Dec 10 2008

Dividing the promised land part 1

Category: economy,environment,government,humorharmonicminer @ 1:16 pm

This is about our adventures in dividing a 5 acre lot into two 2.5 acre lots, in San Bernardino County in southern California.  It will include human folly, financial folly, governmental folly, economic folly, and environmental folly.  Plenty of folly to go around.

My family and I live on the south half of the 5 acre lot.  The lot is defined as “sub-dividable” by the county.  We bought it 6 years ago, had a house built on it, assuming that we could subdivide it when we chose, and either sell the other half, or build on the other half, then sell it.

You know what they say about assumptions.

We moved into the house a little more than 4 years ago.  As you may recall, the go-go real estate market was in full swing.  When we began to check into it, we discovered that the cost to subdivide the property into two separate lots was estimated at $14,000 – $15,000.  Wow.  Who knew?  We asked why, and were told about all the things that “had to be done” before the lot could be divided.

“But,” we protested, “we just bought the lot, and built on it.  Environmental studies were already done.  Drainage has been determined.  Percolation tests have been done.”  (Those are necessary to determine that the ground will tolerate a septic tank, since it’s a pretty remote area.)  We continued, “And the survey was just done to determine the exact limits of the property before we were allowed to buy it.  All you have to do is draw a line down the middle of it.  Nothing has changed in the last six years.”

The county employee smiled condescendingly and explained that it all had to be done again.  I asked why, and was told, “It’s the state law for part of it, and county regulations for the rest of it.”  Did I mention that it was going to be $14,000 – $15,000 to get all this stuff done again?

Basically, we were staying in Judah, and wanted to sell Israel. Unfortunately, the Assyrians run the county, and the Babylonians run the state.  We could wait for Sharia Law to take over, and pay the jizya, or we could just bite the bullet and pay tribute now.

OK.  We took a deep breath, considered the money we stood to make on either selling the lot, or building on it then selling the house and lot, and asked around.  Everybody we talked to, real estate agents, loan officers, contractors, etc., all said we’d make a lot of money (well, a lot for our humble lives, anyway).

So, thinking ourselves the adventurous capitalists, we began the subdivision process about two years ago.

We would have been better off throwing $20,000 onto the stage at the Renaissance Faire as a tip for the mime artists (did they even HAVE mime in the Renaissance?).  At least that way, we’d have been paying for entertainment.  But I digress.

We found out immediately that no normal citizen can even begin to manage the complexity of the process.  There is an arcane vocabulary for every single aspect of this endeavor.  You just think you know what “survey” means, or “surveyor”.  You only think you know what “planning” is, or “land use”, or “land development”, or “drainage” (really…  you don’t know what “drainage” is, and I’m not talking about my bank account, either, though I could be).

A county employee says something to you.  You don’t understand.  You ask a question.  You can’t follow the answer, because it used two more terms that have specialized definitions.  You ask more questions.  The county employee is getting a little impatient.  There is a line behind you, waiting.  You ask another question, to try to make sense out of the last answer.  The process repeats, but each time with more incomprehensible gibberish.  Yet, in some kind of psychotic tail recursion each reply refers to all previous replies, while at the same time introducing new terms, and just when you think the function is about to collapse into a solution set, a new term is introduced, and you’re off to the parser again.

Finally, admitting your utter failure to even know what question to ask next, what office reports to what office, what forms you need to fill out to begin, what private services the county calls on to verify various aspects of your property situation, what happens in what order, who makes the final decision, etc., you leave, defeated, realizing that years of reading history, political science, economics, literature, computer science, aesthetics, philosophy, theology and science have not prepared you to deal with a county employee who speaks English like a Mexican sailor on first port leave in the USA, and who has no sense of irony in telling you that “the surveyor in the land development engineering office has to talk to the surveyor in the land use office to determine if a survey should be done before or after your neighbors are surveyed to see if any of them object to your dividing your property, but you can’t talk to the surveyor until the surveyor has decided if a survey should be done before or after the surveyor refers your application to the survey office to send a surveyor to your lot to do a survey, because the surveyor is very busy, and it usually takes six months to get scheduled”.

got that?

To quote Dirty Harry, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”  So we hired a real estate agent to help us through it.

Maybe if we’d put out a fleece God would have warned us off.

Part 2 of this adventure is described here.

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3 Responses to “Dividing the promised land part 1”

  1. Sam says:

    I remember, way back when, you making a logical case for escrow being Hell. Sounds like you may have found another eternal state that is certainly not Heaven. Uh oh!

  2. harmonicminer » Dividing the promised land part 2 says:

    […] This is about our adventures in dividing a 5 acre lot into two 2.5 acre lots, in San Bernardino County in southern California. It will include human folly, financial folly, governmental folly, economic folly, and environmental folly. Plenty of folly to go around. If you missed it, this post will make a lot more sense if you read Part 1 first. […]

  3. harmonicminer » Proof that escrow is hell says:

    […] the Faustian bargain one strikes when entering any real estate related process have been made here regarding the human sacrifices to the pyramid scheme of land […]

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