Brett Stomps | Windermere

Steps to Buying Land in the Columbia Gorge

Brett Stomps
Buying land in the Columbia Gorge can be difficult because you are building from the ground up. Use the table of contents below to learn more about what's involved. Be sure to check back for updates as this page is updated regularly. Let's begin!
Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Budget

Your budget will be the biggest deciding factor when Buying Land in the Columbia Gorge. Due to the landscape and proximity to locations like Hood River and White Salmon, the pricing of land varies in the Columbia Gorge. Costs range from 50K to 500K, and sometimes even more.

Financing Options

Gladly, you don’t have to pay all cash for land. There are financing options, so go get your Pre-Approval before shopping. Keep in mind, these financing options do vary in down-payment requirements and minimum and maximum lot sizes. Expect to put 25-30% down. Go to our Mortgage Lenders page and look for a land lender. Amy Anderson with AgWest Farm Credit has been my go to.

From my experience as a Realtor, companies like AgWest Farm Credit​ do not require utilities to be on site and offer a decent loan program for land. I have even helped a client buy land with a yurt on it.

When traditional lending rates increase, Seller Financing may be an option. This is when the seller plays bank, and the rates are negotiable (so long as there isn’t a negative amortization!)

What to Look for When Buying Land

Land Types

If you are new to Buying Land in the Columbia Gorge, consider the following land types below as you start your journey.

Off-Grid: Very large parcels at great pricing. Usually 20ac and more. Usually requires a well and septic to be installed. No power nearby whatsoever.

Rural Residential: Medium to large parcels, 5ac to 20ac on average. May or may not require a well or septic system. Power is usually at the lot line.

Residential: Medium to small parcels, 5ac to 0.10ac on average. Generally connects to city power, water, and sewer. Internet available.

Commercial: Varys in location and in lot size. Generally connects to city power, water, and sewer. Special zoning allows for STR and business uses.

Agricultural: Medium to very large parcels at generally expensive pricing. Special zoning allows for commercial farming practices and tax benefits.

Land Features​

Not sure what type of land you want? Consider these features and reference back to land types above.

Location: Do you like dry, wet, sunny, dark, rural, city, or a mix? In 80mi, the Gorge can lose 90″ of rainfall per year! This can be found in different land types. Work with me (Brett) to identify where the location you are looking for is.

Utilities: What utilities are you comfortable with? A well or city water? A septic system or city sewer? Solar or grid power? 

Size: How much space do you need? Are you familiar with how big 5ac vs. 80ac is? If not, let’s connect and explore together.

Pricing: How much are you ready to spend? Are you familiar with pricing in the Gorge? Do you need a land lender? Ask for a report.

Purpose: Why do you want land in the Gorge? Do you have family here? What sports do you like? Your purpose might dictate where you land.

Where Can I Find the Most Land?

Klickitat County

Klickitat County is by far your best-go-to in terms of size and value in the Columbia Gorge. The further east you go from White Salmon, WA, the more opportunities you will find. Goldendale, WA is a very popular area for recreational forest land due to it’s abundance and affordability.

Skamania County

Skamania County is a strong 2nd place for land opportunities, but beware that the county is prone to landslides and the terrain isn’t always flat. It’s rugged out there!

Wasco County

Wasco County is 3rd. I say it is the 3rd becasue if you are looking for recreational land, or land above 5ac, then it’s not as common to find. Your best bet is between Mosier and The Dalles. Or somewhere south in Wasco, and generally we find that the zoning F-2-80 (or similar) prevents building.

Hood River County

Hood River is the 4th on this list becasue it is very difficult. Hood River has by far the most attention focused on it in terms of land (due to the area’s popularity), and while opportunities for buildable land do exist, it’s lesser. This is because most of the Hood River valley is zoned agricultural and doesn’t out-right allow for dwellings unless the property produces a profit through farming (Research EFU Zoning).

Take a Drive

I offer my clients a free drive-about tour to help them become familiar with the different landscapes and budgets of the Columbia Gorge. If you’d rather go solo, just get in touch with me and I can tell you where you will most likely find the type of land you are looking for.

Building a Home

Before we get too far into this guide on buying land in the Columbia Gorge, some of you will want to know about the building process. 

If you are obtaining a construction loan or paying cash, it is recommended to first get a property under contract to do your due diligence. Talk with the county first to determine the current timeline for pre-application meetings. This is so you know what to expect during different times of the year.

