9 Really Important Questions to Ask When Buying Land
Land purchase is a significant investment, so it’s good to have as much information as possible before closing the deal. You want to be sure the pros outweigh the cons and that the property you’re eyeing is worth your money. To help you out, we share nine really important questions to ask when buying land. Some of them tackle critical aspects that the property owner might not disclose right away.
1. Is the Land Under Conservation Easements?
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a government or land trust agency that restricts using a piece of land to protect its resources. While the landowner retains most of their rights, the easement can impose planting, hunting, or land clearing restrictions on some property regions. Usually, a conservation easement is permanent and binding even if the property is sold or passed on.
That being said, properties with conservation easements are usually cheaper, so if you can deal with the restrictions, you might get a piece of land at a bargain price. Ask the landowner if there’s a conservation easement on the land and, if so, how it restricts the land use.
2. What Are the Annual Property Taxes?
Check what the taxes are on the property before you buy it. Keep in mind that even if you don’t use the piece of land, you’ll still have to pay taxes. If the seller can’t provide the information, use the APN and search the county database.
If the property is already in use when you buy it, it could qualify for tax breaks. Counties and states have different rules regarding the types of land eligible for reducing tax liabilities. They might come in the form of deductions, credits, and exemption from tax returns. The local Commissioner of Revenue should provide the information if your parcel of land qualifies for tax breaks.
3. Is the Chain of Title Clear?
A title is the set of rights that governs the ownership of a property. The Chain of Title shows the past transfers of a property title. It informs you if the seller is the actual owner of the land. For instance, it might happen that the previous owner didn’t transfer the ownership to the current seller or the seller is intentionally trying to sell a parcel they don’t own.
To avoid unpleasant surprises in the future, you should ensure the piece of land you’re eyeing has a clean title chain. Ask the land seller to provide you with a copy of the deed or check the deed history on the county’s website using the APN. You can use a title company, but this can be costly.
4. Does the Property Have Utilities?
Rural land often doesn’t come with essential utilities such as electricity, water, and sewer systems. This is especially true for plots in more remote areas. However, if you’re considering a lot in a residential area, there’s a greater chance it will have utilities. Either way, be sure to ask the owner if there are utilities on the property or find out what it would take to get them.
The accessibility and cost of bringing utilities to the piece of property will depend on the location. Check with your county to see what options you have. For a more off-the-grid living style, consider natural resources. You can install solar panels or collect rainwater to reduce your costs and positively impact the environment.
5. Are There Any Environmental Hazards?
Most environmental hazards are not readily apparent but can be disastrous to your health. You could unknowingly violate environmental laws and suffer civil and criminal penalties, as well as liability for common law tort claims. Therefore, you must be aware of the land’s environmental condition before purchasing.
The seller isn’t legally obligated to inform you of any known hazards. So, it’s a good idea also to have an environmental engineering company perform a professional environmental assessment. The appraisal will determine if the land has issues such as contaminated soil or evidence of nitrates or other hazardous materials. If a minor problem is revealed, you can ask the land seller to resolve them. However, if the issue is too problematic, you might decide not to go through with the purchase.
6. Have You Performed a Percolation Test?
One of the most important questions to ask when buying raw land is whether a perc test has been performed on the soil. It is used to determine the ability of the soil to absorb and filter water. The test specifies if the soil is suitable for a septic system and if one is necessary in case it doesn’t already have access to a municipal sewer system.
Ask the owner of the land that has been tested. If not, arrange for a licensed excavator or engineer and an official from the county health department to perform a perc test. In case the land doesn’t pass the perc test, it will be challenging to build on or could result in costly repairs.
7. How Can I Reach the Property?
A property can have legal access to a public road or deeded easement. It’s important to know which one it has in order to avoid unpleasant surprises in the future.
Easements, on the other hand, are written agreements that allow one party to use another party’s land to access their land. Deeded access or right of way is an easement that provides access transferred by deed. This is often created when the land is part of a subdivision.
8. Are the Property Boundaries Properly Marked?
This is one of the crucial questions to ask when buying land. Having clear property marks protects against legal issues that may arise from intruding on neighboring parcels. It’s also beneficial when measuring the property’s total square footage.
If the land seller isn’t certain about the land’s boundaries, ask if a land survey has been recently done. The survey should inform you about the property lines. Alternatively, you can establish the property boundaries by visiting your local county recorder or assessor’s office.
9. Who Owns Mineral Rights?
Mineral rights found beneath the surface of a particular piece of land typically include natural gas, coal, and oil. In the US, mineral rights can be conveyed or sold separately from property rights. So, owning the piece of land doesn’t necessarily mean you also own what’s beneath it. Ask the seller who owns the mineral rights so that you understand what’s included in the sale. Also, you can find this information by checking at the county’s Clerk of Records office.
Before making an offer on a piece of land, you need to be sure it’s “the one.” Finding the right lot involves extensive research and asking the right questions. That way, you can ensure that the property ticks all the criteria on your checklist and meets your long-term needs. Hopefully, we helped you prepare better for your next meetings with land owners!
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