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What every wannabe needs to know about finding/buying land

 
gardener
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This topic is intended for experienced property buyers to give advice on finding/buying raw, undeveloped land for off-grid home/farmsteading. Newbies are welcome to ask questions.

How do you haggle price?
What are the best ways to find a property?
Favorite realtor websites?
Any anecdotes, important lessons, hacks, tools, etc. ?

Thank you all!
 
pollinator
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further away from civilization the land is lower the price

as soon as there is anything built on it the price goes up

neighbors make or break a property

there is lots more but I will let others have a chance to comment

One of the best videos on youtube about getting land

 
Devin Lavign
pollinator
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Well since no one else has said it yet.

Water is key, figure out how your getting water asap. The biggest thing to cause a homestead to fail is hauling water too far. Get your water figured out and other things will follow that.
 
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Don't buy in California unless there's some sort of permitted dwelling place already on property, if even if its a shack with a septic field. If you don't, getting something permitted will be a giant monumental headache, and until you get it the gavel of the law will always be hanging over your head.
 
master steward
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Usually the larger the property the cheaper it is per acre.  Sometimes smaller tracts cost as much as some of the larger tracts.

We don't haggle on the price.  We make an offer then we go from there.  It depends on the property, the situation, or even how much we want it.  Sometimes it will depend on an appraisal or how much the mortgage company will lend. I have turned down property when they didn't accept my offer or sometimes we will make a counter offer, it just depends.

Most of our purchases have been raw land.  I look at what it will take to get utilities to the land as that is a big expensive.  To bring in electricity it is by the foot.  Another big expense is water.  Will there need to be a well dug or will there be a coop water company to hook up to.  What does the water company charge to buy their membership and install the water meter.

Just a few of my thoughts ...
 
pollinator
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I bought 200 acres of farmland in 2002.  It had 145 acres of dry land wheat farm and the rest was timber.

It had been farmed by a neighbor since like 1962 and they basically considered it their land.  They had also infected the land with Goat weed, a form of wheat that is listed as a noxious weed.

I was unaware of the noxious weed issue when I bought the land and due to troubles with the neighbors telling us to leave the land I did not renew my lease with them.  I figured I would simply let the fields sit fallow for a year or two until I got the basics taken care of and got us moved out there.

The next spring after buying the place the neighbor came by and informed me that I had a severe noxious weed issue and that unless I leased him the land at a cut rate price for three years he would bring out the county weed inspector to nail me.  I immediately went online and started looking up the weed and what the county does in such cases.  I found that they would come out and give me 60 days to take care of the weed across 145 acres of land and if I was unable to comply they would hire a contractor to come out and do it at a highly inflated price and then put the $15K to $20K on my tax bill.

I realized that the neighbor had me by the short hairs on that so I agreed to 3 years, then he came back and wouldn't accept anything less than a five year lease.  He attempted to farm for 6 years on a five year lease and never paid me the rent for the last two years.  He also unbeknownst to me enrolled my forest land into a wild life program and was collecting money from the farm welfare department for it.

I would advise that anyone looking to buy an acreage go to the county weed inspector and ask them to do an inspection on any property that you are interested in.  If there is a noxious weed issue you will at least be "aware" of it.  This could also even be used to reduce the buying price of land if it has a known noxious weed issue.
 
pollinator
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I bought about 2acres of land with 1.7 acres of it wooded and I am finding that it is super expensive to get a company to come in and clear the lot leaving all the woodchip onsite. They even seem like a cheap company given that they sell and deliver 18 cubic yard of compost with 5% biochar for only $250. But $27,000 just seem like highway robbery.
 
steward
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How do you haggle price?

I just offer a bit less than whatever it "should" be listed for.  So compare it to other properties, determine what it's fair market value is and then offer less than that since all the other properties are possibly also selling for a less than they are listed for.  If it's a hot market than ignore this advice...

What are the best ways to find a property?  Favorite realtor websites?

I did searches on Zillow and Realtor.com.  Get good at finding the satellite images of the properties and using the county GIS maps to further find rough property boundaries.  I'd always look at the land on the satellite before i bothered looking at the pictures of the house.  No sense getting excited if it is the wrong land type for you.

Any anecdotes, important lessons, hacks, tools, etc. ?

Figure out what is most important to you (utilities, pasture, particular type of trees, lake/river/stream, microhydro potential, established gardens/orchards, house, barn, pole building, distance from town, distance from hardware store, zoning and building codes, size lot, proximity to farms, etc) and then evaluate properties against those criteria.

