What To Look For When Buying Land

Before I start the article just thought I’d show you that our apartment is now up for sale. Here are the pics we worked so hard to make. Taking photos of an apartment to show its true size can be more difficult than you think!

What to look for when buying land? It’s a simple question with a rather complicated answer. I won’t act as if I’m the end all guru of knowing exactly what to look for as our upcoming purchase of some land will be our first. But I’ve done my research and I tried to compile a checklist of sorts as what are some of the major things you should think about when purchasing land.

One of the first things most people will want to consider is resale value. I know it doesn’t seem like the biggest factor as you are most likely putting all your hopes and dreams into this one plot of land but that doesn’t mean you won’t perhaps want something bigger, or even move back into the city in an apartment later on. All I’m saying is that like it or not, buying land is a big investment, and you’d have to be reckless not to consider the property value of the plot. The good news is that land consistently goes up in value at a scale almost twice as much as property. So say for instance you buy a plot of land for 100,000 and build a house on it which cost 100,000. The land itself will most likely go up by 20% in ten years (120,000$) while the home will go up 10%(110,000$). The thing with land is that it is a finite resource and one that has a demand that is on the increase across the board. Simply put, most land will only increase in value in time as it becomes more and more scarce (especially around major cities). When looking at land values of a plot think about it’s access to transportation, schools, roads, noise, access to nature, neighboring houses, and then comes the next big annoyance. Zoning.

Everyone but developers and real estate tycoons pretty much hates zoning laws. I could go on at length about zoning laws and how they’ve actually ruined the landscape of a lot of the US but I’ll save that for later. Basically there’s three types of zones. Business, Residential, and Mixed Use. You obviously need to buy a piece of land that is zoned residential. Sorry, Christopher Walken’s wise words “If you want to build a house, build a house. Don’t tell anyone, just build a house.” dosn’t really apply unless you are wanting to build something in a completely remote location where you know the local zoning authorities won’t mess with you. So check number 2 is to make sure the land you are buying is zoned for living! I know it seems like common sense but you’d be surprised. Also look at how close you are to a commercial/mixed zone and how these two interact. In the US it is common to use large collector roads that connect residential and commercial areas. If you have the ability to walk or ride your bike to the store without crossing a 5 lane highway then these are obvious bonuses. In much of Europe the smaller satellite towns surrounding the major cities are long well established so they didn’t fall into the 1950s suburbanization. In this case (which is my case as I’m looking for land in Czech Republic) I’m looking for a smaller town with fast public transportation (trains) to Prague as well as something which still has a city center with shops so I can still walk to buy my groceries and won’t need to jump in the car every time we run out of milk (which hopefully won’t be often if I gt the goat I’ve been lobbying for:) ) We also need to be within a reasonable distance to a school as we are awaiting the arrival of a baby girl. So this check on the list could be summed up as be aware of how your land is zoned, but also be aware of how the surrounding land is zoned and how the commercial areas intertwine with the residential areas (who knows you could also be an urban homesteader and get a plot of land in the center of town). Just make sure that you’re able to do what you want on that land (have chickens, goats, etc. etc.).

We don’t need a lot in order to survive, but one thing that every human needs is water. Which brings me to the issue of Utilities. The level to which the plot of land is “wired” can vary with each field you look at. Some will have gas, septic, electricity, and everything ready to roll. If not then you can use various alternative methods for managing your septic system yourself, make sure you’ve got a well, and generate your own electricity. Or if you aren’t looking to be off the grid you should inquire as to how much it will cost in order to get all these lines going to your future home. Prices will vary based upon a multitude of factors.

Find out about the quality of your soil and figure out how far the builders will have to dig in order to lay a foundation. When the foundation for your house is poured the builders will have to ensure that it has a solid foundation. This can be determined by taking soil borings which will show how deep your builders will have to excavate for your foundation. Other things to consider is that those nice pieces of land on a slope are cheaper for a reason, and that’s because it’s going to be more expensive to lay a level foundation on a slope as opposed to a flat field. Also look for big stones or other tell tale signs that the soil may be difficult to excavate.

As I was saying previously another obvious thing to check is your plots access to roads and transportation. Often I’ve seen some cheaper pieces of property which are essentially islands inside of other privately owned lands. Why are they cheaper? Well, because if you’re the one using the road to get to your place, then it’s your responsibility to upkeep the road. A road may seem like a simple idea but they are actually extremely difficult to build and maintain without the proper equipment. My Uncle up in North Dakota bought his own road grater, as well as a huge snowplow just to maintain the road to his home. Don’t think that having your own private road isn’t going to be a big expense. On top of that every country road I’ve ever seen will have places that just always seem to get flooded every year. If there is a smaller private road to a piece of property look to see if their are large ruts in the road or if people appear to be constantly changing their route. If possible it’s best to be on, or extremely close to a publicly maintained road as you won’t have to foot the bill (well your taxes pay for that, so you are paying for it anyway).

Remember how much your house is realistically going to cost to build. Many times it’s easy to forget that buying land also includes the cost of building something on that land. Make sure that the home you are looking to build won’t put you way over budget. Get a realistic quote and tell whoever you’ve got lined up to build the home that you simply can’t pay more. I personally found it better during the reconstruction of our apartment to charge by the job and not by the hour. Not sure how legal that is :/ lol, anyway just make sure your contractors know that you’re really tied into a budget and while you should prepare for some leeway that you absolutely can’t go too far over budget.

Do your research on the surrounding community and the type of people who live there. This is something I’ve been documenting throughout the summer as I’ve travelled to various small satellite villages surrounding Prague. They’ve turned into little diary like entries complete with music (made by me:) ) but they remind me of what the village felt like. In the video below you can see my most recent trip to a field for sale in Mnichovice

Now obviously you don’t need to go to the lengths of editing the video and making your own music and everything. I just do that for fun, but the lesson here is to document every single piece of property you look at. You might think you’re filming a lot of crap but once you get home you can review the footage and it actually works in capturing the feel of the area you are in. You can view the other towns I’ve been to by looking at my youtube channel.

Make sure you can get financing to buy your dream plot. Buying land is much more difficult to get financing for as there are a lot more factors which make it risky. It’s a good idea to figure out how you’re going to pay for it once you pay it. Thankfully we’ve been blessed with Jana inheriting an apartment we are selling which will more than cover the price of a plot of land. And since we’ll have “cash in hand” so to speak we’ll also be able to haggle more with the seller of the property. If you don’t have a chunk of money to spend then realize that down payments on land can often be much higher than what is expected for homes.

The last thing I look for may be my own strange thing, but I always check for drainage issues on a piece of land I’m looking at. If there are large sections of standing water or puddles you should probably get used to them being there because it’s pretty hard to change the course of nature.

So that’s it. If anyone has some things that they always look for when thinking about buying land please leave a comment below. It would be fun to expand the checklist and make it a resource for those looking to buy land in the future (plus it would help me out in my own search as well!) Cheers!

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