A necessary checklist
So you’re thinking about buying some land. So you look on all the websites and find the PERFECT parcel. It’s got creeks and a spring. No neighbors to bug you about your front yard. It has a well, solar power, mountain views, a herd of elk in the back forty acres, trees all over the place. The best part? You can finance it through the owner! But doesn’t it seem too good to be true? I know the feeling. Sometimes everything looks great but you just don’t know what you don’t know. I’m going to give you a checklist of things to verify so you feel confident to purchase your land.
- Title. Always, always, always always check the title of the property. This is the BEST way to make sure that the person can actually sell you the land! Now, the type of title isn’t a deal breaker, and I’ve written another article talking about the different types of property titles and what they mean. But always make sure that the person selling the land CAN sell the land. Best way to check is to look at the current deed, and check it against their name/ID! I get asked this question a lot, “But what if it’s in an LLC?” Great question. If it’s in the name of a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or other business entity, request the Employer Identification Number (EIN) and verify that the EIN matches the name of the owner!
- Access. Unless you like risking trespassing just for the thrill of almost being shot, I highly recommend you always buy land with legal access. Crossing someone else’s land just to get to your landlocked parcel is not a recipe for a healthy neighbor relationship. To check access, go on the county GIS and look at the road access, then try Google Maps, and finally call Planning/Zoning at the county and verify legal/physical access.
- Back taxes/Liens. I know someone that bought a parcel in September, then lost it in October when the county sold it at the tax deed sale. The property had 7 years of back taxes owed! But he didn’t check with the treasurer before he bought it. Also, a property owner’s association and home owner’s association can levy fees and liens against a property for unpaid dues. Same with utility companies. Check all those entities before you buy your land
- Slope. Man, have I had some bad experiences with grade of a piece of land. I bought one sight unseen in North Carolina near Asheville. Good price, good pictures, so I went ahead and pulled the trigger. Wow, was I wrong. My big problem was I never calculated the grade, and all the pictures were drone photos. If I had just seen photos from the ground and calculated, I never would have purchased the property. To calculate, go on either GIS or Google Maps, and check the altitude of both sides of a lot, then measure the distance between them. Divide the change in altitude by the distance between them (Remember Rise/Run?) and that’s the percentage of the slope! Anything over 10% is steep, but workable. I’d run from anything over 15% UNLESS that’s what you want. I personally love a nice flat build site and a lot of grade on my land; it just looks cool.
- Floodplain. Some land will flood when it rains, no matter the location in the country. People think of Arizona as a dry, arid area and that is true, but there are plenty of floodplains in the area where a flash flood will form. FEMA provides mapping for ploodplains and you can easily check the location of your land. https://www.fema.gov/flood-maps
- Utilities. Call the company that services the area! If you’re planning on building, you need to check for electric, water, and sewer. Most vacant land will require septic, but if you can get city or county sewer that’s a huge cost taken off your plate.
These are the primary items you absolutely have to check, but dig into the details to make yourself feel more comfortable. If you’re buying land, feel free to email me and I’ll provide my personal due diligence checklist!