Get more land if you can.  Close to town is nice for trips to the hardware/feed/grocery store.  Evaluate neighbors as much as you can within reason.  Check your state's child molester locator service to see if any live nearby.  Spy around with the satellite images and GIS airplane images to see if neighbors have dirt bike tracks, junk yards or other interesting things going on.  Maybe prioritize areas where the neighbors have gardens and/or livestock.

Try not to fall in love with a place until you buy it.
 
pollinator
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One word:  Water!  

No kidding, so much of the available (left over) land that is available at a reasonable price is in an area that geologically or politically has water constraints.  Before buying any property research where there is water and whom owns it.  I got some real shocks when I was at the searching stage of property acquisition.  The best location in the world; or the nicest property you can find, is no value if you can't get water to it legally or practically.

After you establish you can get life giving water, the next lesson learned is to research the soil type.  Here is a tip that is much easier (preliminary investigation) than sending soil sample to the lab for every piece of property you become interested.  UC Davis soil web.  Find the location on the map and check the soil report.

UC Davis soil web map
 
Devin Lavign
pollinator
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Here is a good video discussing looking for a farm online

 
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Personally, I couldn’t stand Zillow, Realtor, Landwatch, Landio, Landflip, Craigslist, etc.  Many of the listed properties really WEREN’T available, there were many bait and switch properties, so many issues with permits, water, utilities, easements and on and on and on...  Hours spent on researching counties laws, regulations, rules, permits and then when we finally WERE able to purchase then the loan process started.  So frustrating!

Thank goodness I found our property listed right here on Permies! Yay!
 
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About four years ago I came into a property, it was part of another property. The owners were having big medical bills, and the house needed a bunch of work.
Fortunately the house has good bones.
It's not a huge property, but plenty big for a decent sized garden. And a small grove of edible trees and bushes.
At the time I was able to get the house and 1.49 acres for $70k, with $25k down, $45000 at 8% interest for 10 years on a land contract. I had burned down my credit 12 years before, so the owners financed me.
.
A year later a big bank bought the owners contract for a substantial reduced price. I never heard what that price was. But getting a 8% return a few years ago was a pretty good investment for them by itself.
The bank started immediately reporting to the consumer credit companies, which helped my credit rating immensely.
.
I found out about the property through a family member that knew the owners.
.
 
gardener
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There is a lot of great advice about where and what type of land to buy so I won’t try to duplicate those results.  Instead I will try to give some input about the actual transaction process.

My advice:  be prepared for drama!  I have made a total of three real estate transactions and began negotiations on a fourth and all but one involved a lot of high emotions.  People get highly personally attached to land (I know I do) and sellers inevitably think the property is worth much more than current market suggests.  Buyers on the other hand always want a deal and are looking for the lowest price possible.  The only real estate transaction I had that did not involve a lot of drama was my first home which was a spec home and the seller was motivated to sell quickly.

For more practical advice, I strongly suggest working with a real estate agent unless one is thoroughly educated in real estate transactions.  This is to ensure that there are no surprises on the newly acquired land.  A previous post on this thread mentioned a noxious weed issue.  That is a pre-existing condition that the seller legally should have notified the buyer about before finalizing the transaction.  In my state, if I had failed to disclose an issue like this, then I would be legally on the hook for those weeds.

Another issue:  if you are really serious about buying land, the standard practice is to put down “earnest money” which is sort of like a down payment that is made when the price has been agreed upon but before the actual transaction (which probably requires a bank) and title change takes place.  The earnest money can be refunded if the seller backs out but not if the buyer backs out.  The amount of earnest money varies from place to place and transaction to transaction.

Some sellers don’t understand the selling process.  I once bought land from a seller (actually the drama came from a close relative of the actual seller) who assumed that we would simply meet the asking price and write a check!  This individual needed to be informed that there is quite a process involved, including a title search (does anyone else have a claim on the land?) and a lien search (is the land being used as collateral for another transaction?  Does some other agency have a claim on it?).

Additionally, taxes paid will be for the year before the purchase.  The individual in the previous paragraph thought that once the land was sold that they were completely cleared of paying any taxes whatsoever.  The transaction almost fell apart the night before in a 2 hour epic phone call when my real estate agent proposed (and I readily agreed) that the seller would lower the price by the amount of the real estate bill and I would pay the bill which was due in about 3 months.  Really, this was a trivial issue that almost ruined the transaction.

Real estate transactions come down to a lot of dotting “I’s” and crossing “T’s”. Do your homework and/or have a realtor do the homework.  A real estate purchase could be a purchase for a lifetime, do everything you can to make sure that the process goes smoothly and ends with no surprises.  Also, keep and make copies of all your paperwork.

This is only a small glimpse of the transactional aspect of buying land.  I strongly suggest getting the advice of a true professional unless you are thoroughly educated on the subject yourself.

