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Buying Land

What to Know Before Buying Land to Build

June 30, 2022

If you’re thinking about buying land to build, you might not know where to start. You might not even know that there are often restrictions on what you can and can’t do with a property…even if it’s legally yours. You don’t want to end up with a piece of land you can’t use, so if you want to make sure that you are getting the best value out of the land you have, you’ll want to follow a few simple guidelines.

1. Are there deed restrictions on what you can build?

It’s important that you fully understand these restrictions before you make an offer on a plot of land. Also called restrictive covenants, deed restrictions limit how you can use land. You might only be allowed to build one house per plot of land or keep only a certain number of vehicles. Deed restrictions can make land either more or less attractive for you, depending on what you desire for your purchase. 

If you are concerned about neighboring properties being full of junk and debris, restrictions may be your friend. If however, you are looking to park your RV or build a home and discover the county won’t allow you to use the land you seek in that way, then restrictions may deter you from ever making a purchase. Knowing about deed restrictions in advance can make a big difference in your satisfaction when buying land to build.

2. Are you buying land to build on wetlands?

If you are, you’ll need special permission to build. Building on wetlands can be an expensive and time-consuming process. You may even have to pay wetland fees if you’re disturbing a substantial area. Wetlands properties can be attractive, but they might not make financial sense for you.

Because wetlands attract endangered species and can be governed by the Waters of the United States rules to prevent damage to the water supply, restrictions can be significant. These restrictions can involve your state and county government, as well as the Army Corp of Engineers. 

Wetlands in Arizona, buying land to build

This isn’t to say that wetlands cannot be a beautiful part of your land – if you know what you are getting at the beginning and you can plan for the use of those wetlands. However, if they are included in your purchase, knowing the restrictions before you buy can prevent any unwanted surprises about your investment.

3. What are the zoning ordinances?

Zoning ordinances implement additional restrictions on what you can do with your property. If you’re in a residential zone, you can’t run a business from that plot of land. Zoning ordinances also control building height, how far your home must be set back from property lines, property density, and more. Zoning is not permanent and can be changed. Being aware of the difficulty of changing zoning, as well as the potential of future zoning changes, will ensure that you’ll be able to use this property as you wish.

Is there a desire in your area to rezone your land purchase to mixed-use or commercial? Does the county see the land you seek as something that would be better held by a big box store versus your horses, barn, and home? Maybe you are the developer who wants to put in several homes on a large block of acres? Understanding how your plot of land fits into the county’s outlook on the future could prevent you from purchasing the property and save you from making serious mistakes.

4.  Can you choose your own builder?

If you’re building a home in an established neighborhood, you might only be allowed to use builders from an approved list. If you want to use a builder of your choice, make sure that’s permitted. If there are restrictions on the builder, take time and look at the projects completed by the builders on the approved list.

What budget do these builders work within? Do you like the style of the homes that the builders are providing? What is your ideal budget for the land and the construction costs of the home? Make sure that you look at your cost and expectations and determine if you can buy the land and build the home that matches your goal. It’s important to go into every land purchase with your eyes wide open to the realities of construction projects.

5.  Is there a time limit for development?

You may be required to start building your property within a certain time frame. Before you start developing a plan, make sure you know exactly what the requirements are, and if you are required to start in a specific time period, make sure that your builder is available before you purchase.

If you purchase the land and discover that your builder is not available for the construction within the required time period, you may pay extra fees for “rush” charges, or you may end up choosing a builder that was not your first choice. If neither of those two work out? Depending on the lending agreement, you may face issues of funds not being released to complete your purchase, turning the experience into more of a headache than a joy.

Buying land to build a home can fulfill a family dream for many. In order to be successful, you only need to follow a few simple steps. Be sure to consult with a land expert to make sure that you know the value of the land you are purchasing so that you don’t become overzealous or undercut the value of the market. Getting the right assessment upfront can save you from the heartache of a missed opportunity!

About the Author
Being a Transitional Commercial Land Professional, a registered lobbyist, and a former elected official, I develop land, write policy, and create new opportunities by writing legislation and protecting landowners. In my home life, I tend to horses and cattle beef ranching. Selling land is more than just a listing. The due diligence, different contracts, and disclosures required to prepare the land for its showcase take a skilled land expert to make sure everything is being transferred with the sale and you are getting the highest and best value the land can produce. If you are in the Kansas City area and want to make this your next place to buy land, I would love to show you the best BBQ places the locals know and help you find the right piece of land.