Featuring Brian Cornwell // Supporting The Materials Construction Museum
menu + back to the top
how to buy land to build a house raw land

How To Buy Land – 100 Things To Know Before Buying Land To Build A House On

Table of Contents (Jump to section)

This article made possible thanks to sponsors and viewers like you.

Buy Tickets

It’s not always rainbows and gumdrops when buying land to build a house. You aren’t always going to see a bunch of hazmat barrels and medical waste poking out of the ground or a giant pile of used tires.

But here’s the kicker, my friends, there are demons and devils hiding beneath that pretty surface, the kind of stuff that doesn’t scream “run away” at first glance. It’s the silent but deadly issues, the sneaky problems that don’t wave red flags in your face until you’re neck-deep in the mess.

However, fret not, because Brian Cornwell is here to guide you through the minefield of purchasing land for your slice of Eden. There’s a golden rule in the land of buying dirt: Investigate like your life depends on it now, so you don’t have to empty your pockets later.

They aren’t just whistlin’ Dixie with that advice. Sure, go ahead and buy yourself a problem parcel that’s gonna make you pull your hair out – be my guest. But if you’re aiming to snag that dream lot, where you can unfold your own version of paradise (even if it means rolling up your sleeves and giving it some tender lovin’ care), then lend me your ears (or eyes, in this case).

You see, after diving headfirst into the raw land market ourselves, we’ve stumbled, tripped, and learned a marathon’s worth of lessons – many of which came knocking on our door post-purchase when we were already knee-deep in commitment. What you’re about to dive into is the Holy Grail of our blood, sweat, and oh-so-many tears in the glorious quest of land acquisition and cultivation. If you wish to bypass the nightmares, take a deep breath, and proceed with caution. Remember, for most sane folk, land is usually their second biggest buy in this wild ride called life, playing second fiddle only to their homestead.

So, buckle up, as I impart the wisdom, the trials, and the victories of securing that patch of earth that sings to your soul. Let ol’ Brian be your guide through the treacherous, yet rewarding, adventure of buying and molding your very own patch of paradise from the ground up. And remember, take your sweet time, because good things, real good things, come to those who hustle with their heads on straight.

1. Do you have to deal with a HOA?

If so, you might be stuck paying a monthly or annual “fee” in addition to following every single regulation the board passes. Want to paint your barn grey? They might have a clause that prevents that. Even if you don’t agree, they can still levy fines and put a lien on your property for violations. Even minor things like replacing landscaping with fruit or vegetable bearing plants can be prohibited.

Some HOA members can be exceptionally power-tripping and push for the most oddball, unfair regulations ever. If they don’t, just wait until someone new gets voted on the board and has a grand-plan to make everything “illegal”. When it comes to HOA’s just don’t. A road association for a rural property is fine, granted they have intentions never to be an HOA.


2. How is the soil type?

Do you have expanding clay that feels solid when it dry but expands ten times or more when it gets wet? These soils can heave concrete foundations and destroy structural elements of both homes and barns alike. Have you considered the drainage of the soil or perhaps the possibility of it being un-compacted fill material? People bury random dirt, trash, stumps and so on all the time. While not as common today, it used to be popular in the past. Get a geotechnical investigation for bearing capacity.

Do you have solid-rock or sandstone that requires blasting? You can rent the biggest excavator you want, but when you hit rock, sometimes it just turns into smoky dust. You can go broke trying to scrap through it an inch at a time. It’s not worth it! Blasting is a lot cheaper than machine hour time, you’d be surprised. But it’s just something to consider.

On another note, if you do have rocky soil, you might need to purchase a rock bucket or grizzly bar screen in order to filter out the rocks and separate dirt for growing a garden. Though, rocks in soil can be a blessing too when it comes to strong foundations and erosion control.