Send Zoning Questions to the County 

Due to the complexities of zoning, environmental conditions and restrictions, it is suggested that buyers contact the local county they are looking to build to schedule a pre-application. meeting. This is especially true for smaller city lots or lots with otherwise uncommon zoning.

Lending & Financing & Timelines

If you are obtaining a construction loan, your lender may want a 30-90 day feasibility timeline in your PSA. This is to work with contractors and the county for building suitability. There may be up front non-refundable costs within the transaction for this due-diligence. Talk to your lender about expected fees.

If you are paying for the land with cash, this timeline can be shorter. This is because working with the county to do due diligence is optional, but a risk. you only want to work with the county to determine buildability. Contact the county for timelines.

See my list of Helpful Contacts for a list of contractors, lenders, and home builders to investigate.

Finding Well Logs

Whether you’re working with a Realtor or not, pulling a well report can be an important piece to the puzzle when buying or selling Real Estate. I have created an entire post on How to Find Well Reports in OR & WA. I also made a video.

Where to find well logs

Oregon Ecology

Washington Ecology

Well Flow Tests & Water Quality

Local Well Drilling Companies often offer well flow & quality tests for a fee. You can also contact Home Inspectors and see if they offer this service too.

Find bacteria in your well? Contact a well driller or contact the local health department for solutions.

Photo of a well flow test by M-K Waterwell Drilling Inc.

Well Dowsing / Witching

Well “Dowsing”, also commonly known as, “Witching” is often a controversial topic. It is the act of locating water underground without using any scientific tools. It’s purpose is to help identify locations to drill a well that’s ideally not very deep and that will produce a high amount of GPM (gallons per minute). Google it, it’s interesting stuff. 

Well dowsers / Witchers don’t cost a lot, usually around $100. If you are unsure where to drill a well, it may be worth the cost to hire one, even if you don’t necessarily believe the process. Is it worth drilling in the dark?

Percolation Tests for Septic Systems

“Perc Hole” tests as they are commonly called are not required when purchasing property. However, if you plan to purchase a property without a septic system in place, you may consider having these “Perc Holes” dug and approved by the County Health Department prior to closing to ensure the general building area of your desire will allow a septic system. See our Local Utilities List to find the contact you need.

If the grounds fail to percolate to the standards set by the Health Department, you will need to dig more “Perc Holes” until you find one that passes county standards prior to building your dwelling. 

The Gorge is not known for failing many “Perc Hole” tests, but depending on your scenario, you may choose to wait until after close. 

Contact one of the 4 local counties (Klickitat, Skamania, Wasco, or Hood River County) for more info on this process. Each county is different. 

Land Surveyors

Land Surveys are not generally conducted when buying land in the Columbia Gorge due to the high cost to obtain one. However, they are still allowed during a transaction if you desired to have one. This is usually a buyer cost.

Here are some reasons to obtain a survey prior to close:

  • You suspect a building is along a boundary line that you or a neighbor may be responsible for.
  • You suspect one of the utilities to the property for sale is potentially on the neighbor’s property.  
  • You are unsure of the legal access of a driveway Easement and the property is challenging to access.
  • There is a view corridor (easement) or other high value section(s) on the property you are unsure comes with the property. 

Septic Inspection

Septic Inspections are done by pumping the tank (if necessary) and inspecting the tank, baffle, and lid. It is impossible to visually inspect the drain field, but professionals can gauge the lifespan and condition of a drain field on site by looking at the health of the tank.

If there is a septic tank on the property, the seller is generally obligated to pump the system while the buyer pays for the inspection. The contract will outline what specifically what parties are responsible for what.

Feasibility Contingency

The feasibility contingency within a Purchase and Sale Agreement for land is an, “umbrella” Contingency. Meaning, it covers almost any reason why you (as a buyer) may want to terminate a contract to purchase the property and retain your Earnest Money.

This contingency is generally applied to vacant land sales, and includes, but is not limited to language such as: “The suitability of the property for buyer’s intended purpose, including if the property can be built on, platted, connected to power, water, sewer, and whether buyer accepts local zoning, environmentally sensitive areas, such as wetlands, flood zones, etc.”, for example. Hence, the nickname, the “umbrella” contingency.

Connecting to Electricity

If you are buying land in the Columbia Gorge that does not have power to it, it is recommended to call the Local Public Utility District (PUD) from our Local Utilities List to get an estimate on brining power to the property line. Power is generally handled per the city or per the county that the property resides in. 

