It’s a part of the American Dream, isn’t it? That little plot of land that’s all your own?
Maybe you’ll build your dream home there, or a cozy cabin, or you’ll just use it to get away from the grind and find your bliss.
No matter the reason you’re buying the land, we’ve got some tips to make sure it’s just what you need. (And if you're buying a house instead, we've got some tips for you here.)
1. Know what you want (and stick to it).
Whether you’re buying land to build your next home, for recreation, or as an investment, decide what features you’re looking for.
What things are “Must-Haves” like location, acreage, or proximity to medical services, and what are “Would-Be-Nices” like access to retail, restaurants, or a highway?
2. Once you’ve made your list, keep shopping until you find what you really want.
A compromise today could leave you dissatisfied with your purchase later.
3. If possible, spend time on the property before you buy it.
This might mean putting some miles on your hiking boots, or just standing in a vacant lot long enough to learn what you need to know.
And what do you need to know? Listen for noise that might make the property less desirable, smell (sorry!) for any local industry or agriculture that would be a deal-breaker, and look for anything from annoying trash in need of a clean-up to environmental hazards that could set you back thousands of dollars.
4. Ask about any deed restrictions.
The restrictions that might have been placed on the property by a previous owner, homeowner’s association, township, etc. can have a major impact on your future plans.
While some deed restrictions may be easy to work with, some could create major hassles.
Things like prohibiting you from storing recreational vehicles on your own property, limiting or restricting outbuildings, or preventing you from parceling the land for sale in the future are all examples of the most common types of deed restrictions.
Don’t buy that property without doing your homework, because many deed restrictions are permanent.
5. Understand the zoning (and make rezoning a term of the sale if you can).
As communities across the country hoped to attract and retain residents to help support and improve their tax base, zoning with the future in mind became the norm. Traditionally residential lots were rezoned with the hope of future development, and vice-versa.
It pays to know how a property is zoned upfront, but don’t let that discourage you. Discuss the possibility of rezoning the property with the current owner and try to have that included as part of your purchase if you can.
6. Check for utilities (even if you don’t think you’ll need them).
Ok, there are two kinds of people we’re talking to here:
People buying land to build and assuming that, because their close neighbors have the utilities they need, they’ll have access too.
People buying land for recreation or an investment and assuming they’ll never need to worry about having access to utilities on the property.
The short advice here is never to assume anything. Find out if the property has access to utilities like water, sewer, electrical, and internet and, if not, how what it will cost to gain access.
Even if you never plan to build on your property, the next owner may. Being able to speak confidently about all the possibilities could help you close that sale.
7. Get estimates for the development of the land before you buy.
This may sound like a no-brainer if you’re buying land to build a home, especially if you’re working with a construction firm that has expertise on some of those unforeseen expenses.
But what about something as simple as the cost of making room to park your truck and ATV trailer for a day of fun on your hunting land? Or blaze the trails you’ll use to find that Big Buck in the fall?
Even if the land only needs minor improvement, going into the purchase with your eyes open will save you a lot of stress.
8. Consider a soil test if you’re planning to build.
While there are a lot of good reasons to get your soil tested no matter what, it’s essential if you’re planning to build on the land.
If possible, include a contingency in your offer to purchase for a soil test by a qualified Soil Engineer to make sure that you can build what you want, where you want it to be on the lot without any costly surprises once you break ground on the foundation.
9. Meet your neighbors.
This is good advice no matter where you’re buying, but it’s especially important when you’re thinking of buying undeveloped or newly developed land.
Even if you can’t meet them in person (because there’s no front door to knock on yet) learning what you can about the owners of any adjacent property (without being nosey), or if your “neighbor” is a highway, habitat for an endangered species, or something else that might change your plans, is another way to make sure your new property will be just what you were looking for.
10. Understand the boundaries and find out if there are any easements.
Maybe you’ve heard the saying “Good fences make good neighbors”?
It doesn’t mean you have to build the nicest fence on the block, it’s all about understanding and respecting boundaries.
Some of the nastiest neighborhood disputes can start when two people don’t see eye-to-eye on where one plot of land ends and another begins. And, maybe, in this case, not knowing the difference between a handshake agreement with the former property owner and an easement that’s legally binding.
Because an easement isn’t always disclosed in the sale of a property, take the extra time to do your research and you’ll be a better neighbor.
There’s so much to think about when you’re buying land, so we could go on and on, but these tips will get you well on your way to the perfect plot of land and your American Dream.