3. Was site previously a dumping ground?

I toured a remodel home in Vegas once and during excavation for the new foundation they uncovered a literal swimming pool sized pile of garbage buried under the dirt. At that point you can’t just “leave it”, it has to be removed, on your own dime. Excavation costs add up, but so do hauling costs as you now need dumpster after dumpster in order to remove all the trash.

There’s also settling issues to consider, where burying foreign objects trap pockets of air. Over time water seeps in and exposed holes in the ground, or worse, you take a step and fall a few feet into the ground. There’s been news stories about children who have fallen into these unfortunate mini sunken pits. Sinkholes are scary too, but far less common.


4. What contaminants are in the soil?

Heavy metals, lead, arsenic, etc. are no fun to deal with, let alone want your fresh veggies growing next to. Consider oil spills, previous fertilizer usage, and so on. Look back into the property records and you’ll find a wealth of information from time to time.

Was the vacant land a prior dairy farm with say 50 or more years of droppings? Back then, most farmers didn’t clean it up, and now, you might be the one responsible for doing so. Or how about finding out the vacant land you want to purchase was previously a citrus farm. Back in the day, they’d treat citrus and fruit trees with arsenic…


5. Egress and easements

A piece of land is worth nothing if you can’t legally access it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to just “look” at a piece of property as the sole method of enjoying it. I want to walk it, farm it, build on it, and so on. Easements can put accessing your property in your favor, by legally allowing you to travel through a neighboring property or road. If you can go in and out, you’re golden. But watch out for neighbors who are legally obligated, but want to put up a fight. It happens.

On the other hand, easements can be a curse should there be one that allows your neighbors to put a road right smack dab in the middle of your property. Your privacy and peace gone. Nobody wants people driving through their lot. Look for lots that have roads at the border for the property line, so you build and farm further away from traffic.

In our case, we own a fair amount of land in front of and behind an easement road. We like knowing that we can control what is built or planted around the road. In some cases, local fire code can allow for fire mitigation or emergency services to cut down trees or branches. If you live in a wildfire prone area, don’t be surprised if your narrow road is a hazard to emergency crews. They may want to cut down a few “prized” trees, and you may have to be okay with that. Unlikely, but possible.


Things To Know (Continued)

6. Is the terrain flat or sloped?

If it’s sloped, you’re going to doing a lot more earthwork in order to create some flat pads for both structures and farming. It’s not a big deal if you love operating heavy machinery, but you’re going to moving piles and piles of dirt around. You can terrace gardens on sloped lots, build walkout basements, and so on, so when life hands you lemons, make a sloped homestead.

Sloped hills are harder to grow grass and other landscaping on, but it can be done. All of those “grass seed mats”, and tricks were garbage to us on our neighbors. Throw some seeds out before it snows, pray the birds don’t eat them, and grass will grow back.

In terms of wildfire danger, yes, fires do move uphill, but with proper mitigation work, you’ll be just fine in most cases.


7. How will you deal with sewage?

Vacant city lots are easy; there’s almost always a sewer connection available for a “fee”. If you’re buying rural land, well, things get a bit more challenging. Is there an existing septic, if so, you might save around twenty-grand or so?

If not, how’s the soil for a septic system? Get a perk test done by digging into the soil. If your soil is rocky, loamy, sandy or otherwise terrible, you don’t have to worry too much. Even the worst of soils can be overcome by hauling in truckloads of sand for the septic system.

In our case, we hauled in about 15 tandem loads of sand to bury our septic leach fields in. I believe the grand total of sand was around thirty-thousand pounds. Maybe a few grand in sand? It’s not going to break the budget, but it does add a bit more cost to the equation.

If you do have a preexisting septic system, how well is it functioning? Does the tank need to be emptied? Has anyone driven over the leach field causing damage to pipes etc.? If there are inspection ports, open them up and take a peek inside.


