Perhaps it is the pioneer spirit in us that wants to buy an acre or more of wild land. Maybe we want to build our dream home, exactly as we’ve envisioned it in our mind’s eye. This means finding a vacant lot in your dream location, perhaps in a new subdivision. Regardless of your motivation, buying land is a complex process. It is much different than purchasing a house. Purchasing land means that you need to think about access, utilities, easements, land-use restrictions. All of these things have been covered when you buy a house.
The initial process is generally the same as when you purchase a house. Decide exactly what you want. You need to have a concrete plan and then find a zone. Once that is settled, narrow the search area. The next step is to spend some time at your city’s planning and zoning department. They will have all the necessary forms that need to be completed, plus they should be able to answer even the most basic of questions. Once you are there, look closely at the county’s long range land-use plan. This will illustrate areas designated for business, residential, agriculture and public use. Public use incorporates parks and schools. The plan will have details about your future neighboring garbage dump or prison.
The employees at planning and zoning should be able to bring up future road improvements. Perhaps you have wondered why homes are built next to major highways. It is likely that the owner did not know the highway would be there when the bought the land 15+ years ago. Now there is no way they can sell.
Now that you have narrowed down a parcel that interests you, determine the property zoning. Your dream house may not be permitted if the zoning does not allow it. Zoning tells us whether we can build on the site.
The next step would be to determine if the land is unrecorded acreage or if it is in a recorded subdivision. You should be able to see the plat plus the restrictions of the subdivisions, if it is in a subdivision. This is universal whether it is in a city or a rural countryside. The modern the plat, the more details it will have. These details may or may not be listed on the restrictions on the subdivisions. This information will tell you if the greenbelt behind your property is your neighbor’s yard or if it is a greenbelt that cannot be disturbed. Also very important is the utility easements that show up on a plat. This means the area won’t be available for construction.
If it is a subdivision, the restrictions show how much control the property owner has over the property use. These restrictions can cover items such as pets and whether you can park a mobile home or boat in the driveway. Some subdivisions have homeowner’s association fees. The restrictions will state how much the fees are, how often they are paid and what they cover. For instance, most roads in gated communities are owned by the property owners and the maintenance is paid via the homeowner’s association fees. Some homeowner’s associations have voluntary and involuntary memberships. If the particular one in your subdivision is mandatory and you do not pay your fees, you can have a lien put on your property and it can go to foreclosure.
The plat and restrictions will show utilities and road access. It will show if there is municipal water and sewage. If not, you may have to drill a well and install a septic system. This would mean additional thousands of dollars in building costs. Looking at road access helps to determine if you can even access the land. You may need a special vehicle to get to it. It is best to have paved roads or a dedicated easement on your property.
Although the details listed above may seem complex, it is important to take the time to look at all aspects of the property closely. If not, you may be in for a few nasty surprises once you’ve purchased the land. All future land owners should do their due diligence. Once complete, you will have confidence that your piece of land is exactly what you were looking for.