A builder’s boo-boo turns into a great opportunity

A couple of weeks ago we hired a local builder to improve the drainage on our property.  He extended the gutters on each side of the house, dug a trench for a drainage pipe to the bottom of our property, and set a grate up at the start of the trench to capture drainage from downpipes.  It’s worked pretty well, so far.

On Monday I was surprised when our doorbell rang.  It turned out to be the owner of the property behind ours, which is part of an empty stretch of land running behind four houses on our street, with no buildings on it (it’s too small to build on – it’s basically wide enough to serve as a two-lane road, but no more).  He complained that our builder had extended the drainage pipe beyond the boundary, a good ten feet or so on his side of the dividing line.  I checked, and he was right – something the builder hadn’t told me.  I apologized, of course, and promised to put the matter to rights;  to which he responded, “Sure – or you can just buy the property, if you want.”

My ears pricked up at that.  One minor drawback of our home is that the back garden is relatively small.  That had helped us to buy it at a very good price, but even so, it would be nice to have more space to erect a patio and gazebo in due course, and some raised beds for vegetable gardening.  (It would also be nice to have an enclosed back garden big enough to keep a dog.)  After a bit of negotiation, the owner has agreed to sell us the part of his land behind our house at a very good price indeed – so good that we can’t afford not to buy it!  It’ll raise the value of our property by far more than we’ll pay to buy it.  We’ll keep it under a separate title until our house is paid for, after which we’ll amalgamate the deeds into a single property.

So, a builder’s error has turned into a golden opportunity for us.  Someone up there must like us . . .



  1. Outstanding! Now, you loyal followers will expect pics of all the new additions. The patio, garden, Olympic size pool, hot tubs, and the skeet range.

  2. Peter, you can join the deeds into one if you wish. But, in Texas, that is not necessary, even to claim the adjacent tract as homestead, along with the tract which contains your house, garage, etc., as long as the two tracts are adjacent, you have no problem.

    On the other hand, if you wish to erect improvements on the adjacent tract, zoning codes, and such may require that you replat the adjacent tract, in which case, you may wish to replat your existing platted tract with the new acquired parcel to make one larger tract. Talk to a real estate lawyer before you take any action, it may save you many dollars.

  3. If he is offering a very good price, why split the parcel – why not buy the whole thing? Survey and recording costs are relatively large for small parcels; you could buy the whole thing and then offer parts to your neighbors at a small profit, or use access to it to negotiate for something you want.

  4. I am in a similar situation, except the the owner of the empty lot next to me lived out of state, and died 3 years ago, and his 3rd year of non-payment of taxes was in March. The state has been trying to contact his family, but hasn't gotten a response, so they were going to put it up for auction this year to pay the back taxes.

    The problem with that for me is I need more room, the lot will sell for $15k which I can't afford, and I don't want a new neighbor.

    So I paid the 2014 taxes on the last tax day in March to stop the state auction. And I'll fence the lot off this year, pay the taxes every year, and make improvements, and in 7 years, I can file for ownership of the lot via Adverse Possession laws.

    I plan on using it mostly as a garden plot and maybe park my trailer there, making no structural improvements other than the fence until after the 7 years.

    I don't consider this un-ethical because the family, if there is one, would have lost the property this year to the state anyway. And now they have 7 years to come back and claim it and I'm paying all their taxes and improving the property!

    But since all I want is more elbow room and a larger garden, I figure @ less than $300 per year in taxes, it's worth the risk, and I'll just think of it as renting the lot for an annual fee.

  5. Peter,

    My congratulation on keeping your cool, and finding a deal that is good for both of you. It is quite easy to react in anger, and thus create a difficult situation.
    For myself, I find it much more difficult to keep my cool about domestic event, rather than those at work.

    Again, my congratulations.

  6. @Jonathan H: He won't sell me the whole thing. He's getting on in years, his wife is ill, and he wants to be shed of the property; but he's going to offer the three other houses along it the right to buy the bits behind their houses. I daresay that's the fairest solution for all concerned, so I'm not trying to argue with him.

  7. Pay attention to existing easements (since it sounds like it is an alley) that you may be forced to honor (both personal and utility). Also you may be able to get a lower (non-residential) tax rate if you can make the case that it is not a buildable piece of land. In AZ residential is 16% and non is taxed at 10%. In that case keep it a seperate legal piece.

  8. Just be sure local officials don't decide to charge you more to replat your property (or decide it's not legal). As local government is involved, there is no need for logic to enter into the equation.

  9. If the lagniappe piece does have facility for vehicle access, do not underestimate the value of having a second egress point to your property. Proper security will, of course, require that egress, and especially ingress, be firmly under your control. Old NFO won't like the idea, but pressure treated 6X6s deeply set on 4 ft centers, or, better yet, 10 ft sections of 10-inch diameter pressure treated utility poles strategically positioned (gate posts, corner posts, etc.) can accomplish that; utilities are usually willing to allow folks to procure above-ground sections of poles they've removed for free or near free. And, I'd wager there's someone with a PTO-equipped tractor in the local area who may have a post hole attachment. A few dollars per hole is money well spent.

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