Purchasers of vacant land should learn a lot about their future land before buying. So what should you ask before buying vacant land?
There are many things you should know about vacant land before purchasing, including the following:
- Utility development
- Back property taxes
- Easements that restrict use
- Government restrictions
- Does the seller really own the land?
We’ll walk you through some of the information you should generally know about buying land before accepting a contract. Let’s discuss some details and knowledge.
Table of Contents
What questions should I ask before buying vacant land?
While we strongly suggest that anyone writing a listing for vacant land mention if they have utilities like water, gas, or electric setup - they don’t always do that. In addition to knowing what utilities are already installed, you’ll also want to know from utilities companies which utilities cannot be installed.
Installing utilities can cost a lot of money and take additional time. Verify with the power, water or cable company that an address can receive the utility if that utility is important to you. If your land is a bit more off the grid, you might end up looking into septic tanks, solar energy, and satellite internet.
There can be multiple rights associated with a property. These can include, but are not limited to road access (as well as road maintenance - does the city maintain the roads or do you have to?), potential mineral rights if found, and the right to further develop land.
Land rights are rather important. We’ve seen instances where a buyer didn’t know that the city doesn’t plow or maintain their street, and were forced to invest in their own equipment for the purpose.
If you happen to stumble upon oil, you’ll want to learn who has the rights to minerals within the land.
Environemental hazards can easily be invisible. If there is runoff in water that creeps into the soil, you could have major health and cleanup issues.The primary way to know anything about issues with the soil or pipes in the area are to have them tested by a local environmental advocacy group.
Soil Perc Test
Do you plan to build a home or something occupied on the land? You’ll need to conduct a soil percolation teste to determine if the land’s soil can handle a septic tank. Failing to pass a soil percolation test generally means that no home or occupied structure can be built.
Note that a failed test isn’t the end. You can still consult with local health authorities about other possibilities.
This one should be obvious - but not always. Does the person selling the land fully own the rights to the land and is able to legally sell it? Sometimes people mistakenly try to sell land that is partially owned by someone else, including a bank, and don’t realize that there is a contract somewhere preventing them from selling it. This is not very common, but it could happen!
Back taxes can be hidden and annoying. While the seller is generally required to pay back taxes before selling a property, it is possible for the closing company or another administrator down the line to miss the problem and leave it on you to pay for property taxes. These can add up, so be thoroughly in your requests and searches.
What is the property zoned for?
Cities could designate particular properties as residential, commercial, or agricultural. In more detail, you’ll want to know if the city allows you do to the things you’d like within their own zoning restrictions. One example of this is parking an RV on the lot, which some cities frown upon. You won’t want to buy a plot of land only to find out that you can’t use it for some major activities you intended.
Government restrictions and conservation easements
If a property is in a rural, natural area, the use of the land might be restricted by some level of government conversation easement. These typically protect resources and can vary. Restrictions could include making clearing the area off trees and brush illegal, or making planting more restricted in addition to possibly limiting hunting.
One sign of a conservation easement is a lowered price. Plots of land with a conservation easement can be more difficult to tell because the land might not be fully useful for the common desire in the area.
Real property size
People can make mistakes when determining the size of a property. Having wrong data about a property can also negatively affect how useful you find the property. Ask to verify the actual acreage of property before necessarily believing the listing. You’ll receive this info within the appraisal in most cases.
Seller financing can give you a major advantage in terms of payment terms. Buying a plot of land through a bank can require a substanial down payment and lots of paperwork, as well as have a not very welcoming short term.
Some buyers prefer seller financing because the seller sets up a contract with the buyer to pay them back over the course of a predetermined amount of time, until it is paid off. This is more useful and easier to pull off if the seller currently owns the land and no longer has a mortgage.
Boundaries, Access and Neighbors
You almost cannot pick your neighbors. Unfortunately, learning about potential neighbors is a bit more difficult because they might like the current owner and not yet, but knowing what neighbors do and whether or not anything is disruptive is good to know instead of learning it after buying the house.
The larger issue is actually establishing city defined map boundaries which are essential because you might even discover neighboring structures infringing upon your future land.
We’ve heard on multiple occasions about new land owners experiencing a big let down when a major development moved in shortly after they did - and did anything from drastically increase the traffic in an area to blocking what should be a great view.
Unfortunately, this is more up to you, a realtor, and maybe a lawyer to find as the seller isn’t exactly on the hook for area developments. Your best bet is to ask the city about any future developments coming or look in the local news for hints at major developments, as they are often covered and celebrated - or downplayed, by the press.
About THE AUTHOR
Brittany has been in the land business since 2020 when the world was starting to shut down. Since then, we’ve sold to dozens of people from ATV weekend warriors to camping enthusiasts to retired truck drivers. Our inventory spans mostly in the western United 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