Warren Buffet once said if he had to pick between all the gold on Earth and all the farmland, he would pick the farmland. For many people – including me – land holds a special place in our hearts. It’s true that “they aren’t making any more of it.” But it is more than that. Buying and owning land is about potential. Put a barn here, a pasture there, leave that part wooded, site the home to capture that view. Each piece of land has different possibilities. Discovering those possibilities and knowing your goals in buying land is the key to a successful transaction. Here are some ideas to help. A Realtor with passion and knowledge for land will help you through the myriad of issues and questions in buying land.
What is your vision?
Are you looking to build your dream home in a gated community? Wanting to start a hobby farm? Dream of sitting on your porch and gazing over bluff views? Lake views? Take some time and make write two lists. One is a “must-have” list for your land. These are the non-negotiables. Then make a second list that is a “wish” list and prioritize it. These are the things that you would like to have but are not required.
Can you do it there?
The first thing to check is the zoning of the piece of land you are considering and the land around it. Zoning is the restrictions placed on land use by a government entity (city, county, etc.). It will cover how many homes can be placed on a piece of property, whether or not you can run a business there and what type of business is allowed, and other issues. Some rural areas may have no zoning regulations. Be sure and check zoning for surrounding properties as well. That beautiful residential lot may be next to a lot zoned for manufacturing.
Whether a piece of land is zoned or not, it is important to check for any deed restrictions. These are restrictions that were placed on the use of land by a previous owner or the current owner. These may include covenants and restrictions for subdivisions that may dictate the style, size and other details of homes built there. Some land owners can get interesting with deed restrictions. I once came across a piece of commercial land where a previous owner had placed a restriction that a liquor store could never be operated on the property. It’s always a good idea to have a real estate attorney give an opinion on any restrictions discovered in a deed.
Can they do it there?
The other discovery you will make in reading the deed to a piece of land are easements. These are things written into the deed that allows other people to do things on your land. Utility easements allow utility companies access to and maybe across your land to install and maintain utility lines. A neighbor may have to use a driveway across your land to access their land. I once owned a 20 acre tract that had the water from a spring and cistern deeded to the farmhouse across the street. When they went to replace the old water lines, they had to dig across my pasture. Easements written into a deed must be honored unless the other party agrees to have them removed and the deed re-recorded. Take them seriously when considering a piece of land. Your neighbor today may not be your neighbor tomorrow.
Is it feasible?
When you make an offer on raw land, you need to be sure the land is suitable for what you want to do. Just because a piece of land is zoned for a home, doesn’t mean building a home there is a good idea. Is public sewer available? If not, will the soil support a septic system? Public water? Can water be found anywhere on the land to dig a well? What is the quality of that well water? There is a large tract currently for sale in Marion County that is beautiful. Waterfalls, boulders, creeks, acres and acres of trails. Electricity will NEVER be brought to the tract. It says that in the listing. Unless you want to install a generator or solar panels or live off the grid, that land is probably not right for your home.
Where is the line?
Whenever I show property, one of the most common questions I am asked is “where is the property line?” It’s a fair question but Realtors are not surveyors. Using tax maps, finding survey pins/ribbons, etc. can give you an idea where lines are but the only way to know for sure is to pay for a survey or request a survey if it exists. Property line disputes can be covered by a title policy but only if a current survey exists. The price of a survey depends on a lot of factors – acreage, terrain, existence of past surveys, etc. Can they be expensive? Sure they can be. Are they worth it? Yes.
What about all the other stuff?
There are a bunch of other questions that need to be answered to determine if a piece of land is right for you. Quality of pasture for farming. Value of timber. Year round or seasonal water. Mineral rights. Flood zones. There is not enough room in a short article like this to cover them all. Find a Realtor that understands and loves land and you will have a partner to help you make your vision a reality.