Eric
 
gardener
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Thank you for reviving this thread guys. I have been thinking about buying land for years now, and now that I tried rural living out last year I know it is the lifestyle I want to end up living. I have only recently begun to seriously search for land, and as of now it looks as if I will need to be moving further north into REAL northern ontario to be able to afford more than a couple acres of land. I know I would like to end up in a very small town, even a township with a population of under 5000 people.

I would love to remain close to my family, but land around here is just crazy. For example I spotted 27 acres with road access in a small town 20 minutes away, but it is priced at $588,000...nope! Whereas if I am getting up into Timmins or slightly south of it a similar property might go for $60,000. Things may change with a market crash, but who knows when that will happen.

My next step is to secure a mortgage or idea of what I could get with my saved cash and my earnings as a welder fitter. This has been something bouncing in my head for a while but it's time to take some concrete steps!
 
Mike Feddersen
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Eric,
Great addition to the discussion.
I was a noob on the property tax issue, I signed land contract in August, but property taxes are a July 1st possession timeline. The property owner made me believe I was responsible and I paid $660 that was actually his responsibility. Live and learn.
.
On earnest money, I had a friend that had actually taught real estate law at ASU in Arizona. When he would find a property he was interested in, he would get owner to sign a first right of refusal contact and pay them $100 or less. The contract would set agreed upon price and any terms and when it expires.
More than one seller changed their mind and ended up in court paying him thousands.
I'm sure laws vary from state to state, educating yourself on the intricacies pays off. I know after I had paid my landowner's property tax bill, an aunt told me it was his tax  I figured he would screw me some other way so I let it slide.
 
master steward
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Everything that Eric said …plus….

Check building codes. Check what entity is responsible for those codes.

Drive around and take a close look at the neighbors and neighborhood.   Observe at different times of the day and different days of the week.  I lucked out at my present property.   A couple of weeks after moving in I learned of the motorcycle races on the gravel roads around my property that took place on weekend evenings.   About the time I learned of this regular event, a state cop bought the  20 acres near me.   The races ended.

For me, water is critical.  I make certain the water is there.

Who maintains the roads and how well?  If you get snowed in, how long will it take for the road to be cleared?

Re read everything Eric said about sellers.  The people who I bought the property from had trouble accepting they no longer owned the property.

I also called the Sheriffs Dept and had them search my property.  Rumors emerged after I moved in.   A meth lab was found in the woods as well as the person operating it (not the seller).  Yeah, I was expecting one cop to show up.  Suddenly, I had 5 squad cars and a helicopter.  It seems that my request opened the door for an action they had in the plans.

 
Eric Hanson
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John,

Quite the surprise you got there with the new land purchased!  Do you know if there was any toxicity left over from the lab?

I ended my bit on the sellers a little early because I thought that the post was getting long enough.  Another point of high drama I had with the sellers is that they were downright offended that I made a counteroffer to their initial asking price.  The relative involved simply assumed that one showed up with a checkbook and wrote the check.  That relative was suspicious that I even brought a real estate agent into the process.  Said relative thought of my agent as some sort of high-priced agent who’s job was to cut the offering price as low as possible and nothing else.  As I said, there was some high drama, but fortunately that was a long time ago.

John, I agree with everything you said about codes and zoning and I would add to that covenants if they apply.  Taxes also always change each new purchase.

This list could go on and on, but I keep coming back to going into a real estate transaction well prepared.

Eric
 
John F Dean
master steward
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Just reread some of the posts made.  Once again, I re- stress one of Eric’s observations. Have a pro involved.  More than one person has bought property from people who did not own it.   The legal description of the property rules.   Closely related to this is that it is possible to purchase a deed or title that has no property connected to it.  This is most common in purchases where a bank is not involved. I know of one case, AND the court ruled in favor of the seller.   It appears the purchase papers read that the deed was being purchased.  In this case, the legal description described property that did not exist.
 
Mike Feddersen
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Eric,
When it comes to gathering information to be an informed buyer, you can never have too much information. I have found a number of very well informed individuals here on the permies forums, and to some they may seem to be know-it-all 's, but to the needy, they're a welcome relief.
.
It would be great if everyone that read through these posts would help make them even better by letting the readers know of their own learning experiences.
 
