There is something about bare land that appeals to almost all homesteaders. It’s the clean slate — the dream of being able to turn a piece of undeveloped land into exactly what you want it to be, and the chance to control (at least a bit) of your own destiny.
Before you head out to buy your own piece of bare land, there are several things you need to consider.
1. Building codes & zoning
Before buying any piece of land, the first thing you need to know is the zoning. Zoning will determine a lot of what you can do with your property — from building buildings, to installing electricity, to cutting trees, to owning livestock.
Once you’ve established the zoning, make sure to check out any and all applicable building codes. In some areas with an agricultural zoning, you may be able to build barns without permits. However, if you are buying land with a forestry or recreational zoning, you may not be allowed to put a building up at all! Find out the rules BEFORE you buy.
2. Easements, accesses and property lines
Be sure before purchasing any bare land that you have in writing exactly how the property is accessed and if there are any easements that you will either be utilizing to access the property, or easements you will be providing others to access adjoining tracts. This also includes finding out about easements afforded to power, water or gas companies. Never assume that an access road is a legal one. Easements and accesses are recorded with the county, so if the owner or realtor cannot provide you with documentation, check there.
In addition, are the property lines clearly marked, and if not, who will pay to have the land surveyed? No one wants to put a fence in the wrong place and end up in a courtroom, so this is a vital thing if you are purchasing raw, unfenced land. (It never hurts to have it surveyed to confirm that fences are in the right place, either.)
Does the land you are looking to purchase have power already? Are you planning to connect to the power company, or are you planning to put in an off-grid system? These are questions that you need to address before you make an offer on bare land.
In our area, it’s not at all unusual for one street to have utility company power, and the next street for it to be unavailable. Our property is a half mile as the crow flies from the nearest home with utility power, and yet to get it to our place was a quote of over $120,000!
If solar or wind is your plan, pay careful attention to property features that may obstruct the operation of those systems, including timber and hills. You’ll want to visit the property at several different times and get a feel for the feasibility of installing those systems.
What water access does the tract have? Does the property have a well already or access to public water? If there is presently a well on the property, make sure you have it tested or the owner has a testing report from within the last few months.
If there’s not well but there is water, you may be looking at putting a well in yourself. Installing a well can be quite costly, depending on the depth. You’ll want to check with your realtor, the property owner, neighbors, the county, or local well drillers to get an idea on what depth and cost of well installation will be. Keep in mind, though, that no two properties are the same. For instance, our well is at a depth of 330 feet, and yet our neighbor whose well is a quarter mile from our own and further down the valley is at a depth of around 600 feet. Still, it’s good to have an idea of what depth you are likely to be at.
Depending on the location, there is also the possibility that the property will not have or have access to water. In that case, you may be looking at a cistern situation, with water being delivered from an outside source. Do your homework first – good water is essential!
Very seldom does a tract of bare land have a septic, but it does happen on occasion. This is especially likely if there was previously a home or if anyone has lived on the land with an RV. If there is one, then get the usual details — size rating, installation date, who put it in, and last service date.
Most likely, you’ll be putting in a septic system yourself, so again, be sure you know what the codes require. There is a significant difference in price from a traditional system to something more in-depth such as a sand filter setup. Know what to expect before you buy.
6. Soil & drainage
Soil and drainage are two items that not everybody stops to think about when buying land.
When looking at drainage, look for natural features such as creek beds, dry creeks, depressions, etc. What doesn’t look like much in dry weather may become a lake or roaring river during the wet season. Also, are there spots with good drainage that will allow for buildings such as a house or barns? If not, you may be looking at bringing in soils or rock to build areas up before construction can begin.
Furthermore, it’s important to know what type of soil a property has, especially if you plan to garden or house animals. Rocky ground or hard clay can be miserable to put fence posts into, and sandy soils may not keep posts in! You may also have trouble planting or growing trees in rocky or sandy ground. Amending soils or building raised beds can be costly if you plan to have a very large garden, so be sure to do a little investigation on the front end.
Researching the predators in your area is a very big deal if you have small children or plan to raise livestock. This can include the big animals such as mountain lions, bears, coyotes, wolves, and bobcats, but also small critters like fox, skunks, opossum and raccoons, which are all threats if you plan to raise and free-range poultry.
Additionally, if you plan to have an orchard or large garden and are looking at property in the heart of a heavy deer population, this is something you’ll have to consider. Keeping critters out is often more costly than keeping them in!
You might be thinking this one is unimportant, but from personal experience I can tell you that neighbors can make all the difference when it comes to enjoying your homesteading space. I’m not saying that you need to be best friends with your potential neighbors, but getting a feel for who they are will save you heartache down the road.
Buying a bare piece of land to build your homestead on can be a wonderful adventure if you do your due diligence on the front end and keep these items in mind.
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