“I visited the property on Sunday and most of the lot was inundated with water. It is apparent that the soil is saturated for significant periods. Based on my observations, which are consistent with the available online data, it is my opinion that the lot is unbuildable since it does not meet the minimum New York State Dept. of Health (NYSDOH) requirements for the design of an onsite septic system. NYSDOH requires at least 12 inches of native useable soil above the high groundwater level and the septic system cannot be situated in a wetland. While NYSDOH has many other requirements to comply with, these two deficiencies cannot be addressed by any approvable design.
You have to be careful, however, that the access road you create cannot also be used for subsequent developments in neighbours' gardens. Otherwise the developer, having bought your garden, will knock on your neighbours' doors and buy several back gardens. If this happens, Mr Noel said: "The access road beside your house, which you thought was only going to be used by a couple with one invalid carriage suddenly becomes the way into a development of 30 homes."
I’m learning the hard way about the hidden costs of buying empty land. Unless utilities are already there, it can be VERY expensive to run them from the street to the building site. For example, one parcel we looked at was about 1000′ feet off the main road where utilities are located. To run city water, gas, electricity, and cable could run anywhere from $10-100 per foot! Multiply that by 1000 and I better understand why developers say that they spend the same on running utilities as they do on the land. It may cause us to reevaluate our goals and possibly shift to buying a property that already has a rundown home on it.
In terms of an investment – I only buy land when I’m getting it for FAR below market value (which basically guarantees that I’ll be able to sell it some day for more than I paid for it)… and it doesn’t sound like that’s necessarily what’s happening here. If you think you’d be able to use it for something that would increase the overall value of your current property, then it may make sense… but if not, then it may not make the most sense from an investment standpoint.
Thanks so much for this article! I’ve run into a unique situation, where we found an amazing historic house that we’d like to restore, but it is currently listed as a vacant lot for sell with a shell house on it, rather than the house itself being listed. We know it’s not in a flood plain, the deed is unrestricted, and the home appears to have been lived in within the last 30 years so there is electric, heating, and plumbing. Any suggestions on potential issues we should be asking about before we jump in? We’ve never looked at land before, so we’re a bit overwhelmed by how much more complicated it appears to be vs buying a house.
One of the most important first steps before subdividing your land or land you wish to buy is to make sure there are no restrictions that will block your plans. Everything from ordinances, neighborhood covenants to deed restrictions may prohibit – or fatally complicate – your plans. Review these items carefully, plus order a professional title review (typically through a real estate attorney) so that you can understand whether there are any deal killing issues that apply to the property and prevent subdividing.
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I agree with Ellen Chung, finding the right type of buyer to target is very important. Also, you should consider the amount of time you have to sell the land. If you are short on time due to back taxes owed or other financial obligations, your best bet may be to talk to a vacant land investor. You will not get the full market price for your property, but the typically can pay cash and close quickly.