Raw Land Development in Sonoma County

Sonoma County is facing a shortage of readily buildable lots. There’s plenty of raw land, but there is a big difference between undeveloped land and a buildable parcel.

If you plan to build, you have to determine whether the parcel you are interested in meets the minimum requirements for building. A simple checklist of the mandatory elements for permission to build would include

  • well or public water
  • septic or public sewer
  • fire safety (access in particular)

Expanding that list to suit desirable elements of a modern lifestyles would add:

  • power
  • access to shopping
  • high speed internet
  • phone service

Expanding into amenities might involve:

  • views
  • water features
  • trees
  • privacy
  • quiet
Drilling for water in West Dry Creek Valley

A smart buyer will choose an agent who knows the right questions to ask about the mandatory elements (Not every agent is a rural specialist and many urban real estate professionals have zero experience with country property issues.).  Working with their agent, prospective buyers can contact appropriate professionals to develop an understanding of likely development costs. For instance, a well driller could provide a range of depths and the costs associated with wells in a specific neighborhood. Other locations might have deeper or more shallow wells on average, but working with a professional will help provide a realistic range of prices.

Septic systems require occasional pumping
Septic systems require occasional pumping

The same approach applies to septic systems. A functional septic system remains one of the critical “must have” conditions for any property to be buildable. A standard septic system is a proven method that requires very little maintenance. It just works. For land that isn’t suitable for a standard system, alternative solutions are available, but they are both more expensive and require annual monitoring by the County. The first step in determining whether a parcel is suitable for a septic system is to get a  Registered Environmental Health Specialist (REHS) on the property to being exploring for soils suitable for a septic system. It is rare that a property has zero potential for a septic system, but it does happen. You don’t want to be that buyer.

Completing the mandatory elements for a buildable lot is fire safe access. This is a tough condition to meet on remote, hilly properties. Roads have to be installed that are suitable for fire fighting equipment. Included in the specifications are road width, turn-around spaces at the end of the road, paved sections where the road is steep, bridge capacity and other conditions. It’s common for a raw piece of land to lack great roads, but an experienced agent can help identify the portions of the access that might have to be upgraded to get permission to build a home.

Road building
Road building


Sonoma County FAQ on well and septic systems

Fire Safe Standards



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