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| Braustin Homes Blog
If you hopped onto a real estate website right now, you would most likely see dozens or even hundreds of properties for sale in your area. These properties may run the gamut from a modest quarter acre all the way to a giant ranch. Location, layout of the property, the “view,” size, and cool stuff about the land (such as a bass pond on the land) are all important items to keep in mind when looking for land.
The problem is the “gotchas.” We want to give you a list of important questions to think about before you make an offer to buy. Anyone can tell if a piece of land looks beautiful to them, but if you forget to ask a few of the right questions, you may find the property will cost tens of thousands of dollars more to be ready for your home than a similar, nearby property.
Did you want to throw your money away? We didn’t think so. Before we get into the questions, let us just say: A knowledgeable and honest manufactured home dealership will be happy to assist you in the land search process long before you are ready to buy a home. Make contact early in this process and use their expertise!
Below are the questions you want to keep in mind.
Yes, this sounds like a stupid question, but ask yourself the question anyway. The issue is, when you get “house fever,” you may settle for a piece of property to move forward with buying your dream home, but you don’t really want to buy what will not work for you in the long run.
Make sure the property is within an “acceptable driving distance” from places you go to often such as work, the club, church, a favorite fishing hole, and wherever else you visit often. Measure the distance in time, and not miles. In the city, it may take you 30 minutes to drive ten miles, but in the country, you might be able to cover more than 30 miles in the same 30 minutes. Less face it, your time is valuable, and you can’t get back your time once it disappears, so measure “distance” in minutes of travel time.
Before you go look at the property, look at what surrounds the property using Google Maps, Apple Maps, or a similar tool. What is nearby? Is there a slaughterhouse or a hay field next door? Is the property a neighbor to an all-night club or a nature preserve? Get a good overview of everything within about a mile radius, and double check where the nearest dump is, because those smells can carry for miles.
Go to the “street view” and look at the condition of the neighboring properties. Is the neighborhood run down, so perfect it looks plastic, or something in-between? Which neighborhood would make you feel more comfortable to live in?
Looking at the neighborhood with one of those map tools can save you a ton of time visiting properties that will not be a good fit. You can even get an estimated drive time from the land you are looking at to common places you want to visit, so use those map tools to the max.
So, this is the deal. You want more information on a property’s flood risk than, “Is this land in a place where I have to buy flood insurance?” You obviously don’t want your home in a floodway, where flooding is intended as part of the managed flow of water.
Then you have areas where you have a 1% chance in any given year of flooding (sometimes called the “once in 100-year” flood level). Most people avoid being in that “100 year” flood plain, and lenders will require you to buy flood insurance in these higher risk areas. In this 1% area, there is a good chance you will see your house flooded in your lifetime, and the flood insurance will be expensive.
Then you have other danger zones. If you don’t like the idea of even a little danger, you want to stay away from these areas. There are the 0.2% zones where you have a 0.2% chance of seeing a flood any particular year. These properties are high enough to avoid all but the so-called “once in 500-year” floods, but, given enough time, these areas will eventually still flood. They may not flood in your lifetime, but they will flood again.
Then, you have areas that are not considered at a high flood risk because they are protected by a levee. They sound like a nice, safe place to be until you remember most years you can read about at least one levee failure leading to homes getting wiped out. How good is the levee by your home?
On the flip side, these less dangerous places can sometimes be purchased for less than the higher ground around it, and it might keep you close to your favorite fishing hole. Luckily, flood insurance in these less likely to flood locations is tends to be much less expensive than areas with a 1% chance of flooding. You may not be required to buy flood insurance for these areas, but you would be wise to pay for the extra expense.
Note that a lender may add extra requirements of what needs to happen with site preparation in order for the loan to go through. They want to keep your investment in your home safe, which keeps their risk down. These requirements are for your good, but they may mean spending thousands of extra dollars.
The smart thing to do is go visit FEMA and look at the flood risk for your property. Understand your risks and plan for the added expense of flood insurance if your property is in a flood zone. Also remember, if you just buy a piece of property where you can stick your house above any potential flood, this will all be a non-issue.
We have seen too many home buyers who jumped into a piece of property and then did their research. The consequences can be truly devastating. Are there zoning restrictions that would prevent you from using the land for a mobile home? If you are not outright restricted, are there restrictions that will drive the cost of your home beyond what you were prepared to spend? Can you still buy the house you wanted at all?
Another good question? Is there a spot on the land larger enough for the home you want? You need a piece of land large enough to hold the home, plus at least several feet around the house. In general, you can’t put a home on less than a quarter acre unless it is in a mobile home park.
It is not just the dimensions of your lot that is a concern; it is also how suitable the land is. A plot that is all steep hill made of sand could take a ton of money just to get ready for the home. Ideally you will have a clear spot a little larger than your home with drainage away from where your home will sit to keep rainwater away.
