A Blank Canvas -- 5 Tips For Buying Vacant Land

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If you're planning to build a home just the way you want it, purchasing vacant land can be the best and easiest way to realize your dream. But, if this is your first empty lot purchase, it's important to know how to find the right space. Here are 5 tips from the pros.

Talk With Locals. Before signing a contract, be sure you talk with your future neighbors. Local owners can help you learn things that only those who live nearby will know. This may include things like noise levels in the neighborhood, difficult neighbors, development plans, and local activities.

Walk the Land. Whether your future property is large or small, get to know it intimately. Walk the length and breadth of the lot, noting things like elevation changes, pooling water, existing structures (above and below the ground), condition of trees, utilities, and fencing. This will give you the best idea of what will need to be changed and what you can count on.

Learn the Rules. Once you've settled on a lot, it's time to visit the city offices to learn about potential challenges to building on it. This can include things like zoning requirements, water and sewer codes, and preservation requirements. In addition, be sure to look up information at the assessor's office. The tax assessor is where you will find vital clues about land restrictions (like flood zones or wetlands) and restrictions on previous building work. Work with your real estate agent to determine any other local restrictions you may have to work out.

Do the Math. Building on a vacant lot is a great way to get the exact house you want, but it can be more expensive than remodeling existing structures. So, be sure to count the cost of buying the lot, making improvements or changes, felling trees, adding utilities, and adding exterior landscaping or outbuildings.

Understand Financing. Getting a loan for a vacant lot can be more complex than buying an already-built home. You're likely to need a land-buying mortgage, so talk to local banks or credit unions with experience in your area. These types of loans usually call for a higher down payment and higher interest rates, so know what's going to be expected before you set out. 

No matter whether you want a huge dream home or a small cabin on your own piece of land, purchasing an empty parcel can be the first step to creating your own little piece of paradise. And by following these 5 tips, you can help ensure the smoothest and most satisfying transaction possible. Contact a real estate agent for additional advice.