8. Is there semi-truck or low-clearance vehicle access?

You might need to haul in hay, gravel, or other material from time to time. Most semi-trucks can’t make it up steep sloped gravel roads without spinning out their tires. They just aren’t made for the terrain. But on the other hand, some companies invest in rugged tires for their semis, and can get heavy concrete water cisterns, and concrete up to even the most remote locations. They deal with this all the time.

We’ve had to assist four to five semi-truck drivers who’ve gotten stuck on our uphill gravel road. No big deal, but it happens. Speaking of getting stuck, does your vehicle have 4×4? Do you own any sports cars that are low to the ground? If you have a rough road to your lot, it will rattle your vehicle to death over time.


9. How’s the snow in the winter? Who plows the roads?

Most rural, gravel roads don’t get plowed by the local government. If they do, it takes forever because you’re last in line bucko. In our case, our neighbor alongside ourselves, have to throw plows on our trucks and UTVs and clear the road.

If you do get heavy winters, look for roads that are south-facing so the sun melts the snow before nightfall. This is like nature’s own heated driveway system; you’d be amazing by how efficient the sun works to keep snow from building up. If you buy and on a steep lot, expect to slide a bit going down in a snowstorm. Drive slow, get winter tires, and in most cases you’ll be fine. It’s the ice that sucks to drive in after a melt and re-freeze period.


10. Private or public road access?

Privates roads are wonderful at keep unwanted people from coming up your mountain. Though, still expect some trespassing bikers, hikers and campers to ignore the signs. If it’s public, expect people to drive on by as they legally can. While private roads are awesome, they do come with some downsides.

Who maintains the road? Do you have to spread gravel with a tractor year after year? Does a small community come together to fund the road work? No city maintenance can be a bummer, but certainly not a deal breaker for most.


11. Is the land prone to flooding?

The best way to know is to examine your potential land purchase after a heavy rainstorm. You’ll quickly discover the natural drainage spots of your lot, and where you should and shouldn’t build structures or place animals.

Worse than wet spots, are wetlands, which can be protected by federal and state laws. Some local regulations can require additional efforts and paperwork for areas that are in “flood zones”. It’s best to have an ecological survey done, should you have any hesitations.


12. Is the survey correct, or has one even been done in the first place?

If there’s rebar or pins in the ground it doesn’t mean the survey is correct. Some guy could have put those there some odd forty-years ago and no one even questioned it… Until the moment when you don’t want someone to. Surveys are critical before buying any piece of land. Sellers may claim they have 20 acres, and paperwork may show that, but a proper survey may show an actual acreage of 14. We’ve known people who have bought 60 acres split among two lots, expecting to get 30 acres. Only their share of the land when surveyed by a professional was 18 acres. Not fun.

Sure, surveys will cost you money, but if you’re serious, they can be serious money savers. Besides if you want to do anything with your land, build a fence, etc. you need to know the boundaries. Imagine building a fence only to find out it’s on your neighbor’s property and now you have to tear it down. A costly mistake.

For some more cash, ask your survey company to put flags every 150’ on the edges of your property. You can later stake with rebar or something that lasts. Next time you go to add a fence, you can use a string line to connect markers, ensuring you are always building on your land and not your neighbors. This will save you a small fortune down the road.


13. What are the hidden hazards?

Most people think of buried trash and waste, or perhaps even contaminants from spills. In reality, there’s more to watch out for when buying land. How about abandoned mines, where chemicals from gold extraction leached into the soil.

Or how about radioactive materials such as uranium in the rocks that are all over the land you’re buying? Even high radon gas levels can be a problem for people who take an interest in their lung health. Speaking of lung health, is the land you’re buying at an elevation you’re not accustomed to? If you have breathing problems at altitudes with lower oxygen levels, this may be something to consider as well.


14. How’s the terrain for gardening?

You can’t grow plants and trees in solid rock, but you can get creative. Blasting, hauling in dirt, and building up the soil with mulch and compost will all do the trick. Just keep in mind the labor involved, because “dirt” isn’t always “dirt” at first glance; it can be riddled with rocks and boulders. Imagine having to pull out a car sized boulder just to plant some herbs; nice.

