For anyone who may be interested in buying land for sale in Alaska, there are several ways to go about it, but all will require certain steps to seal the deal.
The beauty of Alaska calls to many every year, and more and more, it’s not just for vacation. Owning a piece of The Last Frontier is appealing, but more complicated than one might think. Unlike the lower states, Alaska has special rules and regulations around owning property, especially if you are a non-resident. But if you have a dream of staking some claim to this special state, there are ways you can go about doing it.
You can buy land in Alaska in a number of different ways:
- Decide how you want to (or can) purchase the land
- Determine what is currently up for sale
- Decide your method for purchasing the land
- Enlist the help of others
Purchasing a piece of land or already developed property can be overwhelming, and purchasing in Alaska is no exception to this. As a state that has very specific laws and guidelines around land sales, it can almost feel as though you are trying to purchase property in a different country. And, in a way, you are. Alaska has some ways of doing business that are very different from the rest of the states, and the red tape can feel endless. That said, owning land in this vast state is possible if you follow certain guidelines. And the payoff can be extremely rewarding.
I love real estate and have always been interested in purchasing land, whether it’s to develop it, occupy it, or just hold on to it as an investment. Alaska is a bit more tricky than some states to own property, so let’s dive in and find out how you can claim a piece of the Last Frontier for your own.
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How to Buy Land in Alaska
Alaska was one of the last two states added to the United States, along with Hawaii, in 1959. A vast area that is as large as Texas, California and Montana combined, Alaska has long been a place of longing for those craving the great outdoors, untouched tundra, and solitude.
Though only 63 years old, this great state has seen exciting growth in the last decade, as more people wish to live off the grid, or at least live in a place where they can spread out a bit more and spend more time appreciating nature.
Life in Alaska is not easy. The climate can be harsh, with short, cold winters and summers that don’t last nearly as long as many wish. Services can be sparse, and expensive to obtain. And visiting friends and family that live outside the state can take some creative planning.
All of that said, Alaska has a lot to offer as well. For outdoor enthusiasts, there are few places on our planet as accommodating as this state. And for those who want the challenge of living life more minimally, this is the state to settle. Let’s explore how you can go about doing just that.
1. Decide How You Want to (or can) Purchase the Land
The first thing to know about buying land in Alaska is that much of Alaska’s land is either owned by the government or by the indigenous population. In fact, as of 2019, only 1% of Alaska’s land was privately owned and not in a land trust or held by government entities.
Despite the vast amount of land still available in Alaska, there are three specific ways you can go about purchasing a piece of it.
A “Sealed-Bid” Auction
The first way is through a “sealed-bid land auction.” These are only available to residents of Alaska, and are auctions conducted by the government to sell off parcels of land they deem appropriate for private use or development.
A public announcement will be made letting residents know the property location, and the date and time of the auction. Interested parties are then invited to enter a “sealed-bid”, meaning each prospective buyer can only offer one bid on the property, and will not know who else made a bid, or how much their bid was for.
A date will be set, and it will be announced which bid was accepted for the property and when the transfer of ownership can be expected.
An Over-the-Counter (OTC) Sale
Another way that property in Alaska is sold is through an over-the-counter (OTC) sale.
An over-the-counter sale happens after a sealed-bid auction takes place. And properties that aren’t sold during the auction are then available for sale to the general public.
Sometimes a property won’t sell at auction because the bids weren’t reasonable. Other times, the deal may not go through, and the property ends up being available again for private ownership.
Over-the-counter sales are on a first-come basis. As with an auction, a public notice will be posted and anyone interested in the land must make their intentions clear to the appropriate agency.
These sales are enticing to non-residents of Alaska because they are allowed to purchase land in an over-the-counter sale, unlike in a sealed-bid auction.
Businesses are also allowed to purchase land in over-the-counter sales, but different regulations will apply to them than to private individual ownership.
Remote Recreational Cabin Site (RRCS) Sale
The third way that land can be bought in Alaska is through a program called the Remote Recreational Cabin Site.
