Vacant land is often purchased as investment property or as a blank slate on which a new home is to be built. The process of purchasing vacant land is not as simple and straightforward as choosing a lot you like and handing over the cash. Whatever your plans, there are several factors to consider before taking the leap into a new piece of empty property.
Before considering any piece of land for purchase, do a personal walk-through. It's nice to have photos and to read descriptions, but only by walking the land yourself can you determine if it will suit your needs. An in-person inspection helps you understand everything from the degree of slope of any hills present, to the amount of clearing that will need to be done, to whether or not there will be room for the features you plan to add. For example, if a driveway for the property must cross over a corner of the neighbor's lot, you may have a plot with no clear point of entry. In such cases, landowners require easements or permissions to access their own plot, and it is best to know ahead of time if this is the case.
Sometimes you will find the ideal piece of land in the ideal location, but you will still not be able to build the house you want. Zoning is laid out by local government and determines what can be built and where. Request the zoning plats and subdivision rules from the selling agent. If you are buying from a private seller, check with the local building department for this information. These plans should tell you what you can and cannot build due to environmental or other restrictions, as well as any limits on the size or types of structures allowed.
Vacant parcels of land may not have access to the basic utilities necessary for construction. For example, your land may not run along existing sewer lines, water mains, or the local electricity grid. This can mean that you have to dig your own wells and sewage systems, or that you will have to wait an extended period until the local municipality sees that your property is connected. Either way, the result can be an expensive roadblock to land usage.
Sometimes the problems with vacant land are not immediately discernible during a walk-through. Even though a plot seems fine on the surface, there can be rotted oil or septic tanks below ground, hazardous waste or the remnants of toxic materials dispensed in the area, or general health issues that do not seem apparent. Have a professional environmental analysis done to ensure that nothing is hiding where you can't see.
If you are buying vacant land to be used as investment property, you will likely plan to build and sell lots in the future. It is important to understand not only the potential of your plot, but the limitations of the local real estate market. Look into current and projected construction projects in the vicinity to see whether or not there will be a need for your finished property. Do some research to find out if the area has a history of steady growth or if you might be in for a boom-and-bust scenario.
Robert Morello has an extensive travel, marketing and business background. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University in 2002 and has worked in travel as a guide, corporate senior marketing and product manager and travel consultant/expert. Morello is a professional writer and adjunct professor of travel and tourism.