Buying Vacant Land

What should you look for when buying vacant land? The following are items and questions I ask when searching for land parcels.

ZONING
What can the land be used for? What is the highest and best use of the property? Residential, mixed-use, commercial, multi-family, industrial, agricultural, etc.  Call the local planning and zoning department for the quickest answer.

REQUIRED BUILDING SETBACKS
What are the required dimensions for the lot if you were to build on it?  Understand exact dimensions by calling the local zoning department. For example, if you were to build a house on the land, does it need to be 20 feet from the curb and 15 feet from the next door home?  The planning department will be able to tell you the designated building setbacks.

TOPOGRAPHY
What is the lay of the land?  Elevations, cliffs, mountains, valleys, etc.  This affects what you can build on the land. If you're unable to visit the land in person, use Google Earth, a great application to view hills and valleys via your computer.

TAXES
What are the annual taxes? This should be about 1 to 4 percent of the full market value of the land.  Taxes need to be proportional to the property's actual value.

AVAILABILITY OF UTILITIES
Are utilities such as water, sewer, electric, gas, phone, etc available to the land?  If these utilities are not available, building on the land is not really possible. Also, can the land tap into the municipal sewer system?

USAGE RESTRICTIONS
What are the city and/or homeowner's association (HOA) rules and bylaws?  These restrictions are in place to maintain an element of formality and predictability in the neighborhood and to maintain the value of buildings in the area.

OTHER QUESTIONS TO ASK
Is the land in a flood zone? This will affect insuring any buildings built on the land in the future.

Is the parcel landlocked? You will most likely need road access to your property if building on the land. If it is landlocked, can you get a legal easement to the property? Will the neighboring properties give you access to your land through their properties?

Is the land clean, i.e. has not been used as a landfill? Make sure you are buying the land only and not the garbage that has been dumped on it  by the previous owner. If you are looking at commercial land, make sure to the check the former use of the land for any environmental issues.

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