You can get an idea for the land soil quality by doing tests, but another surefire way to know what’s underground is to check for mine permits and nearby quarries. There are numerous search platforms out there that will tell you what was being mined, where, and for how long. We live near sandstone quarries so peeking into those places gives us an “insider” look at what would happen if we dug downwards.


15. Are there buried underground utilities?

You may be surprised, we’ve found phone lines going up mountains in rural areas. Submit a request to 411 DIG or your local utility company and request a “utility locate”. They will come out and flag the underground lines and it will give you an idea on where to avoid digging.

If you want to build a home in a certain spot but have powerlines running underground, that’s going to be a challenge. If electrical lines stop thousands of feet from your ideal building site, things will get expensive trenching in new lines.

We’ve snagged a phone line in the past, and they did have to repair it, but it wasn’t the end of the world. But I can’t say the same had we broke a gas line, water main, or electrical line. That is terrifying.


16. How are the next door neighbors?

Cool, keep-to-themselves retired folks or neighbors who make it their mission to make your life a living hell? You know, the ones who complain over kids making noise, or call the cops over a tractor in the middle of the afternoon. It happens, and there are plenty of those people out there.

Consider what will happen should your current neighbors sell and new ones move in. If you’re living 30 feet from the next house, that could be a nightmare with nightmare neighbors.

In most rural areas, you’ll find people generally keep to themselves, are quiet, and all-around friendly folks. People who live out in rural spots tend to take care of each other and lend a land. It’s a big difference when compared to city properties. But remember, even the nicest neighbors can have a change of heart later on, beware.


17. What are the structure setbacks from the property lines?

Some local regulations require all buildings be a minimum of “x” amount of feet from the property boundaries. These can vary based on the sides, front and rear of property and the type of zoning.

The last thing you want is to be forced to build in a less desirable spot, or have a neighbor build a god-ugly structure two feet from your property line.


18. What is the property designation?

Is it agricultural, commercial, or residential, etc.? Do you really want a thousand-plus chicken farm next door to your land? Can you imagine the smell? Just wait until you get a whiff of not the chickens, but the waste product Yuck! If you are in agricultural zoning, you can often take advantage of tax breaks.


19. What are the rainwater collection laws?

Some places won’t allow you to build ponds or catch rainwater from your gutters, others will. You may come up against gallon limits, often low-amounts even with a permit. For those who do heavy gardening or livestock, water sources can be critical.


20. Are there any existing wells?

If so, what are they producing? How many GPM can you expect? If there isn’t a well, can you get a permit for one? What depth do you have to drill to reach the aquifer? At what cost per foot will that run you? Drilling for a well can get really expensive when you have to go down hundreds of feet, say in the mountains.

In some cases, it may make more sense to haul in water. But then you’re going to need a trailer, or a service provider, and plastic water storage tanks or concrete cisterns. When you run out of water, it’s not fun. But wells aren’t always reliable either; they do have pumps and what not that can fail.


21. How’s the drinking water quality?

Wahoo, you have a well on the lot and it works great. But how’s the drinking water? It can often be so riddled with contaminates or so scaly that specialized equipment is required to deal with it. That means lots of filters or reverse osmosis. If you are planning a tankless water heater, you’ve got to deal with all the scale build up.

If you have corrosive elements to your water quality, you might want to consider how that will affect your plumbing pipes and appliances.


22. Is the electrical service ready?

Are you thousands of feet from the main line? Do you need to add an expensive pedestal meter? Can you even get 200 amps of service or higher to power your home and farm?

In most rural places, reliability can be a big issue. You’ve got to get an idea for how many customers are also being served in your area. If only a few, you can expect your power to be restored after an outage, not so quickly.


