Do you know how to buy land?
Here is the low-down on how to buy land safely and profitably.
It is not as scary as you might think and who knows, you may even enjoy the process and repeat it many times as you decide to grow your small empire....
It is much less scary, and less risky than buying a home or a commercial building which many people have already done. However as always there are certainly a few things to be aware of.
Many city dwellers dream about the day that they will “one day” buy a plot of land and build their dream home. Is this you?
Perhaps you fancy living “off the grid” and doing away with utility bills forever?
Perhaps you want to grow your own food and raise a few animals and slash your grocery bill by 75%?
Perhaps you want a weekend retreat to chill out away from the chaos and traffic of city life?
This is certainly possible and many hundreds of thousands of people do it each year. But as with everything, it is important to understand the process and consider all the pros and cons before taking the leap.
Maybe you cannot find your dream home at a price you can afford. Do you give up and stay in the rental cycle forever? Maybe you feel that you don’t know how to get started? Meanwhile others work out how to buy land, buy a delightful parcel, get their dream home designed and built and live happily ever after.
The process is not difficult once you know how to buy land. In fact the danger is once you work out how to buy land, you may get addicted to how easy it is and keep buying.
Buying land is its own skill set and there are other things to be aware of to ensure you get a parcel of land that will serve you and your family for the years to come
How To Buy Land-Check Access
When buying rural land, always check the easements on your property and neighboring properties.
If you need to cross someone else’s land to get to your property, you need to have a legally recorded easement. Also be sure to check if any of the neighbors have easements over your property. In some counties, there have been 15ft -20ft easements granted on all acreages to provide access to everyone. Be sure to check BLM land too.
Much of the land in rural settings may be considered land-locked. This means that you can only get to it by crossing someone else’s land. In some cases the property is in the middle of nowhere, no one is living there and the owners have inherited it and never use it. Many people use this land anyway as there is no one standing out the front of each property guarding the boundaries. There is nothing there to protect- it is vacant land.
If you are not looking to build, this may not be a problem at all. It may allow you to buy the land cheaply. Many owners cross each others land for the purpose of hunting on it , or camping on it for a few nights or spending a great weekend on their ATVs and dirt bikes without a problem.
However a problem may occur if you wish to build on it or start a business on it. You will need to show legal access to get a building permit from the County. You will need to show legal access if you wish to secure lending from a bank for your construction.
Sometimes it is easy to get legal access. You may be able to negotiate with your neighbour. They may want financial compensation for granting you access. It is up to you negotiate a sum that is reasonable to both sides. Make sure you work with an attorney who can ensure the access you gain is legal and recorded at the County.
However there is no guarantee. The neighbor may outright refuse to grant you an easement rendering your land useless for the purpose of building your dream home. So do not rely on this. Ensure you have all the access you require before you buy a parcel to build.
How To Buy Land-Check Utilities
Utilities are a sizeable consideration when buying rural property.
In some cases you can easily connect to the local services.
In some cases, local services are too far away and you need to provide your own telephone, water, power and septic systems. For many people this is no problem and this is the whole point of having rural property is to get off the grid and be self sufficient.
In many rural properties you need to drill a well in order to have a constant, reliable source of water. It is a good idea to contact 2-3 local well drillers to get an idea of how far down the water table is, and what the likely costs might be. Do not drill a well until you read this.
It is also a good idea to have systems in place to harness and collect any rain water that might occur at different times of the year.
If you cannot hook up to a city/town sewer (or choose not to), what will it cost to install a septic system?
Is that allowed on your size parcel?
Some counties have regulations that the parcel needs to be larger than 1 acre in order to have a septic system installed. Others may be smaller.
If you know that you will need to install a septic system, find out if a perc test has been done. This is a percolation test which assess the rate at which water drains through soil. This will be necessary to get septic installed. A call to some local septic contractors will give you a good idea- especially if there are other homes being built in the area.
Financing For Buying Land
So you have borrowed from the bank to finance your first home?
Surely they will lend to you again?
Very often banks do not lend for purchases of vacant land.
