Invest in Land: You Can’t Go Wrong ~ Grand County Living Magazine
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Feature Articles for 2014

You Can’t Go Wrong
Story By Jean Miller

Helen was 22 when she graduated with honors, an engineering degree, and a new job at Smithville Engineering Corporation. Life was hopeful, with enough money to afford a little apartment, gas for her car, food, and prospects for promotion. By the time this busy young woman was 25, she decided perhaps she should make some investments. She remembered her grandfather telling her, “If you want to invest in something, buy land; over time, it appreciates, and you can’t go wrong.”

This advice was in Helen’s mind when 20 acres of grassland east of town became available for $10,000. “I wonder what the payments would be; could I even afford them? That’s a lot of money.” Helen went to see Mr. Blake at the Smithville Community Bank. Mr. Blake looked over her assets (not many, but her prospects were good), her background as an engineer, and her recommendations from people who knew her. “I believe you could manage this, Helen; you seem very well-organized. It will be tight for a bit, but if you persist, that balance will keep shrinking until you own the land.” And thus, Helen got her first loan.

She loved to walk over her new land in her spare time, and by the time she was 30, she thought maybe she should build a house, instead of paying rent. She made another visit to Mr. Blake. “Well, Helen, that’s certainly logical. This is a good piece of property and you have been prompt in your payments. Where do you want to start?”

Helen answered, “I think I should put in a well first. I’ll need that in any case, whatever I build.”

So Mr. Blake rolled over the loan to include costs for a well. That September, Helen carefully selected a location, then called Mr. Mack, the well driller, and arranged for the work to be done. He hit a good source of water at 100 feet. Now when Helen walked over her land, she imagined her very own house. The more she thought, the more she decided that small was the thing (you could always add on more) – adobe walls a full foot thick. Smithville was extremely hot in the summers but adobe would guarantee coolness inside. She visited Mr. Blake again.

By the time Helen was 35, she had her little house, 30’ x 30’, with thick adobe walls painted a soft earth brown. Her bathroom was in one corner, her bed in the other. Everything else was open, though she bought a screen to shield her bed from the living room. She considered having a small Mexican-style fireplace, but there really wasn’t much wood in the area. Instead, she chose an efficient natural gas stove that looked like a fireplace. Helen also purchased the very best double-paned windows for her home, remembering how hard the wind blows in the winter.

The following spring Helen invited her nephew Charlie out to visit. He was the only relative she had left, and she valued him highly. After having Charlie sleep on her couch during his visit, she decided that she needed another bedroom and a larger bath, and probably a hacienda-like porch out front with a view of the sunsets. She visited the bank again.

By the time Helen was 40, she had her expanded space and had planted three trees about fifteen feet out from the house for shade. She planted hollyhocks and sunflowers close by to give some color. Charlie came again that year and agreed that his ambitious aunt had done well. Then catastrophe hit. Her well started going dry. A huge subdivision north of town was sucking up all the water from the aquifer.

Back to the bank she went, seeking an emergency loan. By this time, Helen had an executive position in the company. Her credit was good, to say the least. They rolled the loan over. She called the well driller once more and he got busy. She was in a meeting one day when he called. “Helen, I have news: I hit water, and do you ever have a supply! You have an artesian well!” She could hardly believe her ears!

With this new development, Helen started planting a windbreak. She studied the ideal specifications, placing a variety of trees around the edge of her property to break the wind, deflect the snow, and shield her view from the encroaching houses. By the time she was 55, her trees were well grown, and at the same time, she still had the joy of seeing her grasses blowing in the breezes. Eventually, she planted a small grass plot close by the house, edged with petunias and marigolds, for she loved their pungent scents.

When Charlie came to visit the next time, he was really impressed with what his aunt had done. “The next thing I know, you’ll have installed solar power and a windmill or two!” Now that was food for thought!

For ten years, Helen studied alternative energy. She put in skylights. She added solar panels. Away from the house, she put up a windmill. By the time she was 65, the electric company was paying her and she didn’t owe the gas company a dime except for the fireplace. She was still working, too; she enjoyed her engineering challenges and her co-workers, so she didn’t feel any need to retire.

Helen’s hair was getting gray bit by bit and she didn’t have quite the energy that she used to have, but her brain worked just fine. She had been well aware that the town was growing; subdivisions were invading the open spaces that always gave her so much joy. She paid another visit to Mr. Blake at the bank.

He listened to Helen talking about the upcoming urban sprawl. He didn’t disagree in the least. When she broached the subject of buying another 80 acres adjacent to and surrounding her land, he supported her ideas. Her old loan was paid off by now.

Soon she owned 100 acres instead of her little 20-acre plot. She muttered to herself one day as she passed a batch of new buildings, “If I had a million dollars, I’d buy 500 acres!” But she settled on the smaller number. When Charlie came out to visit that year, they talked of how to protect the land. Many were their discussions on the best way to approach the problem.

Finally Helen decided to put her acreage into a land conservation easement. It took a while to jump through all the hoops, but by the time she was 75 and had actually retired, the deed was done, the land would remain unchanged.

For the next twenty years, Helen enjoyed her land. She puttered about her flower garden and cleaned the small stream that she had established near the artesian well. She sat on her veranda and watched the birds and animals moving freely about the grasses and trees. Life was good. She thought back to what her grandfather had said, “Invest in land, you can’t go wrong.”

She died at 95, still a lively, interesting little lady. Except for a few large endowments, everything she had went to Charlie. He was the only relative she had left. The property was valued at 5 million dollars, just a little appreciated from that $10,000 that she had spent on her first 20 acres!

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