Buying vacant land is in many ways more complicated that buying a house. What you can see with your eyes is important, but what you may not see — subsurface soil and water conditions, seasonal effects, zoning ordinances, deed restrictions, or a murky title — can have a far greater impact on your successful use of the land.
In this section, you’ll learn how to evaluate a piece of land, estimate the real development costs, and avoid common legal pitfalls when purchasing. We’ll also cover the basics of wells, and septic systems, and other site development issues you should understand before purchasing vacant land.
Once you have a preliminary house design and budget in mind, your next step toward creating your new home is often to find the right piece of land. With vacant, undeveloped there are a host of other issues that affect the cost of development, and what can and cannot be built. Often the biggest surprise is the site development costs, which can be jaw-dropping read more
LAND BUYING CHECKLIST
Use this general checklist when evaluating a piece of land. A quick run through the checklist may remind you of questions to ask the seller, agent, lawyer, title company, town officials, or outside experts, if necessary. It will also help you remember budget items that are often left out. read more
IS IT BUILDABLE ?
It is not illegal to sell an unbuildable lot – or a lot not suited to your use. For example, the lot may be approved for a two-bedroom home and you may want to build four bedrooms. First and foremost, you need to determine if the lot you are considering can be used as you envision. The laws about what can and cannot be built on a piece of land vary enormously from area to area. read more
Local governments establish zoning ordinances in order to regulate land use in accordance with goals set by the local planning board. The goal of land use planning is to promote a livable, and economically viable community, balancing the needs of homeowners, businesses, agriculture, recreation, and other community priorities. A title search can establish who owns a property, but will not tell you anything about its zoning status read more
For city folks, water magically appears at the tap and wastewater just as easily flows off to somewhere far away. In rural and semi-rural areas, however, there’s a good chance that you’ll need to handle one or both of these vital functions literally in your own backyard. Problems with either the well or septic systems can pose serious health risks and lead to big repair bills. It becomes the homeowner’s job to ensure that there is an adequate supply of clean drinking water and a well-functioning septic system read more
The lot you are considering may already have a well drilled, may have a shared well with one or more neighboring lots, or no proven water source at all. Wells can vary a great deal in depth required, flow rate, and water quality. Before buying a lot with a well in place, you should get the reported flow rate in writing and an up-to-date water quality report readily available from most municipal health departments read more
A piece of land that looks gorgeous to the buyer’s eye may look like trouble to an experienced builder. Issues such as soil type, the presence of ledge, high water tables, and poor drainage are just some of the issues that can complicate construction and drive up costs read more
SITE DESIGN ISSUES
What is the perfect building site for you is highly subjective. Some like windswept mountain tops with dramatic views, others like shady hollows. Some like open fields, others mature woods. Ideally, a house should be designed to fit the building site – or a building site found that is a perfect fit for the house design you have in mind read more
QUESTIONS TO ASK
In looking at land, there are many questions to answer before making an offer. Start with the most important questions (Can I build on the lot and use the lot as planned?) so you can quickly weed out parcels that will not meet your needs. If you are working with a real estate agent, start with him or her. However, important questions should also be put to the proper authority or professional – such as town officials regarding permits, setbacks, zoning rules, and on-site sewage read more
You may find your perfect piece of land hidden under overgrown brush and get a great deal. However, land purchases can also spring any number of unpleasant, and often costly, surprises on the inexperienced. In fact, developers buying large tracts of land to subdivide often budget more for development costs and fees than for purchasing the land itself read more
MAKING AN OFFER
So you’ve done your homework, have looked at several pieces of land for comparison, and have decided to make an offer. You’ve asked a lot of questions of the seller or seller’s agent, town officials, and neighbors, walked the land several times, consulted with experts as needed, worked through the checklist, and worked out a preliminary budget for land development. At this point, you will still probably have unanswered questions which should be added as contingencies to your offer read more