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Why Road Access Is Important to Check When Buying Land

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Published on Thursday, November 19, 2015 by Land Century

You’re searching for land to buy, and you keep coming across listings that mention road access. What does this mean? We’ll be discussing what road access is and why it's so important when you’re buying land. While a massive lot of land may be fine without road access, in the vast majority of cases, you’ll want a plot of land that has road access already.

Understanding Road Access

What is road access? Many people believe that road access is provided to every piece of land, but this cannot be further from the truth. When a property does not have road access, this means that there's no public road connecting to your own land.

If the road is not maintained by the local government, it will fall into three categories:

- Public access

- Un-deeded access

- Deeded access

Public access correlates to any land that touches a road and is maintained by the local government. You won’t have to gain access to your land from someone else by crossing over their property line.

Deeded Access

Deeded access is the complete opposite of un-deeded access. This is when a written agreement with adjoining landowners allows you to traverse the road to your own land. In most cases, this agreement has been agreed upon by all parties and has been noted at the local courthouse for legal purposes.

Land that has deeded access is not a problem for potential investors. But, un-deeded land can be problematic, which we will discuss shortly.

Un-deeded Access

Under un-deeded access, you’ll need to crossover a road or trail that's owned by another land owner. This is often called “landlocked.” Typically, this is a road that has always been used to access the property, but there’s never been a formal written agreement with the actual landowner to use the property.

For example, imagine a family where the father owns 100 acres of land and has allowed all five of his children to have 20 acres of land each. But, one child owns a middle lot wherein he or she is only able to get to the property by going through a sibling’s property. Access may be through a regular road or trail, and no written agreement has been provided because the family has agreed to allow access to the land. If this land is sold, there's no way to get to the land without an agreement with one of the other landowners. This can quickly turn into a complicated matter.

Un-deeded Access Issues and Concerns

In most cases, un-deeded access is not much of an issue. From personal experience, most of these lands have roads or trails that are uncontested. In some cases, these routes may go back several generations wherein they have been grandfathered into law. However, there are times where there has been no written agreement provided from the landowner. This is where un-deeded access can become an issue.

Alabama is a state that has laws already in place that dictate land access. Under the state law, you may not “land lock” your neighbor from accessing their own land. But, this doesn’t mean that these laws exist in every state in the country. You’ll also find that access has its own strict definition under which issues may occur.
Just because access must be granted, that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to:

- Run utility lines across the property

- Run water lines or pipes across the property

- An easement has not been granted in this case.

As you can see, these are a lot of issues that will take time to rectify on your part as a land investor. Another very serious issue is that lenders are far less likely to provide you with capital to buy investment land if the land is un-deeded. Technically speaking, you may be provided physical access to the land, but other issues may arise, such as utility connections (water and sewage) and what you could potentially do with the land itself. It’s not an ideal situation for any landowner – especially new land investors.

Your Intended Use

Of course, your intended use is a big factor when it comes to un-deeded land. If you plan on using the land for hunting or growing timber, it won't be much of an issue to get access granted by the state or the landowner for deeded access.

If there's been contention with your neighbor and other property owners, you're likely to have to go through a legal battle to be granted access. And the more people that use the road, the less of a contention will exist in most cases.

In the event that you do need to obtain deeded access, you’ll want to follow these tips:

- Negotiate a contract with the seller of the land.

- Within the contract, put a contingency clause that dictates deeded access needs to be present for the contract and sale to be final.

Even if you do plan to use the land in a manner that doesn’t require utilities to be ran across your neighbor’s property immediately, you’ll still want to discuss deeded land access. Essentially, you can’t ask a farmer to dig up all of their crops on their land so that you can run water lines or place power lines across the land. The landowner does not have to allow you this access.

If you want to conduct this type of land renovation, you’ll need a written agreement that has been overlooked by a lawyer. In most cases, you’ll also have to open up your wallet and pay to have the right to conduct this type of agreement.

As you can see, road access is essential when buying land. One of the major benefits of land is that it's scarce, and as the population grows, the demand for land rises. In the event that the land cannot be used to build a home structure, the land’s value will plummet dramatically. I highly recommend discussing these options with your neighbor and with the local courthouse.

Also, if you plan on using the land for timber or hunting, still attempt to have an agreement in place. If you plan on selling the land or possibly building a home structure in the future, the process has already been agreed upon within a contract. It’s a legal issue that many investors don’t realize is a problem until they do not have the right to enter the land or have utilities ran to their property.
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