My Lack of Freedom Costs You More

My Lack of Freedom Costs You More

My Lack of Freedom Costs You More

Robert West | February 13, 2023

What would you say if your state or local government charged you $20 to break a hundred-dollar bill? How would you react if they did this BEFORE checking to see if it was a counterfeit $100? 

What if they determined it was counterfeit and you were just out that $100 and had to pay a fine every year for the rest of your life and couldn't get your $20 back?

Calm down, nobody in government is proposing anything like that, yet. It is far too easy to explain and would affect everyone directly and in a way they could understand easily.

This is the system they use when someone wants to subdivide land. To subdivide you have to get a survey, that makes sense, right? Then you must get an engineering report concerning drainage, septic system and possible well locations.

After that you go before the county or city and ask for approval. If they say "no" you are out all that money and then stuck with land you will most likely lose money on if you sell, or else you can keep paying property taxes on it.

Often the improvements, survey and engineering costs will result in about 20% or more of your profit. In essence, you are charged $20 for breaking a hundred, it is your land, right?

If you fail to get approval for the subdivision, then all that money is just a waste.  

Keep in mind, we're not talking about a "development," where you put a bunch of houses on a piece of land.  This is simply dividing a piece of land you own into two or more pieces so they can be sold separately.

A Small Parcel of Land

I recently purchased a small parcel of land, it was a great deal, so I jumped at the chance. I figured I could take that acreage, divide it into comfortable size lots then sell it off.

I was not looking to get rich but since I paid so little it would be a nice addition to my retirement savings.

The land was in an area that wants to grow and like most of Texas this area is seeing a growth in population as about 1,000 people a day are moving here. Between the new residents and the people being born here we need places for them to live.

Before anyone jumps to the cartoon of the “evil developer” tying someone to a railroad track or shoving 1,000 houses onto a dead end, let me tell you that is not what I am doing.

We’re talking, six half-acres lots and two lots slightly over an acre in an area that has similar sized lots. The idea was to divide and sell off for a good deal, maybe even donate one to a veteran.

I know that selling ten lots to an acre is allowed and would make me more money, but I have no desire to ruin a town or a county with something like that.  I happen to know the County Judge and he loves his hometown.

I own this land free and clear so all I need is to have it surveyed and get it filed with the state and then list it right? You would be wrong.

I needed to comply with the county subdivision rules, in this case the rules were easy and as close to free as you can find but before the county can approve and file, I had to get the State Water Quality Board to agree.

This is not up to the county; it is a state law and they also need an engineering report. Did I mention you can’t have anything less than one acre without providing community water?

They also need an on-site sewer survey done even though I have no way of knowing if a person will buy three lots to build a cottage or half an acre to build a home for a family of 12.  Lord knows why I need to get this done as the buyers will have to get permission to install whatever sewer system they want later.

The Engineering Report

Getting an engineering report was fairly inexpensive and easy because I am not building and we have no idea what anyone buying the land is going to do so it’s sort of a check mark.

Getting water ran will cost me almost as much as I paid for the land and I have to do that BEFORE the government will let me know if they will ALLOW me to break it up and sell it off.

What happens if I do all of this and they refuse? Too bad, so sad, sorry you wasted your time. How does this affect you and yours you ask?

The Housing Shortage in Texas

Right now, there is a housing shortage in Texas. More people are moving here daily and many are choosing to not live under a bridge.

As with all things when there is a huge demand and with a shrinking supply the price goes up. About this time, you might be thinking “I have my house” or “My house is paid for so why should I care?”

Buddy, your house price is going up and unless you plan on selling soon that is not a good thing, that means your property taxes are also going up.

That shortage of housing and those high prices mean it will be years, decades or maybe never that your kids and grandkids can afford to buy their own home or afford the property taxes on the one you leave them.

Existing Subdivision Laws Right Now

Think about what is essentially happening with our subdivision laws right now. You are asking a person to purchase land, put in tens of thousands of dollars, which is months’ worth of time and all without any promise they will get approved.

Try this process some time and tell me why you think people don’t want to do it.

By the way, just dividing one acre in half is just as hard as dividing 100 acres into 1,000 lots as far as the process goes. It is almost as if the rules are written to prevent people from doing this on their own.

In the end it does discourages people from doing what I am doing, providing affordable land for anyone that wants to buy it.

This is Texas, we do not have a state-wide land shortage. Am I suggesting we have no subdivision rules? No way, they are needed for safety, sanitation and livability concerns. What I am suggesting is that ALL requirements be provided in one place BEFORE the process starts or there is a way to get approval BEFORE the purchase, engineering, surveying and improvements are made.

Otherwise, the cost of the “No” projects do not get packed into the costs of the “Yes” projects. Perhaps there should be an alternate set of rules for people just wanting to divide up raw land and sell it off.  Like that old farmer that just wants to sell a few acres along the highway so he can keep that farm until he dies instead of having to sell off the whole thing.

My Lack of Freedom

So, my lack of freedom to do what I want with this land does cost you and yours. It may turn future Texas into life-long renters instead of owners. Before that happens, it will cost people that cannot afford the taxes the homes, they paid off years or even decades ago.

I told you this was not going to be a soundbite; a meme and lord knows it is not as emotional as a lot of other issues. It takes far too much time to explain and impacts people in a way they may not notice for years or even connect. It goes counter to what we have been told about land developers.

I am being charged 20% of the land I own so that I can get permission to break it up and sell it. We would not stand for that if it was cash but somehow it is fine if it is land, especially someone else’s land.

I am posting this not to complain, to be honest, I had no idea why a small lot would cost more than what an acre costs until I started this project.

I had no idea that two of the nine lots I am selling will essentially be donated to expand the infrastructure of the community or that I would be forced to pass these costs along to the buyers and drive up the property taxes of everyone else around them.

I could decide not to do this again but that means that would make the housing shortage even worse, house prices and land taxes even higher.

There are so many issues like this throughout our local, state and federal government.

Things that we know nothing about and if we find out, dismiss. What it comes down to is this, if we do not start supporting freedom for others, we will all pay a price.

If its insurance companies forcing your “independent” agent to sell a certain number of garbage policies to stay in business or charging people a fee to grow flowers to sell, we end up paying for it all through higher prices, higher taxes and lack of options.

Maybe we need to expand our view of what is important to us and realize it includes the freedom of others.

Robert West

Note: Unless anyone thinks this is just a Texas outrage check out this story from a homeowner in Seattle.