Mike Feddersen
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A couple ideas for finding your dream property.
Tax liens, it seems every community has them, I have even heard of individuals buying the liens as a sure way of getting a good return on investment.
.
Find someone that is like-minded, or maybe several someones. A property is 40 acres, but you only want 10 acres.
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Property owners next to the land you want. Maybe they always wanted a slightly different property line. If you find the property for sale before anyone else next to it, you might get your chunk cut out of current acreage and sell the rest for what the initial sell price was.
.
My nephew worked for a huge gold course community in Arizona. The sold lots surrounding the golf course. The lots were unable to move at $50k, but when they doubled the lot price they sold like hotcakes.
On selling to current neighbors, a woman was told she could not put her mailbox on the spot she wanted. So she bought the next lot so she could have the mailbox where she wanted it to go.
.
Don't put your own financial limitations on others, maybe someone has lived their entire life on a property and hate the idea of a developer buying it and totally changing the landscape. You could help them keep the property as is for a reduced price.
 
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One thing to consider is watershed.

I was lucky. I realized after buying 20 acres in rural hill country that I had full control of rain water over 7+ acres of land. This will allow me to maintain water quality in a pond or other water storage system. Had my property been a few hundred yards away I would not have been able to as one can never be sure what’s happening on higher ground.
 
John F Dean
master steward
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Hi Dan,

Welcome to Permies.  You have found the best place on the net.
 
Dan Parker
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John F Dean wrote:Hi Dan,

Welcome to Permies.  You have found the best place on the net.


Thank you, it didn’t take long to see there were like minded intelligent folks here.

I am on other unrelated forums of interest however I never feel like I quite fit in.  I don’t get that vibe here.
 
Em Nichols
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[quote=Eric Hanson

My advice:  be prepared for drama!  I have made a total of three real estate transactions and began negotiations on a fourth and all but one involved a lot of high emotions.  People get highly personally attached to land (I know I do) and sellers inevitably think the property is worth much more than current market suggests.  Buyers on the other hand always want a deal and are looking for the lowest price possible.  The only real estate transaction I had that did not involve a lot of drama was my first home which was a spec home and the seller was motivated to sell quickly.

For more practical advice, I strongly suggest working with a real estate agent unless one is thoroughly educated in real estate transactions.



I do agree with most of what you said, absolutely.  However, there are some exceptions.

I was a previous homeowner of three different homes in California.  Three dealings with the "traditional" way to buy a house.  You all know how that goes.

Fast forward to buying off-grid property in Arizona.  It was totally different.  It was so different, it was scary for me and I felt like I was being scammed each time.  I have now purchased four different properties (one in New Mexico) and it was so educational for me, it was a trip!  We actually did deals with a REAL handshake!  I've purchased cash, and owner financed.  I've never had to deal with title companies, escrow or real estate agents.  Can you imagine?  It IS possible, although it takes a lot of research, commitment and trust from both parties.  There was only drama with the largest purchase, but even that was resolved...mostly.

Thanks for the discussion.  
 
pollinator
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I am in Australia, we have a very good land title system that protects everybody.
I am stunned to read of shonky deals, handshake agreements, no titles people involved.
I have found sometimes the person I am dealing with is ok, but a relative is not, That is when the trouble starts.
Pay the fees, own the land and sleep well in the future.
 
master pollinator
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Have a land survey done. Friends bought 16 rural acres without doing this. He started building a pole barn on what he thought was his land. One corner was 20 feet into the neighbors land. Ooops.

Fortunately he didn't get very far into it.
 
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My advice on top of all legal details would be:

-check the water availability - amount and quality; you don't want to end up with a well that needs chemical treatments or that can dry up

-check the soil maps; soil may be improved/amended on top 4 inches, but if it has problems with lower strata it will stay with you for ever; also some soils are unfit for erecting heavy structures without costly modification/replacement

-if you are buying in the mountains, make sure how the land responds to rain; you don't want to build or plant waterlogging sensitive plants in the potential flood zone

-it would be perfect to know the climate of the property in all four seasons, pay attention to excessive winds, cold air pockets

-if you want to have an orchard and vegetable plot and you buy a property filled with fully grown trees, please be aware that cutting them by a contractor will cost much, much more than you expect and if you do it yourself it will take ten times more time than you think and may require machinery that you don't have (tractors, chippers); a plus is that you have almost unlimited firewood

Other features may be less important to others but are important to me:

-is there any concrete factory nearby?
-will the roads allow bringing a full size straight or semi truck with building materials?
-are there any material suppliers within 20 miles radius? if not prepare for the transportation cost that will constitute a significant percent of your development budget
 
gardener
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Additional resource:  Curtis Stone has done a lot on this lately, including a full course on how to find the perfect homestead property, and weekly listings he and his team have found on freedomfarmers.com

I don't regret buying that stuff (I figure the cost of making a mistake on an expensive land purchase would easily outweigh the price), but what's cool is you don't even need to pay for anything to get a lot of value, since he gives you most of the gravy on his free 14 lesson youtube series
 
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