Before you buy, consider any of these factors that apply:
- Survey: Is there an existing survey? Ask if the seller has one, or check with the County or City to see if there is one on file, if not for the individual property, then perhaps a neighborhood survey. In some jurisdictions, the lot corners must be marked before the land is sold, but you’ll want to see where the corners are earlier than that, before making your decision.
- Reports: From the Planning Department, find out if you will need a geological hazard or engineer’s report. These are sometimes required for waterfront, steep slopes, slide zones, or other areas of natural hazard. Ask them to tell you everything they will need to know about the property in order to finally issue a building permit. Find out if there is any other aspect of the land that might make it unbuildable or partially unbuildable. One example would be if any part of the land were considered wetlands, or if there were a protected species living there. If the results of reports or evaluations could make the building project impossible, get the reports before buying the land, or make the sale contingent on your approval of the reports. Even if the land is not officially in one of these hazard zones, the particular lot might be susceptible to slides, floods, or erosion. If there is reason to be concerned about this (for example if the lot is steep or on a river), you might consider getting at least a verbal opinion from a geologist.
- Other Agencies: Ask the staff at both the Planning Department and the Building Department as well as your real estate agent or attorney if there are any other agencies or laws that you should know about in regard to this property. For example, there could be a local conservation group or a historic district which, by the passage of a law, has obtained jurisdiction over the area in regards to the type or location of structures that may be built there.
- Septic System: If the lot requires a septic system, you will need the approval of the local sanitarian. Again, it may be best to obtain this approval before buying the land, since some lots cannot support septic systems. For a septic approval, you will need to have a test hole dug. The sanitarian will inspect it to see how your drainage is. The septic approval, once granted, will define what kind of septic system you will be required to install. Some systems are much more expensive than others, adding to the overall cost of the project. In some cases, there is simply not enough room on the lot for the septic system! This would make the land unbuildable, unless an easement or even an additional piece of land could be purchased from a nearby land-owner for this purpose. Sometimes the developer and/or the government jurisdiction that approved the formation of the lots has anticipated this problem and provided a solution. Naturally, it would be essential to know all this in advance.
- Special Requirements: There are all kinds of special permissions, permits, tests, and fees connected with particular lots, subdivisions, locations, fire zones, erosion zones, and so forth. Sometimes there is an assessment on each lot that must be paid before building commences. Sometimes there is a road fee, for future paving or curbs on the street. Or there might be a zoning change in the works, which could go into effect before you build. Even the fire department may have requirements. Once you have a particular lot in mind, go over it carefully at the building department and talk to the other agencies as well. Be thorough now to prevent unpleasant surprises later.