These sites are released by the government each year and announced when they are being prepared for sale. Only residents of Alaska can purchase remote recreational cabin sites.
A resident will stake a parcel of the land that has been deemed a recreation site and can lease it at a fair market value rate until the government has surveyed and appraised it.
After all surveys and appraisals are complete, the person leasing the land is then allowed to purchase it and owns it outright.
As the name implies, these pieces of land tend to be in extremely remote areas and are mainly used for recreational use, and not to inhabit year-round.
2. Determine What is Currently Up For Sale
Once you’ve determined which type of land sale you are eligible for, it’s now time to start the hunt for finding your perfect piece of land in Alaska.
There are a number of ways you can do this.
Once a parcel of land has been deemed appropriate for an over-the-counter sale, the government will make this information public.
To begin, the best place for you to look for current, over-the-counter properties that are being listed for sale is to go to the Department of Natural Resources website. On this site they publish a page with all the current parcels of land that are up for sale, what region they are in, and even provide you with some context as to how remote each parcel is, and if there are any restrictions on developing it.
This is a great place to start your search!
For a true enthusiast, visiting the area you are considering for purchase may or may not be in your timeline or budget, but it can provide you with a better understanding of what exactly the land offers that you are considering for purchase.
Many land buyers in Alaska never visit the property before the sale is complete. As much of Alaska’s land is in remote areas, you may find that trying to see the property before purchasing it is not realistic, and even less so at certain times of the year.
That said, if you’ve determined what is currently for sale and want a better idea of what you are getting yourself into, a visit to the wilderness of this state may be your next step before deciding to sign on the dotted line.
3. Decide Your Method for Purchasing the Land
Once you’ve been able to secure your bid or offer for the land you wish to purchase in Alaska, the next step will be to decide how you plan to go about paying for your property.
Purchasing land in Alaska is a bit different than buying land somewhere else. Because the land you will be buying is originally owned by the state, you will finance your property through Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources. Once your intent is clear and you are approved for the purchase, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will give you a land contract.
A land contract through the state of Alaska is different from obtaining a traditional loan or mortgage because the rate will be fixed, and you don’t earn any equity in the property throughout the time you own it.
The Department of Natural Resources sets the contract rate at 3% above what the prime rate currently is when you sign the contract. That amount is set for the life of the contract and won’t fluctuate, despite any federal interest rate changes.
How long you have the contract for will depend on the price of your property.
Another interesting thing to note when purchasing land in Alaska is that you must wait until that contract is paid in full before you can inhabit or develop the property.
Once your payment obligation is complete, Alaska will offer a patent, which simply means they turn the property from being state-owned to privately owned. At that point, the property is now yours.
4. Enlist the Help of Others
Now that you’ve learned what type of land you are eligible to purchase in Alaska, determined what is currently for sale, and entered into a land contract, the next step in your journey to land ownership in Alaska should be to enlist the help of those who can make the next part of your process go smoothly.
As I’ve mentioned, owning a plot of land in Alaska is not for just anyone. The remoteness of this tundra, the lack of easily accessible services and the harsh climate can all make land ownership in Alaska a true challenge, especially if you plan to visit often or even eventually spend some of your time living there.
You’ll want to talk to local contractors, business owners, and other residents who have purchased land close to or adjacent to yours. Find out what some of the specifics to your area may be – if there are any building restrictions, specific environmental concerns, or if there are easements or land features you should be aware of before you decide to build on your property, or even spend time there.
Reaching out to some local authorities or experts on land usage in the area of Alaska where you’ve purchased your property will go a long way in helping you enjoy your new land ownership and keep any unnecessary surprises or complications at bay.
About THE AUTHOR
We loved family’s outdoor adventures so much we started a land business just to help others buy their own land. We’ve sold to dozens of people from ATV weekend warriors to camping enthusiasts to retired truck drivers. Our inventory spans five western states. We’ve been trained by experience, land acquisition courses, and hundreds of hours meeting with county assessors and clerks, zoning officials, realtors, and land investors. We’ve answered hundreds of questions from people regarding the buying and use of land.Read More About Brittany Melling