How do you choose a vacant lot?

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Here you are, thinking about making one of the biggest investments of your life. What do you want? If that question sounds too broad, let's narrow it down a bit: What do you want in a piece of land? That's better. Buying a vacant lot has to begin with you. The truth is, there's a lot of land for sale out there in the world, and setting a goal is the first step toward making a successful purchase. Why do want to buy a vacant lot? To tuck it away as a safe real estate investment, or to build your dream house on it? Before choosing a vacant lot, you have to know exactly what you're choosing it for. Then it's time to start looking.

Before you bother driving around the countryside or browsing Google for property, take a look at your own finances and determine your budget. Is it $10,000? That might get you a couple acres somewhere. Got $100,000 to put down? Well you can probably get quite a spread with that kind of cash. Once you have an idea of how much money you want to spend, it's time to start looking. But there's still plenty you need to know before you buy, like how much your lot should be, what you should expect to pay for it and what elements of real estate are the most important to consider when eyeing a purchase. Read on to learn more about the ins and outs of how to choose a vacant lot.



One of the biggest decisions in purchasing a vacant lot is choosing exactly how much land you want to buy. Land is typically measured in acres, which are 43,560 square feet (4,047 square meters) each, or about the size of a football field. One square mile is equal to 640 acres. That's a ton of land. If you're interested in building a house outside an urban area, you'll come across lots ranging from less than an acre to many dozens of acres. You'll have to decide for yourself how much land you want. Looking for a huge yard and seclusion? Several acres may be to your liking.

In highly-populated areas where vacant land is usually harder to come by, expect to pay more per acre. The land is more valuable because it's closer to a population center where finding undeveloped lots can be more difficult. The downside to such an advantageous location, of course, is that you could end up paying as much for a quarter of an acre in the city as you'd pay for multiple acres in the country or suburbs.

Sounds like it's hard to know exactly how much you should be paying, right? Hard, but not impossible. Here's an important tip: Locate your local tax assessor's office Web site online (they're usually divided up by county), where you'll be able to browse through records to find property sales in your area. By determining the selling prices of other land in the area, you can establish an idea of how much the land you're looking at is worth [source: Georgia Assessors].

If there's no public road with direct access to the land you're interested in, you may require an easement on a neighbor's private property.
If there's no public road with direct access to the land you're interested in, you may require an easement on a neighbor's private property.

Once you've got a grip on how much money to shell out for a piece of property, there are still quite a few roadblocks between you and that dream lot. For starters, government zoning restrictions control what kind of construction takes place on any property. Buy in a residential zone, for instance, and you'll never be able to get a construction permit for anything other than a house. Shopping on a real estate Web site should simplify this issue, as you can easily choose between residential lots, commercial land and so on. A second option is to use your county's planning and zoning office to better understand local zoning ordinances. Residential covenants -- rules that dictate what everyone in a community can and can't do with their property -- may also impact the land you're looking at [source: Curry].

Finally, utilities can be a major hassle (or a major convenience) on a vacant lot. Some lots are sold with utilities like electricity and water already available. Purchasing a lot with utilities would eliminate the burden of putting in the work -- and potentially thousands of dollars in expenses -- of having those services added. If no utilities are installed, you may be responsible for drilling a well, installing a septic system or having your property connected to local utility company services.

Also be aware of how the lot is accessed. If it's via a public road, you'll have no added complications. But if there's no public road that connects directly to the land, you'll likely need an easement on a neighbor's property to gain access. Easements grant you legal protection to use another person's property -- even if the land around your lot is also vacant and for sale, make sure to check with the owner(s) before using the land for any reason, including running utilities across the property. If the land owners are nice, establishing an easement probably won't be a problem, but it's just one more thing to watch out for.

Now that you're armed with the knowledge to begin your vacant lot shopping, read on for info on what to do once you've found that ideal lot.

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