Use the local county’s GIS system (referenced below) and use the measuring tool if asked for a distance by the PUD.

Pro Tip: In some cases, if the price of a property seems too good to be true, power may be very far away and expensive to obtain. This is a great for anyone looking to have recreational land or to live off-grid.

Transformer and meter box.

Connecting to Public Water

Public Water: If you are buying property within the urban growth boundary (city or suburb) then chances are your property will have water along the roadway. Call your county’s public utility district for connection costs. View our Local Utilities List: 

Shared Well: If you are buying rural residential Land, you may find that there will be a shared well on the property serving two or more properties in the area. Be sure to look for a shared well agreement on your Title Report and have the Well Tested for Bacteria and Flow Rate during the transaction. 

Private Well: If you are buying rural or off-grid land, chances are you will most likely need to drill your own private well. See: Well Dowsing / Witching above as a method to locate a well, and see: Finding Well Logs above to determine the average depth and flow rate you can expect in a given region. You can also watch How to Find Well Reports in OR & WA.

Cistern: Cisterns can be used to collect rainwater and to irrigate the land for gardening. Cisterns can also be used for drinking water so long as the water is purified prior to consumption. Cisterns are sometimes used either to avoid drilling a well (and the expense) or for a temporary fix when a well fails to produce water. 

Zoning Ordinance

During your feasibility Contingency period, it’s recommended to review the county or city Zoning Ordinances to ensure what you plan to use the property for is allowed. These do not include, but are not limited to CC&Rs & HOAs, View Easements, and other items found on a Title Report which may individually impact a property’s uses. See, Title Report below for more.

County Zoning Ordinances

City Zoning Ordinances

This list is not conclusive. This list is intended as a resource to aid in your research. Always check with local authorities to verify your intended use for a property. 

GIS (Geographic Information System) Mapping

These are fantastic tools for examining Zoning Ordinance overlays and boundary lines (especially for large rural parcels). Use these maps when you are unclear about the boundary lines or access points of properties listed on Multiple Listing Service (MLS) the prior to taking a tour. In some cases, if a property seems cheap, it may be next to a highway or something else generally considered “undesired”.

Here are links to our local GIS systems:

Klickitat GIS

Hood River City GIS

Hood River County GIS

Wasco County GIS

Skamania County GIS

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (CRGNSA)

Like city or county Zoning Ordinances, there are special areas designated by the Columbia Gorge Commission known as, Special Management Areas, General Management Areas, and Urban Areas. Go to their website to learn more: gorgecommission.org

Overlooking Crown Point & Vista House

Title Report

Normally 2-3 weeks into the transaction, the title department within the Title & Escrow company will provide you a, “Title Report” or “Preliminary Title Report for Commitment”. 

This report is generally paid for by the seller and ensures the seller can transfer ownership to you.

The Title Report’s secondary function is to showcase any Easements, CC&Rs, Road Maintenance Agreements, and HOA Documents and more recorded onto the property (to name the majority). By default, most Contracts allow you to terminate an agreement if you disapprove of any item on the title report that the seller cannot remove prior to close. 

When buying land in the Columbia Gorge, these are important to understand.

Closing of Escrow & Recording

On signing day, you will meet with the Closing Agent who will review your Closing Documents with you as you sign. 

Once completed, that’s it! Now you wait until the property is transferred into your name at the county! Congrats on buying land in the Columbia Gorge.

Helpful Resources

Real Estate Guides: Find more guides like this one and take more control of your transaction.

Market Updates: The latest real estate market updates for the Columbia Gorge and in the nation.

Helpful Contacts: A list of local contractors and lenders, including but not limited to: septic pumpers, well testers, home inspectors, etc.

Local Utilities List: A list of local utility companies in Klickitat, Skamania, Wasco, and Hood River County.

About Brett Stomps
Brett is a Realtor in the Columbia River Gorge. He designed and built brettstomps.com as a collaborative platform for real estate industry leaders to educate and empower buyers and sellers. In his free time, Brett enjoys photography, learning Spanish, and adventuring with his dog, Ollie.
Disclaimer

The information provided on brettstomps.com is intended to be educational and accurate. However, information on brettstomps.com does not substitute as buyer and seller due diligence when transacting real estate. Buyers and sellers are advised to work directly with a licensed real estate professional, seek additional professional services when applicable, and to inquire at the state, county, and city offices for their due diligence.