Do you dream of owning land? A lot of people have that fantasy. Maybe you want to build your dream home surrounded by natural beauty and away from the hustle and bustle of the city—not to mention those nosy neighbors whose car alarm always seems to go off at 2 a.m.
Maybe you’ve always wanted to try farming or ranching, and now is the time to jump right in. Or you could be looking to invest in undeveloped land just outside of a booming area. Heck, maybe you just want to tear around on the four-wheelers once in a while without disturbing the neighbors.
Whatever the reason, a lot of people are interested in land ownership. It’s the American dream. But how do you buy land?
Make Sure You Have the Money
Okay, there are some things you need to get out of the way before you’re ready to buy some land. Make sure:
- You’re debt free. You’ve paid off all your debt including credit cards, car notes and student loans.
- You have a fully funded emergency fund that will cover at least 3–6 months of expenses.
- You have a down payment of at least 10–20% on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage.
- Your payments will be no more than 25% of your take-home income.
This is the smart way to buy land. And the smartest way is to buy with cash. If you’re also going to build a house and plan to finance both the land purchase and the construction, there may be some complications. Talk to our friends at Churchill Mortgage about getting the best mortgage for your situation.
Find the Right Piece of Land
You want to be sure you get your money’s worth, so when it comes to real estate, always buy property that will grow in value over time. That can be really tricky. Remember: No matter how good the deal looks, don’t buy a crappy piece of land in a horrible location just to get a bargain. Quality counts.
Worried about affording a house? Our free Home Buyers Guide will help.
If you’re buying a pre-made plot in a new construction subdivision, the decisions are relatively simple. But when you buy land outside a subdivision, you have to investigate all the things a developer or builder would normally look at. Do your homework before dropping that dough! Here’s what you need to know.
The three most important things in real estate are location, location and location. While you may enjoy living completely off the grid, remember this is still an investment of sorts. If it takes more than an hour to reach the nearest signs of civilization—like grocery stores and gas stations—then future buyers might balk! Figure out which schools you’re zoned for, the property’s proximity to highways and stores, and distance from emergency services.
Check with your city, county and state zoning ordinances to see if it’s even possible to build a home on the land you’re looking at. Examine any future plans the government may have that could impact the land value like new highways or powerplants. It’s common for problems like this to pop up, so watch for red flags.
Unless you’re a farmer or geologist, this is an easy feature to overlook. But it’s very important! Consider the type of soil, the number of trees and the elevation or flatness of the terrain. Those are all things that will affect where you can build a home and how much it’ll cost. For instance: Hard, rocky soil may mean no basement. And if you buy property in the wetlands, you'll have to deal with tough regulations and pay for an expensive septic system.
This will pop up when you look at zoning regulations and topography, but it needs its own category. It refers to any environmental dangers that could affect your home’s safety, as well as any endangered plants or animals living on your property. If you buy in a wooded area, check to see how many trees you're allowed to clear.
When you buy land, you need to be able to get to it easily, right? That means you need to know if the roads leading to your land are someone else's private property. If so, you’ll have to obtain legal permission (the official term is easement) to use them. Baking cookies for your neighbor won’t cut it. Legal permission to get road access may come with a fee and agreement that you’ll share road maintenance costs. Yes, it’s a hassle. But it’s incredibly important to think about before you commit. If you don’t have an easement, then you can’t get to your property. So you may as well not even buy it.
The land might not come with access to city water, electricity, cable lines and city sewage systems. Check the city limits to see if you’ll have to invest time and money into building your own septic system, water well or electricity access. In this day and age, you’ll also want to check your cell service when you visit your potential purchase.
How Quickly You Can Start Building
Undeveloped land may need a lot of work before you can build anything on it. Will you need to clear trees or fill in ravines? If the land has an existing structure that needs demolition, that’s even more time and money to include in your budget.
Get some help from an expert
Buying land is complicated, so get someone who can help you do it properly! Our real estate Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs) are there to help you through your search. They provide rock-star customer service, and they’re experts in their local communities. They have the heart of a teacher, which means they’ll take you through all of the ins and outs of land purchasing with patience and grace!