new, clear set of covenants. This meant getting the neighbors on board to rewrite the covenants, which was not an easy (or inexpensive) feat.

It took two months of emailing, calling, driving 14 hours (!), a zoom call, emails, emails, emails to finally get everyone to agree on a new set of covenants. It would truly take me hours to explain how challenging it was to logistically get a new set of covenants re-written, agreed to, and signed off with all parties. Our neighbors are truly wonderful people, and they were so gracious in working with us, especially since this process took so much of everyone’s time. We are incredibly thankful to have them as our new neighbors. There was a ton of legal mishap that we had to work through because of how horribly and contradictory the previous covenant(s) were recorded. My father-in-law is an attorney, and he is the only reason we ever made it through this process. It would have take three times as long and tens of thousands of dollars more without his help.

All this to say, it was a huge relief to have the covenants fixed, and it was a miracle that we ever got to this point.

At the end of January, we FINALLY CLOSED ON THE LOT!!!!!!!!

The funny thing is, buying a lot is usually the easiest part of a home building journey. I know we still have a huge mountain to climb, but we’re elated to finally start worrying about tile choices and floor plans.

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  1. Jenny Tenney says:

    Wow, this sounds so crazy and complicated! I can’t imagine how stressful that must have been. Moving just by itself is the worst. I bet your new house will be so worth it and amazing!!! Hoping the rest of the way is less burdensome for your family.

  2. […] out very rocky with our land purchase. It’s a very long story that you can read more about here. When we found this piece of land, we fell in love with it. I would always have a distinct feeling […]