The prospect of buying land presents many elements for the buyer to consider, which buying a house simply doesn’t require. When you buy a house, the builder or developer takes care of many of the land issues, such as water and waste disposal. But when you buy land, you have to consider the land itself and all of the challenges it may present, from physical terrain to existing titles, easements, and access. To get started, here are 10 questions you should ask.
- Has a survey of the land been done recently? Do not assume that old fence lines and tree lines on a property show where the boundary lines are. Not only will a survey confirm the boundary lines and acreage, it will usually show development rights, floodplains, easements, and encroachments.
- Is the land under conservation easement or are there any easements running through the property? An easement allows someone the right to use land they do not own, such as the right to road or water access. If the land you are eyeing is under easement, you’re going to want to know about it. A conservation easement is intended to protect and restrict the land from future development and runs in perpetuity. Each conservation easement is written specifically for the property, so there are a lot of variances between conservation easements on different tracts of land.
- Does the land perc? Short for soil percolation rate, what this means is: can the land absorb water from a septic system? You will need to have a perc test done in order to find out. Usually performed by a soil scientist, the perc test analyzes the topography, the types of soil, and their ability to absorb water. Septic systems are designed based on the number of bedrooms in the proposed house plans. The greater number of bedrooms you have, the larger the septic system and drainfield will need to be.
- Are there any title issues attached to the land? You should hire a title company or attorney to research the title for you. If there are any liens, easements, road access rights, mineral rights, etc., they will show up during the title search.
- Are there any potential environmental hazards on the land or under it? You may want to get an environmental assessment done before you purchase it. This assessment will evaluate the property to determine whether there is any existing contamination.
- How does one access the property? Does it have road frontage? Or does it have a deeded easement (right of way)?
- Does the property have electricity routed to it? Do not assume that because one section of the property has a powerline that you will be obtaining your electricity from it. Always contact the utility companies to be sure you can obtain power, what the costs associated with bringing the power to the desired building site are, and whether the power lines can be buried, if that is important to you.
- What’s the neighborhood like? Is the property in the path of growth/development? What’s happening on the adjacent land? Especially if you value the land for its views, you’ll want to know whether or not you can enjoy those views for years to come or whether there are plans for development that could obstruct the current view.
- Does the property have division and development rights? Is that important to you? If those rights exist, seek counsel from a surveyor or county planner to help you interpret those rights.
- Is the property in land-use? What are the taxes? If the property is in land-use, it may already qualify for tax breaks given to landowners who use their land for agriculture, horticulture, forest, and/or open space. But not all counties have land-use taxation. Check with the appropriate county’s Commissioner of Revenue to find out what the taxes are and what you need to do to keep the land in the land-use program.
- Is high speed internet important to you and is it available? You’ll need to take this into consideration as there is still a disparity in Virginia between high-speed internet access in rural versus urban areas.
While this is not a conclusive list of questions to ask when buying land, it will get you headed in the right direction. It is always beneficial to use a real estate agent who is knowledgeable with land sales.