There is a phrase used in land listings that really irritates us: “access to utilities.” This phrase means absolutely nothing. The moon has access to utilities if anyone wants to pay to get them there. You need to know if utilities are there, and, if they’re not, how far they are, because you will pay by the foot, and the utilities could be 500 feet or 5 miles! If the listing says the land is “improved,” that means utilities should already be on the property, BUT you still have more research to do.
You asked if utilities are on the property, and your realtor said, yes! But now you need to get specific. There are few different ways this could be true with electric: there is an electric pole with wiring, there is an electric pole with a meter and 100-amp service, or then there’s the golden ticket: an electric pole with a meter and 200-amp service.
If there is only a pole and wires or if there is only 100-amp service, you will still have to pay for the power company to connect you to service and install a new meter. The cost can vary depending on who is your power company and what county/city the property is in.
Current code in most places requires a 200-amp setup, so make sure you find out this information before you get to the closing table. Even if your local code does not require 200-amp service, make sure you get 200-amp service. The old 100-amp standard was from those long-ago days when folks generally just used electricity for lighting, the fan in the otherwise mechanical furnace, and a small refrigerator. Most families use way more electricity than the average family in 1960 (per capita electricity usage has more than tripled since 1960).
Upgrading a current electric connection may only cost you $600-1000, while installing a new connection may run you closer to $1,800-$2,000 range IF the main line is not far from where your house will go. If the electric lines are far away, it may cost a boat load of money to get your electric setup.
You want to know if you either have a properly sized, tapped water meter (meaning you are already connected into a municipal fresh water supply) or you have a good, fresh water well. When we say a “good” well, we mean the water is drinkable without treatment, the equipment is newer, and the well is sized properly for your home.
If you are connecting to a municipal supply line, a simple “tapping” of your water into the community water service can range from $1,000 all the way to $7,000 or more. You can find these costs by calling the local provider or looking on their website.
You will want to figure out these costs BEFORE making an offer on the land so you can be sure your offer for the land is fair and so you can ensure the “all in” cost of land and utilities stays within your budget.
Similar to fresh water, is there already a properly sized connection to a municipal sewer line or is there a working, properly sized septic system? How old is the system, and what is the system made from?
A steel septic tank may only last 15 years, but a concrete tank may last 40 or more years. Areas with acidic or poorly draining soil are hard on septic systems, so expect a shorter lifespan when you have those kinds of conditions.
Another thing to check is how close are the trees to your septic or to the drain lines to a city sewer. Tree roots are notorious for ruining septic systems and even burrowing into drain tile or corroded steel drainpipes. Trees over or near a septic system or old drainpipes should be a red flag meaning you may want to at least figure in the cost of removing the tree.
If the property is not ready to handle your waste water, plan on several thousand dollars to connect to a municipal sewer system or a lot more for a septic system (how much depends on the size you need, the style you choose, and the type of soil you have).
Gas lines aren’t as big a deal folks in the South as they are for folks in the North. The colder your climate, the more likely you will use natural gas or propane to heat your home. If you are in an area where a lot of people use natural gas because of the lower heating cost than with electricity, then definitely figure out if the property already has a gas meter. If not, you will want to factor in that cost as well.
Okay, we are just kidding about this one…mostly.
Listen carefully. Just because the land you love is in a floodplain, has no utilities, and is right next door to the in-laws doesn’t mean you say “no.” We just want to factor in the costs to get the land ready for a home when the price of the land is compared to another property in the same area that is ready for a mobile home to be delivered.
Check the price of land for sale and recently sold land nearby that is similar. This can be difficult; after all even appraisers have a difficult time determining the value of some properties accurately. It is not just the acreage and the zip code. What is growing on the land hay, trees, or rust on the 20 trucks on blocks? What is the geology of the land? How flat is the land? What is next to the land?
There are a lot of things that can affect land value. Looking at asking price, you will find what people feel their land is worth now, usually with a little padding for negotiating room. Looking at recent sale prices will tell you what people felt the land was worth a short time ago. Looking at both helps you narrow down a “fair price.”
Remember to ask the questions. Asking the questions may make a $50,000 plot of land sound like a great deal, while the $10,000 lot gets left behind because you “can’t afford” the cost when everything is added together.
Ultimately, the only questions you need to answer is, “Do I really want to live here,” and “Am I ready to pay the price to get this land ready for my home.” You have to weigh the costs of utility installation against the cost of a “good deal,” remembering a $15,000 one-acre property can easily turn into a $50,000 one-acre property once you’ve installed necessary utilities and septic onto it.
Drop us a message and we'll get back to you with some answers!