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How to Ensure Land Is Buildable Prior to Purchasing

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Created on Monday, March 28, 2016
Updated on Monday, February 26, 2018
by Land Century

You’ve found the perfect property. The amount of acreage is unbeatable, the price per acre is far below market value, and you have the plans ready to be submitted to the local authorities for approval for building. The only problem is that you haven’t stepped foot on the land itself just yet, and you may not have pulled the trigger to actually purchase the land. But you simply can’t pass this deal up because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of opportunity.

Land buyers have been in your situation before. And you need to make sure that the land you purchase is buildable before making an investment. After all, if the land isn’t buildable, you’ll be out of a lot of money no matter how good the deal may be. Let’s discuss what you can do to ensure the land you’re purchasing is buildable.

Understand Land Regulations

Land may be regulated on the city, state and even federal level (in rare circumstances). Restrictions may be in place that will hinder your chance to use your land accordingly. A few restrictions that may exist, include:

Zoning: Is the lot zoned for residential, commercial or agricultural usage? If you want to build a home, you need to make sure that the land is zoned accordingly. You may be able to have the property re-zoned, but this takes time and money to accomplish.

Subdivision Regulations: Some subdivisions have regulations in place. These regulations can stop you from building to plan because they restrict a building’s height or how far the building needs to be from the road.

If you look at a state like Massachusetts, there are laws that require a certain distance between a well and septic system on your land and abutting lots. In this case, a small lot may be impossible to build on because you cannot meet the distance requirements. You may be able to get a variance to build on the property, but again, this can be a hassle.

Title Searches

Conducting a title search will tell you a lot about the land you’re going to be purchasing. Through a title search, you’ll be able to determine:

* Who owns a particular lot
* Deed restrictions
* Easements

It’s important to note that a title search will not tell you about the zoning of the property or other intricacies that may hinder your building plans. But it is a good way to ensure that easements will not hinder or harm your chances of building. You may use a title search to determine how the land was used previously. A previous owner may have donated part of the land for conservation, and if this is the case, you will not be able to withdraw this donation.

Wetlands

You need to be cautious about wetlands because the regulations on this type of land are severe. And complex laws exist on the city, town and county levels as well as the state and federal levels, which is a mess in itself. If you do not have access to the property (i.e. you’re buying it online), you can contact the local environmental department to inquire about wetland inventory maps. These maps will pinpoint all of the wetland in the area, and you will be able to utilize this map to determine if the land you’re interested in is governed under wetland restrictions.

Flood Plains

Local planning offices will be able to tell you if your land resides on the border of a flood plain. If the property does reside on the boundary of a flood plain, you may have to build a specified distance away from the boundary. This distance may make it impossible on a small lot where there may also be restrictions on how close a home can be to the road.

Contact the Local Building and Planning Office

If you’re going to be purchasing a property, you will need to know where it is located. Using just this sparse information, you can call the town’s Building and Planning Department. This is a department that must be called to ensure that the lot is buildable.

You can call these individuals asking for help and advice in determining if a piece of land is buildable. Every town also has a zoning map, which can be picked up from these offices. You may be able to call the office and have a digital version of the map sent to you or a physical version if you do not live in the same state. If you tell the office what you plan on building and ask if there will be any hiccups along the way, they will more than likely be willing to walk you through the process and tell you of any immediate reason you may not be able to build on the land.

Ask for Verification

As a buyer, you do have the right to ask for verification of the land’s buildability. There is a chance that the land was used for farming, and pesticides were dumped on the land, causing it to be toxic. You have a right to know about all of this prior to your purchase, and if you purchase a property without knowing about this toxic waste, it will become your responsibility to clean up the waste, which can be very costly. You can ask the seller for a statement that clarifies that the land is free of toxic materials and buried items, which may be an issue when building. But remember that the current owner may not know about buried items on the property that can cause issues in the future.

Disclosure laws also exist in many states that will inform you of certain issues. If the land was home to an Indian burial ground, for example, you would not be allowed to build on the property under federal law. You would need to know this information, and a disclosure may provide you with this pertinent information. But every state has their own disclosure laws, and some states do not have disclosure laws in place for real estate.

The best you can do as a buyer is to follow all of the information above to verify any potential issues you may come across when building on a particular property.
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