Buying land can seem intimidating, but it really isn’t difficult at all when you analyze your needs and determine which types of land are most suitable for the home you plan to build. Talk with a mortgage broker or bank loan officer to find out how much you can afford. If you plan to build right away, the loan officer should explain construction loans, including the closing procedures you’ll encounter while the house is being built.
Talk with area building contractors to determine the average price you can expect to pay per square foot for the type of home you wish to build.
- Include estimates for building a driveway or road to the homesite.
- Don’t forget estimates for septic systems if your home will not be connected to community water and sewer.
To find the maximum amount you can spend for land, deduct the estimated building costs from your total budget–then deduct a bit more for unexpected expenses.
Your Wants and Needs
Make a list of all features that would exist on the ideal piece of land. Review the list, highlighting your must-haves, such as a great view, privacy, or a waterfront building site.
What’s the minimum size lot or tract of land you are willing to consider? Keep in mind that a heavily wooded, 1-acre lot is sometimes more private than a 3-acre lot that’s all open lawn. Tour a variety of neighborhoods and pay attention to the settings.
How will you use the land? Consider only tracts of land where the home you want to build is allowed. Most developments are governed by restrictive covenants that dictate everything from home size to building type to paint color. Study covenants for potential sites carefully to determine if you can live with the restrictions.
Start Your Search
- Look for ‘For Sale’ signs on your drives through favorite areas.
- Search for properties on the Internet.
- Note the exact location of interesting tracts, then visit your county tax office to find the owner’s name. Contact the owner to ask if the land is for sale.
- Talk with an agent about your wants and needs so that she can help you locate the perfect tract.
- Does the Land Suit Your Home Plans?
Ask a builder to accompany you to your top choices, to offer advice about the best building sites and to suggest home plans that will work with the topography. Check availability of utility services to the land.
An easement is the right to use another person’s land for a stated purpose. Does someone else have the right to use the property you want to buy? Find out before you make an offer, or add a contingency to the offer that you must approve existing easements before finalizing the sale.
Locate Property Boundaries
Look for iron pins at the corners of property, or at any point where the property line makes a turn. You might find iron pins flush with the center of the road, too. In wooded areas, watch for pathways cut by surveyors when they marked a property line. They are often visible for many years. Trees or bushes along property lines are might be marked with brightly colored paint or plastic.
Surveys are always a good idea and some banks require them. Updates to existing surveys are often acceptable and are less expensive than ordering a new survey.
If there’s a question about the number of acres in the tract, your offer can be stated as “X dollars per acre as determined by a new survey.” Now, you’ll need to word it a bit better, and state who will pay for the survey. The method can work to either the buyer or seller’s advantage, depending on how many acres are found.
Road Maintenance Agreements
If the property is accessed from a private road your bank might require a recorded agreement that shows all owners have promised to help with road upkeep.
Ask for a signed statement that discloses facts about buried items, such as oil or gas storage tanks. Their removal and cleanup can be expensive.
Before you make an offer, think about the what ifs–things that would make the property unusable for your purposes. Add these to the offer as contingencies, things that must or must not happen before you buy. For example:
- Offers for land without sewer hookups should be contingent on your ability to obtain permits for a septic system.
- If an architectural review committee must approve your home plans, the offer should be contingent on obtaining approval.
- The offer should be contingent on obtaining the type of financing you desire.
- Some contingencies are included in standard contracts, but your agent, contractor, or real estate attorney can help you determine if other contingencies should be added.
Searching for land can be a fun adventure. If you look hard enough, you may find a perfect building site just waiting to be cleared from an overgrown jungle of brambles and weeds.