A Checklist to Buying Land

John Bates of Coldwell Banker in Chicago, Ill., is a successful ¬realtor dealing in rural properties. He closes $80 million a year in sales. He is usually on the developer’s end of buying rural property, but he understands the thought process of buyers.

Mind-set. Do you need to be near civilization? Country air is fine, but location is key to scratch the occasional itch for a restaurant in the city.

Life stage. Put schools at the top of your search list if you have children. A country school with small classrooms is appealing. There are fine rural schools, but others rate low on the resources scale and high on the deferred-maintenance list.

Access. Property fronting a hard-surfaced road is best. But access created for easements, pipelines, power lines and railroads is bad. Make sure wetlands don’t limit plans you have for a country property.

Activity. What do you want to do on your acreage? Country living doesn’t mean life without rules. If you want horses, check out the zoning laws. Don’t forget to look for any covenants.

Soundness. If you are buying land for a home, make sure the soil is suitable. As the Bible says—and we paraphrase—build your home on solid ground. For the health of your septic system, make sure the soil drains well.

Future. Think carefully if you are buying property with visions of a retirement windfall. Zoning laws change.
Bates has a story about change. He was looking at a 62-acre property that appeared suitable for ¬development. He figured he would have to pay approximately $26,000 an acre.

But most of the property, apparently to the owner’s surprise, had been rezoned as wetlands. Worse, the remaining piece of land had a water table so high that no home built there could have a basement. Bates pulled out. The owners eventually took $15,000 an acre for the property.

Used with permission, The Progressive Farmer, All Rights Reserved.

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