At LandCentral, we make purchasing land relatively easy. A push of a button and, Voila! You can be a land owner. While that is a great thing, I always counsel my customers to do their due diligence. That means they have to take it upon themselves to research their dream property to make sure that it will work for them. Sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start if you are new to dealing with vacant land. So here are 5 research questions to ask before making your land investment that will help in your research prior to purchasing that perfect parcel.
What is the Property’s Zoning?
What is your purpose for the property? Are you planning on building on it? If so, what kind of dwelling do you want? How large? Do you want to have a piece of heaven to park your RV on temporarily or permanently? What if you want to keep it for retirement or pass it down to your children?
Knowing and understanding what your property can be used for is essential. Each county or city has zoning requirements. A simple phone call to the county and/or city planning and zoning department is a great way to ask your specific questions. Different zoning classifications can be residential, agricultural, commercial, mixed-use, etc. If you plan to have an emu farm while building a container home, you might want to find out if the property classed as high density residential could fit with those plans. A simple google search for the county planning and zoning department will get you to the right contact. Other good information to have would be the parcel number or possible address (if assigned, as not all vacant land has an address assigned). Sometimes the counties will have a GIS map indicating the land use (see above image.)
Does the Property Have Access to Water, Sewer and Electricity?
This is a great question! I love it when my customers ask this because it means they are taking steps to start researching their dream. Most vacant land doesn’t have utilities on the property. If the property is in an area where there is municipal (or public) access to water and sewer, then most likely you’d just have to see how much it would cost to hook it up. It could include extending those services to your property.
If it’s rural, do you need a well and septic system? A call to the county planning and zoning is a great place to start. They can usually tell you if the property is within city limits or if you need to dig a well. What if you need to have water hauled? How much would that cost? Then there’s the septic question: Sometimes, the county will refer you to their local or state health department regarding septic requirements. How far away is electricity? If I can see houses near the property or within a mile of the vicinity, I’m usually pretty confident that power can be run to the property. If your plans are to build on the property, this is a huge item to research.
Is the Property Located in a Flood Zone?
This is important information to know. Sometimes a property is vacant because it frequently is under water. Maybe the property is near a large body of water that floods every year or every five or ten years. How can you find out if your property is in a flood zone?
A simple call to the county planning and zoning bureau is a great place to start. You can always check the FEMA Flood Map Site where you can enter in the address or location of the property. Now that you’ve checked to see if your property is in a flood zone or not, what classification is it in. What does that mean? There are different zone classifications in a flood zone. This is important, because depending of what classification the property is in, you might need flood insurance if you are planning on building on the property.
What Access Does the Property Have?
Have you heard of the term “landlocked?” Sometimes vacant land doesn’t have road access, and is surrounded by other parcels of land that is privately owned. Does this make the property useless? Not necessarily. If you have legal right to the property, an easement may be acquired. If you have a neighbor who is willing to grant you an easement, you can access your property. In most cases, a judge isn’t going to keep you from your property, but you might need to compensate whoever you are getting the easement from.
Another aspect to consider is the difference between legal access and physical access. Sometimes a property can have physical access, maybe by a dirt road that has been used for a long time, but the county doesn’t recognize it as a legal road. In this case, technically the property doesn’t have legal access, although you can physically get there.
The opposite can be true as well. The property can have legal access per the plat map, meaning that the county has planned for a road to be there, but the right of way, or physical road, hasn’t been established yet.
Google Earth is Your Friend
This isn’t really a question, but rather an informed statement. Google Earth is a free software that you can download, which can answer some of your questions. We use this program religiously at LandCentral. Are there houses nearby? Is there a street view of the property? What is the terrain like? How far is the nearest highway? These are some sample questions. Check this flyover on a property we have. This can give you an idea what Google Earth can do for you.
We hope this information was helpful in getting you started on researching your next investment.