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5 Questions When Buying a Vacant Lot

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on March 31, 2016 12:58 PM

You've been scanning real estate listings, looking at vacant lots and plots of land, and you are very tempted. The prices are so nice compared to parcels with homes on them, and you like the idea of a clean slate.

But wait. Before you dive in and find yourself in a mess, consider these five questions. They should help get you thinking about what you need to know before you buy a lot in any state.

5 Questions to Consider

  1. How is the land zoned? When you buy a home in a residential neighborhood, taking over from the last owner, you can be pretty sure (although you should still check) that the plot is zoned for dwelling. But when you buy a bare plot, there are quite a lot of legal issues to consider, first and foremost zoning. Similarly, if you are going to start a business on a vacant lot, make sure commercial use is authorized. If you wish to live there too, check that the land is zoned for mixed use.
  2. What will it cost to get utilities? Your lot's got nothing -- no plumbing or running water. How much money and time will you need to arrange for utilities and services? Look into the service prices in the area where you want to buy, as well as the process for connecting your property.
  3. What kind of permits will be required to build? What restrictions exist? You are sure you can get cable now, but less certain you can build the structure you want. Speak to local authorities about permits for building and easements or restrictions on the land. Most contractors will be able to pull permits for you when they are working on a project. But be informed beforehand. Don't wait until after you buy your acreage to learn what's involved in constructing or that a neighbor has some kind of an arrangement that involves your prospective property.
  4. Are there alternatives? You may find that a compromise is ideal. Perhaps you buy a plot with some decrepit shacks on it but all the basics covered, like the aforementioned zoning and utility issues. At that point, you reduce the expense and anxiety associated with a vacant parcel and start building your dream home around existing hookups.
  5. Will you face financing issues? Banks are likely to be less eager to finance the purchase of a bare plot than a developed property. If you need to borrow most of the money for your purchase and can't move into the new place for a while, for example, that makes your mortgage less attractive than the more standard arrangement. But don't despair, and do revisit option 4, above, for potential alternatives or a middle path.

Consult With Counsel

You absolutely should talk to a local lawyer before investing in a plot. A real estate attorney will be able to advise you on applicable issues in your area and guide you to a decision that will work. Get help.

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