12 Key Factors When Buying Land

 Congratulations!  You’ve decided to build your own home.  But where do you start?

Now that you’ve drawn up the plans or maybe even picked out your perfect manufactured or modular home, you’ll need to find the land to put it on.  It may sound like a simple process.  Pick the home, buy the land and move-in, but it’s much more complex than that.  Finding that right piece of land can be just as cumbersome as searching for the perfect home, if not more.  And, to complicate matters even more, not all real estate agents know land, so make sure you find one that does.

12 Key Factors When Buying Land

  1. Affordability.  Once you have your home planned out, you’ll need to sit down and talk with a lender about the total costs.  Are you going to finance the land or pay cash?  How much of your budget can you put toward the land?  As a general guideline, 33% will go toward the land and 66% will go toward the home.Most vacant lots in my area are not ready to build.  They may have the electric available, but no septic/sewer or water share.  Are cable or natural gas available in the area or will you need to plan for propane and a satellite dish?  We will need to account for those costs such as the paying for the water share, water hook-up, installation of the septic or sewer hook-up and more.  In order to find the best piece of property that meets your needs, you will need to know what your budget is for a property that is ready to build.  Then, we can work backwards from that point and determine how much you can afford for the land.  Then, we try to negotiate an even better deal so you can afford those extra upgrades.
  2. Determine your Needs.  The first step is deciding on what you need.  Are you looking for acreage to build your dream equestrian center or mini-farm?  Maybe you want a lot in a cozy little neighborhood where you can walk to the store and pick up the Sunday paper.  Just like determining what features you need in your home, you need to decide on what you need in your land.  A 7,000sf lot in the city versus a 10 acre parcel out in the country have completely different issues to be aware of and lifestyles to offer.
  3. Water.  Water is important in so many ways.  Does this property have access to a public water source, is it a community well or will you need to drill a private well?  If you need to drill, how deep are the wells typically in that area and does the aquifer have good, clean water?  Should you put a water filtration system on the house?  Do the wells dry up every summer or provide adequate water supply year round?While it is true, you may not drill into the same aquifer as your neighbors, usually the surrounding homes can give you a good indication of well depths and water quality.
  4. Sewer or Septic.  Is there a sewer hook-up for this property?  Or, will you need to put in a septic system.  If it is a septic system, the type of soil and soil depths on the property will determine how many bedrooms your home can have.The ground may vary across the property, so you may also be limited on where you can build the home based on the soil types.  If septic is the only option, is there a site registration that has been completed?  What type of septic system is ideal for these soil types and depths?  Is it going to be gravity, pressure system, sand filter, mound, aerobic, glendon?  The costs of installation for each of these systems varies from roughly $3,000 to $20,000.  You need to know what you are looking at.
  5. Survey.  What are your plans for the property?  How large is the property?  Do you need a survey to determine where you boundary lines are?  Should you get a survey to find out if that neighbor’s fence (that looks really close) is actually on your property?
  6. Elevation.  Is the property in a flood plain?  If so, which zone is it in?  Some homes that are located in a flood plain might be in the 100 year flood plain while others flood every year like clockwork.  There are also different types of flood risks.  Is this property in an area that develops floods slowly or are you at risk of a flash flood?  Is there a minimum elevation the floor your home can be built?If FEMA, Federal Emergency Management Agency, has determined this property is in a flood zone, they will require additional insurance.  Will that cost you $200/year or $2600/year?  That number can make a significant different in your monthly payments.  Is this somewhere you really want to live?If this property is on a hillside, bluff or near a beach are there signs of the land shifting?  You wouldn’t want your brand new home to end up in the ocean or slide down the hill.  Can you see trees or other vegetation that is shifting down the hillside and growing at strange angles?  As the roots starting to protrude because the soil is washing away?  These could be signs that indicate there has been a recent shift in the land, or may be one coming soon!
  7. Vegetation.  One of the most basic observations is to step back and look at the land and vegetation.  Are there water loving plants that indicate you have a very wet soils or maybe standing water part of the year?  Are there dedicted wetlands on the property?  Many times, I have seen clusters of swamp grasses that run through the middles of a picturesque field.  This may indicate there is a stream or pond part of the year, and in middle of August you would have no idea because it is completely dry.  The last thing you want to see is your foundation filling up with water because you built in the middle of a seasonal pond.  Maybe the vegetation indicates that water is not an issue at all, so you have one less thing to worry about.
  8. Restrictions.  Make sure you check the Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions (CCRs) that many communities have to ensure your home will be allowed.  Some neighborhoods have restrictions on the type of houses build (like no manufactured homes), height restrictions that differ from the county or city, or even restrictions on the color of your home, whether you are required to have a light on the street and even the type of pets allowed.Are there any building moratoriums on the land?  Will it be lifted?  These are things you need to find out before you purchase the property, not after.
  9. Access.  How do you get to your property?  Is it on a public road maintained by the city or county?  Is there a road maintenance agreement you should be aware of?  You want to make sure that everyone who uses the road agrees to help with the upkeep.Are there any easements on the property?  An easement gives someone the right to travel across another property.  Do you need an easement and is it in the deed?  Is there an easement running through your property?  The easement location will also effect where your home can be built.  Don’t assume that because an easement is not being used right now, it will never be.
  10. Set Backs.  Once you take into account the set-backs from the streets, easements, side of the property, septic, well, wetlands, bluff and any other sensitive areas, how much room is really left to build?  Is the foot print that is left enough space to build your dream home?  Do you need to adjust the plan for your dream home or find a different piece of property?
  11. Local Zoning.  Check the local zoning requirements.  Is the property zoned to allow for a residential home?  If you are looking for somewhere to retire in a quiet and cozy cabin, the looking at land zoned as commercial agriculture is probably not heading down the right road, unless you would like to retire on a farm.
  12. Save Yourself Time.  One of the biggest things you can do to save yourself time, is to find an agent who knows and understands land.  An experienced real estate professional will be able to walk you through the process of selecting your property, and may know many of the answers to the questions above from their experience in the area.  It is important to realize that few real estate professionals are experienced in selling vacant land; make sure you work with someone who is.

I know land & love it!  Looking for Equestrian Property, Investment Property, Home or Land in Stanwood, Arlington or on Camano Island? When it comes to real estate, my goal is simple. Let me put your needs first.


Oh, by the way, would you like to live in photos above?  I took those and will help you find a home where you can enjoy this beautiful scenery each and every day.  Jen Hudson, GRI (360) 652-1200 or jen@hudsoncreg.com

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