Buying Raw Land: An Insider's Guide

    Perhaps you have dreamed about owning a piece of property, building your dream home and living happily ever after. What many don’t consider is that buying raw land can be challenging and should be approached with great diligence and caution.

    Unlike a home for sale, raw land may appear innocent. In most cases – large defects are readily apparent in a home. Mold, structural problems, cracks and leaks stand out and can easily be found by a qualified home inspector. In a land purchase, your problems are harder to find and usually more severe. Some questions one should ask when buying raw land.

    Do I have guaranteed access to the property?
    Often times a piece of land can be “Landlocked” or legal access may not be present on the parcel. Even if there appears to be a road leading to the property it may not be considered legal access documented with an easement.

    Are there easements across the property benefiting other parcels?
    Sometimes a previous owner may have granted access across the parcel for the benefit of another parcel. It’s helpful to know where these are as not to interfere with your future plans of building. Easements are almost always permanent (although there are ways to remove them, but that’s a different story.) I’ve found easements as old as 50-100 years that have been passed down from deed to deed.

    Are there any Restrictions?
    Your local title company can provide you with CC&R’s on a property upon request. If you are working with a Realtor, they should be able to assist you. CC&R’s will define any restrictions on the property. They typically have minimum home sizes, mobile home restrictions, or architectural requirements. It’s imperative to know what you can and cannot do on the property before you purchase.

    Do I know where the property boundaries are?
    Many times you can negotiate to have the Seller pay for a property survey. It’s not recommended that a purchase of any raw land be made without a full survey which at the very minimum, defines the corners or the shape of the property, this type of survey typically includes defining midpoints and recording at the local courthouse.

    Can I get a building permit?
    Call your local permitting office, explain that you are trying to purchase some raw land (they’ll probably need a parcel number or some way to identify the parcel), ask what is required on the parcel to obtain a building permit and note your findings. In some areas there are minimum sizes, road conditions or road frontage requirements needed to obtain a building permit, nothing is more frustrating than buying a property and finding out you can’t build on it.

    What about utilities?

    Find out where the nearest utilities are. Bringing in utilities can range from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars depending on the distance required to move them. If the property is in a location that is not serviced by city sewer and requires a septic system, it may helpful to obtain an engineers report on the land to determine the size and expense of the system you may be required to install.

    As you can see there are a myriad of considerations when buying raw land. If one is diligent and careful a great purchase can be made, but if you are not, you could end up owning something that’s very difficult to use or develop and will ultimately be difficult to other buyers who are more diligent.

    The best way to achieve success in buying raw land is to work with a Realtor or Land Specialist who is familiar with the area and legal processes of purchasing land in your area.

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