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Buying land and building a homestead is easily the biggest thing we’ve ever undertaken (well…at least besides parenthood). It was a stressful process, but it wouldn’t have been if we had known this crucial information. If you’ve found the property of your dreams, make sure you do these FIVE things before you pull the trigger and buy it.
First, make sure you’ve made the necessary financial preparations to buy a piece of property. If you haven’t, READ THIS ARTICLE to get your money under control so that you can focus on choosing the homestead property that is right for you.
Second, make sure you know what to actually look for in a property by reading about homestead essentials HERE. After all, if you’re going to buy some land you should get some that will serve you well for years to come.
Once you’ve evaluated your money and have some land you want to purchase, be sure to do these five important things before you buy.
5 Things To Do BEFORE Buying Land
1. Visit the property and do a complete walk-through.
This might seem super basic, but you’d be surprised how many people DON’T do this.
This step is vitally important, especially if you are not local to the area in which you intend to purchase. Even if you are 1,000 miles away from your dream homestead, go visit it in person. It is not enough to simply trust your real estate agent to steer you in the right direction. If you want to be truly self-sufficient, YOU need to make sure the property is what you need and want.
There were plenty of properties we pulled up online and fell in love with “virtually”. We’d look at the GIS maps and pore through the photos in the listing, thinking it was perfect. Then we’d drive to it and realize that it’s at the end of a rugged dirt road lined with falling apart trailers and probable meth labs (and yes, at least one was verified!).
Or we’d discover that you can see and smell the landfill just across the valley. Or we’d realize that the topographic map was a little deceptive and didn’t really convey how hilly and wooded the land really is.
Moral of the story: do not buy a property without going to it and walking it first!
If possible, walk it with a copy of the plat. The owner of the property should also walk it with you, if possible. They will usually have a deeper knowledge of the boundary lines and landmarks, not to mention the history of a property and any neighborly disputes.
We walked our property with the previous owner a couple of times and found tremendous value in it.
2. Check deed restrictions.
You want to check for any deed restrictions that may limit what you can and can’t do on your property, and find out exactly how binding these limits are. If you’re working with a realtor they will usually be provided with this information. Even if they are, do your due diligence and check the OFFICIAL property deed at your county clerk’s office. You may encounter:
- Minimum or maximum dwelling square footages
- Rules against outbuildings or auxiliary structures
- Limits on building styles and materials you can use
- Other limits pertaining to how and what you can build
In my experience, truly rural properties avoid unnecessary deed restrictions, but you may always encounter an exception. For example, the previous owner of our property wanted to make it into a subdivision but it never materialized. As a result, there was a restriction on our deed that any house must be over 1200 square feet. When we asked him about it he explained the situation and was more than happy to remove it for us. Even so, enforcement of a deed restriction isn’t hard and fast. Read here for more information.
3. Check on mineral, timber, water, and access rights.
You need to know if your property comes with its mineral, timber, water, and access rights or if they have been sold off by a previous property owner. You may buy the property with or without them, but you need to understand the risks.
We did have a mineral rights issue that could have ruined our plans to buy our property, but we were able to resolve it within the timeframe of our offer to buy without jumping any other legal hurdles.
Your best course of action is to check with a lawyer in your county who has experience with property rights and disputes. If you are using a lender like Farm Credit to make your purchase, they will often have agents who can help you through this process.
4. Verify zoning and ordinances.
If you want to build a house on your land, you need to make absolutely sure of what your property’s zoning type and associated ordinances dictate about what you can or cannot build. The same is true if you will want to add auxiliary structures like sheds, barns, tiny houses, wind turbines, solar panels, etc.
There may be square footage requirements for permits, types of structures that are not allowed, boundary setback requirements, and more. Every state, county, and municipality is very different, so be sure to check with your local government(s) to ensure you don’t jeopardize a future building project on your homestead.
Ours were available easily enough online through our county’s official website. Of course, deciphering the legal jargon in it is another matter. Be a careful and diligent reader!
5. Double-check your finances.
If you haven’t already evaluated the ways that you can finance your land, do that here.
You also need to make sure you figure out exactly how you’ll be paying for and insuring your land once you start building on it.
If you’re paying cash, make sure your money is secure and accessible so your transaction can go smoothly. What about land leases or owner-financing? Make sure you have signed any appropriate documents and have reviewed them with a lawyer or someone who is well-versed in these transactions in your area. The last thing you want is to lose the opportunity to buy your land because of lost money or shady business practices.
These are definitely not the only five things you need to do before you buy land.
What about getting a proper survey? Or having a percolation test to make sure you can install a septic system with your soil type? Can you build the home you want on the property you’re eyeing?
Find out more in The Homestead Land Buyer’s Guidebook!
We also have a free guide in our Members-Only Resource Library. You can sign up below to get it sent straight to your inbox, as well as access to all of our other homesteading and simple living guides.
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