In rural settings, the cost of the land is often too low for them to bother.
Most people who buy land simply pay cash.
Or sometimes sellers will sell on owner finance deals where the buyer can own the land but pay it off gradually over time.
Banks rarely want to get involved in lending at anything less than $50,000 and they tend to shy away from vacant land as a rule.
However banks may consider financing the cost of the building a home.
They may also consider financing the cost of a business. So if you are looking at buying a “going concern” like a ranch or farm, and have good financial statements and a good track record, the bank may be happy to consider this.
How To Buy Land Using Excellent Due Diligence
The success of every venture ultimately relies heavily on good due diligence. This applies whether you are buying a home, entering into a business partnership or entering a marriage(!)
There are the things you will need to check:
Soil contamination: Generally applicable in land with previous commercial zoning IF it has been used for something else before eg a paint factory or a gas station, it may be contaminated. Generally if it is residential land and has always been residential land (never commercial or industrial zoning), this will not be a concern.
Zoning: Check with the local authorities (city, county, and state) to determine zoning regulations in your area. Check the regulations allow you to do what you want to do with the land.
What can you build there?
Some counties will not let you build on anything smaller than 1 acre.
Others do not permit construction on anything less than 20 acres.
What size must the parcel be to allow septic system to be installed?
What about animals- are they permitted?
What if you decide to grow a few berries, can you sell them from your land?
Make a quick call to planning and zoning to run your initial plans by them and make sure in principal, that there are no immediate concerns.
If you are planning to make some money by getting the parcel re-zoned, again check with the county on the likelihood of this. Do not assume you will get a quick turn around. Some people do this as a long term play. They know that the county may have a 5 year plan to bring small business to the area, build schools and hospitals and will allow a change in zoning. You may be able to make an easy profit by buying land cheap ahead of the curve, waiting a few years, having it re-zoned later then selling at a profit.
However if a county does not wish to re-zone, they are unlikely to be bullied into changing the zoning. So do not assume that you can easily change the zoning.
For many people this is a profitable strategy, however make sure you know the background of what is happening in your area, what the demographic trend is and what the counties plans are. Zoning forms part of an overall strategy and Counties do not change it will-nilly to suit an individual investor.
Natural Hazards: Be aware of natural hazards in the area. Check for the likelihood of fire? flood? earthquake?
Surveys: If you are looking to build, you should get a survey. If you are getting lending to build, the bank will insist on it. Make sure you know exactly where the boundaries are and how far away you can place your structure as there may be set backs required.
Ownership: Before you buy, it is essential to know who the owner is and make sure you are buying from the owner. You can call the county to check ownership, or request the owner show you a copy of the deed or county records with their ownership.
Taxes: Make sure you know what the annual property taxes will be. Luckily vacant land taxes are usually very cheap. However sometimes they can be more expensive depending on where you are buying. One parcel of land we have currently is just $11 a year in property taxes! Another one is $300 a year.
The other item to check is to find out if there are any back taxes or liens on the property.
Back taxes and liens stay with the property. This is an important step in how to buy land successfully. Back taxes and liens do not move with the old owner when you buy a parcel. So if you buy a property with liens of $1000 and back taxes of $600 unpaid by the previous owner, guess who is now responsible to pay these? That’s right! You. If you do not pay these, you risk losing the property. The county has a right to take it back if taxes are not paid.
A quick 5 minute phone call to the County treasurer will be able to confirm that status of taxes and give you peace of mind.
Using Tech To Help You Buy Land
If you live in an area you are looking to buy land, of course nothing beats going to view the land in person.
However many people buy land in a different state or from out of town.
These days we have so many incredible tech tools at our finger tips that enable us to actually view the property and do a lot of the due diligence without actually being there.
Just these two tools alone will save you hours of time driving to a property that you can clearly see from the computer may not be suitable for you. Spend a little time zooming in and out, checking out the neighborhood, the street layout, where the local shops are and the gas station. If you are a farmer, you can get a good idea of the other farms in the area, if you are a hunter, you can see clearly if this is the sort of terrain that might suit your purpose.
