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Buying land? Here are some tips:

Updated: Jan 29, 2022

You always imagined building your dream home someday or investing in commercial real estate. Now you are ready to buy a piece of land to build your dream home or to develop into a rental property or commercial buildings. What are the most important things to consider before you buy a piece of land? Here are some tips for your reference.

1. First check out the terrain: What is the topography of the property? Is it a piece of wetland? Is it suitable for building? You can use google map to check out the land. Google map can give you some information about where the land is located. You can also search the information about the surrounding neighborhood such as schools, parks, shopping and entertainment, etc. You need to see what the neighboring properties and overall community look like. After you analyze all this information, you can decide if this piece of land may be perfect for your dream home or commercial investment. Then you can go to check it out in person and see what the piece of land actually looks like.

2. After you check out the land in person, the type of soil, trees and elevation or flatness of the terrain should be considered. You may need a soils environment test to find out if you need to put a septic tank in your property. Is it cleared land or tree covered land? If the land is clear, you do not need to cut down the trees. It will save you cost and time. However, if most of the land is covered by trees, cutting down the trees may require approval from the city or county. It may take several weeks or several months.

3. Are there wetlands located within the piece of land that you are going to purchase? Generally, wetlands are protected by the government and you cannot alter wetlands, including clearing or development, without government approvals. Sometimes, wetlands can be developed if mitigation is provided by making a financial contribution to an environmental fund. If the wetlands are environmentally significant, however, you may not be able to impact them at all.

4. Is the land located in the flood zone? Flood zones are determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which designates certain lands as being subject to flooding during times of heavy rains. There is a special zone code AE to define the flood prone areas. You can check if the land is located within this flood zone code. There are also flood maps that you can check to see if your land is in the flood zone area. If it is close, you may need a survey to find out what parts of the property are in the flood zone.

5. Does the land have access to a county or city-maintained road? County or city-maintained roads are important to provide vehicular and pedestrian access to the land. If there are no roads adjacent to the land, it may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to extend roads to the land. It could also take many months for these roads to be designed and approved by the government officials. The legal term easement means that you need to use another’s private land to access your property. Is there a county or city road providing access your land or an easement providing access your land? Make sure you check carefully on this issue when you consider purchasing a piece of land.

6. Utilities are also very important. Does the land that you are going to buy have easy access to utilities? The cost to extend water, sewer, electricity, cable and gas service to the property could be small if the lines are located adjacent to the property or quite high if service has to be extended to your property. In rural areas, you may have to use septic tank systems and wells most of the time. You should check with engineering companies or utility providers to obtain estimates on the cost and how long it will take to extend utilities to the property.

7. Cell and Internet service: Is cell phone service available for the land that you are going to purchase? Nowadays, every family or commercial tenant uses the internet and wants to be able to use their cell phones at all times. Is there cable service or wide band service to your future property? How much is the cost to extend these services to connect to your property? This also should be considered.

8. Neighborhood: What does the neighborhood looks like? Is the neighborhood considered to be safe? The internet can provide you lots of information about the neighborhood and adjoining community information. You can take time to do some research or may ask your real estate agent to provide you some schools and neighborhood information.

9. Endangered species and conservation areas: Endangered species are protected by the government. Is the land located in a conservation area which has endangered species which must be protected? Conservation areas are protected by government agencies and you cannot develop anything on it. There are also endangered animals and plants that are protected by the government. You cannot cut down endangered plants or trees or destroy habitat for endangered species on the land that you are going to purchase. You may have to set aside environmentally sensitive land or relocate endangered species.

10. Zoning: Every piece of land has its own zoning code and zoning ordinances which regulate what buildings and uses are permitted on the land. There can be separate regulations imposed by the city, county and state. Changing the zoning designation for property can be difficult and costly. In evaluating property for future development, look for lands where the existing zoning code permits your proposed use. You can also hire a planner or attorney to help you request a change in the zoning, but this can be a significant investment without a guaranty of a successful result.

11. Most undeveloped land need a lot of site preparation before you can construct buildings on it. The piece of land that you are going to purchase may have existing deteriorated buildings. Existing structures may need demolition and may require additional investigation regarding the presence and removal costs of asbestos, lead paint or other environmental hazards before you decide to purchase the property.

12. It is especially important that the purchase agreement provide sufficient opportunity for your investigation and research about the land before any deposit is at risk. You need to hire a professional attorney to prepare the land purchase contract for you. You should always rely on your local real estate agent to help with your research and locate consultants to evaluate these issues where necessary. They will provide you lots of information, help coordinate and facilitate your inspections, and guide you step by step to complete the purchase.

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