Cabin in the Woods | 20 Site Influences

A recreational property inspection focuses on the site improvements. Equally important are the site influences, discussed here. See our 20 points to consider!

Surprisingly, Vancouver has a number of islands nearby where one can purchase land with a rustic cabin. Those islands closest to Vancouver include Bowen, Passage, Gambier and Keats Islands.  On a recent visit to Gambier Island I came across a representative sample of what a recreational property buyer could expect. No power. Shallow excavated well with hand pump.  Outhouse.  No indoor plumbing. Owner-built cabin.  No services on the island (no gas, no food stores, no garbage pick-up, carry off-island all refuse). Regular scheduled passenger-only ferry service. Barge service available by independent contractor.

So what can be said about this type of property and in particular how does one evaluate the overall condition? Obviously you can discount any improvements on the property and just consider it as land value. But what about a buyer who wants to use it ‘as is’ and maybe develop it later, but at the same time not be surprised by some huge development costs, previously not considered.

Here’s my approach to doing an evaluation and inspection on this type of unique recreational property.

  1. Road Access. It’s certainly preferable to have a roadway right into the property, up to cabin and any future development site. Walk the road. Has it been washed out by heavy rains? Is there a good road base, consisting of stone or gravel? Does it need major resurfacing or just on-going maintenance? Are there large trees nearby? Have the trees fallen across or beside the road? If so, be prepared for future roadblocks.
  2. Walking Distance to Dock. Record the distance to the cabin. Can you walk it? Will you be able to walk to it when you are your 60’s or 70’s or 80’s? Is it uphill both ways? Don’t forget that you carry everything you need from food to material in your backpack or pushcart.  Will you need a vehicle on the island to get you to the site?
  3. Lot Layout. Is the lot level or on a slope? If it’s on a slope, is there any evidence of slides or movement? Is there a dry creek bed nearby? Remember that creek may be a raging flow in the wet season. Remember this is a rain forest even though it’s beautiful on a sunny June afternoon.
  4. Trees. How high and close are the trees to the cabin? Will you have sunlight for most of the day? Where does the sun rise and set? Cutting and clearing trees is not cheap. Are the trees leaning? If so, is it because of wind or has the ground slid down a slope? Do you see any trees that have fallen? Did the trunk fall over with the roots or did the trunk snap like a stick. Loggers avoid working during windy conditions or even walking through an old forest. Generally, for a forest older than 30 years, I would make sure that no tree is within 30 m (100 ft) of the cabin. For older trees, make sure their distance from the cabin is well beyond their fall distance. Are the trees predominantly needle (acidic soil) or leaf (alkaline soil) species?
  5. Soils. Take a stick and poke it into the ground. If you don’t get any penetration, then gardening will be next to impossible without importing soil. If you want to have a garden, take a look for prior evidence. If none can be found then it’s not likely to happen without great effort and expense.
  6. Wildlife. Deer is a given. They are voracious eaters of everything and anything you may find tasty. Do you really want to grow blueberries? If so, consider fencing. Find out if there are bears, racoons, coyotes, wolves, bobcats or cougars. Will you be OK with these co-inhabitants of your property or will they limit your enjoyment of the property?
  7. Power. Find out how much it will cost to bring power to your site, not just the property line.
  8. Outhouse. Make sure the outhouse is at least 30 m (100 ft) away from your well and at least 10 m (30 ft) lower that the bottom of your excavated shallow well.
  9. Septic System. Find out how much it will cost to install a tank and field. Remember the tank will need truck access to pump it out every few years.
  10. Shallow Dug Well. Get the water tested for both bacteria and chemistry. Bacteria can be treated with dosing with bleach or boiling. However chemistry may show inorganics such as heavy metals or hardness that requires further treatment.
  11. Drilled Well. Find out how much it will cost to install the well, complete with a pressurized piping and storage and a water treatment system.
  12. Fire Protection. Fire hydrants are not typically available. You are on your own. Find out what community firefighting  services and equipment are available.
  13. Cell Phone. How many bars do you get?
  14. Internet. Find out about the service providers.
  15. Propane. Is it available?
  16. Gas & Diesel. Is it available?
  17. Neighbours. You may not see them but you will certainly hear the call of the wild. Distant and sometimes ever-present chainsaw buzz. Occasional sounds like gunshots. Smoke from wood burning stoves. Spring smoke haze from burning brush piles. Hunting on your property or nearby. I personally enjoy these sights, sounds and smells of a cabin and consider it normal and ‘part of the package’.
  18. Insurance. Find out how much it will cost and what you can do to reduce the premium.
  19. Barge. For this particular island, the only option available for transporting vehicles, appliances, furniture or building materials is by private barge. So you need to plan ahead for transport.
  20. Cabin. OK so you thought this was the #1 item. I purposefully made this the last item as it can always be improved upon. If it is owner-built it, then it comes in a wide range of styles, from primitive to craftsman. Are the doors and window  secure and tight? Is there any indication of rodents? Does the roof leak? Is the floor spongy or firm? Is the crawlspace open, enclosed, damp or dry? What’s the condition of the footings and foundations? Is the wood stove a safety hazard or compliant? Is the porch a trip or fall hazard? Does it smell?

A cabin in the woods is not for everyone but for others, it’s paradise. Many owners of cabins or recreational properties have owned them for decades, which speaks of commitment and attachment. Hopefully the above considerations will assist you in making the purchasing decision.