Check out the terrain – is it flat, mountainous, is there a stream on the property, nearby lakes? How many trees, shelters, hillsides. It depends what you need. Perhaps you want level terrain with very few trees to build your dream home.
Perhaps you love mountainous terrain with lots of trees and shrubs as it attract animals and is good land for hunting. Maybe you just want a few trees and a bubbling brook to go camping….
This will allow you to determine straight away whether this parcel is worth a visit.
The owner will always give you the coordinates of the parcel, plug them in to one of these tools and away you go. For some people, this information and visual data is enough to buy the land. Perhaps you only need something simple- a flat piece of land within a certain radius of a decent size town. If you can clearly see all this from Google, and have done all the other due diligence, there may be no need to do anything further.
For others, depending on your requirements, it may be necessary to do further research.
Another option is to pay someone local to go and check it out for you.
You can put an advert on Craigslist to find someone local to go check it out and take a few pictures with their cell phone. You can give them your requirements and specific things to check out for you about the property.
Or you can call up a local realtor in the area who might be going by the property every day and have some useful information for you.
Check if there is any risk of flooding. Here is a quick and easy tool to give you a quick overview. Enter your address or town you are interested in and assess the risk. If you only wish to visit your land in the summer months to go camping- there may not be any reason to raise the alarm.
If you wish to plant crops, raise livestock or build a home, it is important that you not start this project on a flood plain. It would also affect your ability to get insurance. So always do a quick check here before you buy.
Is Buying Land Scary?
It is possible that doing anything for the first time might be a little scary.
However, it is less scary than buying your first home. There is usually far less at stake and far less that can go wrong!
Think about it- Buying your first home costs more money than you have ever seen in your life. You are signing up to a financial commitment for 20-30 years.
However when you know how to buy land, you might be only spending $5K, $10K or $25K. (Unless you are a big player buying a ranch and a large acreage!). You may be paying cash for the land purchase or doing a owner finance deal with the owner over 3-5 years at $200 a month. This is already less scary.
Also there is far less that can go wrong- with a house, there is so much unknown- like the plumbing, the electrics, the roof and so many other things that you have to check for. However when you buy vacant land, usually there is just grass, dirt and a few trees. Depending on why you are buying land, there are very few checks that you need to do.
Land prices tend to be stable. So if you buy land today, it is very unlikely that the prices will dramatically plummet like the 2008 housing crisis. If anything land is a good store of value and prices tend to rise slowly over time as there is less land available and the population grows.
You can protect yourself in two ways
Start small. There is nothing wrong with starting small to get your feet wet and go through the process once or twice.
You could start by purchasing a parcel of 5 acres or less. You are not risking much and it will allow you to go through the process. When you are ready you can step it up and get what you really want- 20 acres? 40 acres? When you are confident in how to buy land, you can choose to keep the 5 acre as a solid investment for the long term or simply sell it and use that as a down payment on the next one.
How To Buy Land-Use An Expert
At Vacant Land USA, we do this all day every day. Remember we are NOT a realtor. This means we do NOT sell other people’s property. We put our own money on the line and we own everything that we sell. This acts as another level of protection and safety for you.
We do our own due diligence on every parcel.
You can be sure that when we consider how to buy land that we are not going to buy a parcel with $5000 in liens and $1500 back taxes on it.
You can be sure that we are not going to buy a piece of vacant land next to a rubbish dump.
You can be sure that we have checked out who the previous owner is and that they have the legal right to sell the property.
We are in the business of buying awesome parcels of land, not lemons!
Of course you always need to do your own due diligence and make sure each parcel suits your individual purposes. What may be one person’s nightmare is another person’s dream come true.
Remember to download our checklist we have prepared for you. This is what we follow on every parcel before we buy and will be a great start for you. Feel free to add to it as you go to suit your purpose.
If you want to check out what we currently have available, go to our Current Listings page and have a browse.
Get in touch if you have any questions. If you need any help on how to buy land, we will be delighted to assist.
We look forward to helping you