Consider natural resources when buying a home

As the housing market continues to boom in Delaware County, it is always important to keep a few considerations in mind before signing on the dotted line. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘buyer beware’, but many of us don’t know what kind of research to do when considering a new property, or what resources are available to us. Part of what we do at Delaware SWCD is to respond to landowner requests for assistance and advice regarding natural resource issues such as flooding, erosion and poor drainage. By knowing what to look out for, you can make an informed decision and avoid potentially costly mistakes.

Knowing property boundaries and respecting private property rights is an important first step when potentially purchasing land. Property lines are usually marked with pins, but these may move over time or be moved when projects have taken place in the area. Many people call with questions about property, only for us to determine that the property they are dealing with is not legally theirs or that neighbors have potentially trespassed on their property. This is especially important when dealing with permanent land changes such as clearing trees or starting construction of a building or house.

Knowing what would be included in your deed is another important factor in buying land. There could be easements, covenants or restrictions on the deed. If so, who owns it and what does it cover or limit? Common types of easements in Delaware County include sanitary sewer, drainage, and above and below ground utilities. Would you be located in a historic area? A historic district has architectural standards to preserve its character as well as an application process for renovations and new construction.

Would you be part of a Home Owners Association (HOA)? HOAs vary in their bylaws and the responsibilities they require of HOA members, as well as the fees and restrictions they impose. These are all things that could potentially ‘come with the property’ and have the potential to have a significant impact on the changes you are allowed to make to the property.

Knowing the drainage of the property, both above ground and below ground, is something that many buyers do not consider; we get a lot of calls after buying the land. Something to consider for existing homes, where do the downspouts and sump pump outlet come from? Is there a drainage tile present? Is there a cistern? For land with a pond, where do the pond overflows go? For all lots, is there a creek or creek running through the site? Is any part of the property in the flood plain? What kind of soil conditions are on the property? Is there visible erosion or areas of standing water? Lots that have very little elevation change on the property have limited options for solving drainage issues unless there is an exterior outlet such as a tile or drainage ditch. These are critical to consider as they could not only affect an existing structure or home, but could also determine the suitability or additional measures needed when considering a new home construction.

There are many resources available to potential buyers to research the property they are considering and ensure it is the best fit for them. The Delaware County Auditor has a free, informative website that can be searched by parcel number, landowner, or civic address. Once you locate the site you want to research, a wealth of information is available. Check out the Layers tab (top right) to learn about floors, contour lines, school district, jurisdictional boundaries, and more.

Another excellent free resource is the Soil Web Survey conducted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the United States Department of Agriculture at Ask about the soils found and the suitability of those soils for a particular use. For the most part, Delaware County is relatively flat with poorly drained soils. Knowing the different soils present on your potential site will help you understand the limitations and the best management practices that might be needed to overcome those limitations and create your vision of the perfect home.

It is essential that you understand the drainage of the property, both natural and artificial, in order to avoid water related problems. The Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District can also help. Please visit our website at or call us at 740-368-1921, it could potentially save you time, money and frustration by being better informed.

Sarah Kidd is Communications and Outreach Coordinator at the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For more information, visit

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