Buying Land? Here's What You Ask the Seller

    If you dream of building a custom home on your land, the land itself can be a make-or-break item. It's the biggest single-item piece of your budget. You will invest anywhere from 15 to 50 percent of your overall custom home budget on your land, assuming you can even build on it. When buying rural land or undeveloped land in particular, there are some deal-killing pitfalls to avoid. The same is true even for buying a developed lot in some cases.

    The One Question You Should Ask a Land Owner

    If I could advise my clients to ask only one question of the seller of the land they're thinking of buying, here's what it would be:

    "How do you know this land is suitable for building a home?"

    There's no magic to this question, and it might even seem like an obvious one to ask. So why would this be the best one to start with?

    The answer will tell you where to start with your due diligence investigation, and it might even expose a trouble spot.

    What The Answer Tells You 

    It's likely the seller's answer will be, "I don't." What this answer tells you is that the seller hasn't looked into the suitability of the land for building a home.

    That means it might be totally fine, it might be zoned for a category that precludes building a house, or it might be in a flood plain. You'll need time to investigate all this stuff, possibly 30 days or more.

    If the seller has done some investigating, the items he or she ticks off as being evidence of suitability for house building will tell you which items he or she was concerned with. You can start your due diligence by verifying the truth or completeness of those claims.

    At the very least, it gives you a place to start your investigation. If you find any red flags, it will tell you how much you can trust the word of the seller and whether you need to dig deeper into anything he or she shares with you.

    A Real Life Example

    We recently worked with an Oklahoma family who was under contract to buy a five-acre parcel from a gentleman who had recently subdivided a larger piece of land into three building lots, one behind the other relative to the road. This guy had done his homework.

    If I were to ask him the one question, he would have been able to answer thoroughly. He had hired a professional surveyor who had divided the property, he had done all his homework with both the county and the city to make sure a buyer could buy a building permit, and he had verified there were no flood plains affecting the property. He had even researched the appropriate diameter of drainage culvert that would be needed to go under the driveway access.

    That left a few details to clarify, such as what easements existed, how much site preparation would be necessary to physically prepare the land for building, what electric company would serve the property, and the cost to get electricity to the land. One simple question generated the laundry list of details our client needed to know. Once all the questions were answered, our client bought the property, and we have since started building their dream home!

    Asking that one simple question can tell you a lot about the land you're looking to buy and potentially make the process smoother.

    It can also help you avoid some major pitfalls about the suitability of building on a piece of undeveloped land.

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