23. How is the solar collection potential?

Is the lot south facing to maximize the solar collection and passive heating for structures? Consider the direction you wish to place structures (house or barns). If you have windows facing north, you’re going to increase heating demands, but if you have all south facing windows with overhangs that shelter summer rays, you can effectively heat your home for free in the winter. If you want true self-sufficiency, and opt for a “passive haus” construction or similar for your home, south facing is a must.

Our home is east facing, but we were still able to exceed passive haus standards and reach net zero. That means we collect some solar heat, but produce more energy than our home uses.

The same can be said for roads and paths on your land. South facing roads will melt far faster than north facing paths.


24. How’s the historical wind data?

Is it possible to collect wind and convert it into energy to power your home or barn? We’ve got a vertical axis wind turbine at our ranch and harness nature’s free wind power.

On the flip side, how strong do the winds get every year? In the summer our mountain winds are nothing special, but during the winter it’s not uncommon to see winds over 80 miles per hour. If you have outdoor furniture it’s going to blow away along with anything else that isn’t tied down.
Believe it or not, but we actually lived in a RV while building, during these wild winter windstorms, and it rocked the RV back and forth like a cradle. Those were some scary times!

Consider historical snow load data too. Which this can easily be engineered around, if you want to do plastic garden shelters the snow will destroy them.


25. Are these any existing trees?

Consider the firewood potential and whether the wood is softwood or firewood. You can use this free wood from your land to heat your home and water. But come on, who doesn’t love a good campfire? Research into lumber harvesting rights.

Also consider your wildfire risk, and how much fire mitigation work will be needed in order to fortify your land. You may need to rent a chipper and run a chainsaw if you’re not hiring out the work. Many mountain properties have virtually no mitigation work done.

Another thing to consider is the wildfire history. Some lots look dreamy, until you realize all of the trees are charred and without pine leaves due to a previous fire that happened years ago. However, wildfires happen, it’s not the end of the world.


26. Does your land have mineral rights?

This can be difficult at times to figure out, but it’s worth looking into if you can. While most oil companies aren’t going to put a well on a tiny plot of land, it’s still a possibility. Most of the time, these mineral rights allow for the “least intrusive” method to collection minerals, but any form of intrusive is intrusive.


27. How’s the internet and cell phone signal?

Not all rural properties have internet, with some relying on a satellite connection. Satellite internet is expensive, slow and often annoying when it comes to reliability and data caps. No one is going to trench a cable wire miles up a mountain to service one customer.

Luckily, you can get internet beamed to your house if live in a mountain town. There’s a lot of local options out there that can wirelessly send out signals miles and miles away from a single tower they operate. You’d be amazed if you ask around. Some of these services can be near a gig in speed!

For cell phone signals, a sat phone is an alternative to an emergency line and so is VOIP. VOIP is cheap but sat phone subscriptions are super costly. Another idea is to add a signal tower on your property in order to boost your signal. Under thousand-dollars spent and you’ll turn no service into a few bars of coverage.


28. What are the associated property taxes?

How much will you have to fork over year after year to the local government? Some places it’s fair, while others it makes you go, “are you even serious?”


29. What are the local site plan review processes?

Some local governments have this thing called a “site plan review”, which you have to get approval for before building any structures or doing earthwork. Some even go as far as to ask what color you’ll paint your house. It’s overreaching if you ask me.

Some can take only a few months to approve, but as with anything government, there can be a “processing backlog”, so you get pushed out to a year. And that’s without a permit! Plan to wait another half a year for a permit. We had to and it sucked!


30. How’s the natural waterfront features?

If its lakefront land, examine the shoreline and consider if a dock is possible and what will happen if the water level drops. If you’ve got a natural pond, inquire about the depth. Some fish won’t survive winter conditions if the pond depth isn’t deep enough. I believe the magic number is 8’ or deeper for cold climates.

Another thing to consider is if the pond or ponds were built legally. Imagine having to fill in unpermitted ponds and hauling in tons and tons of dirt. Depending on size, that could be a nightmare.


31. Have you considered the saying, “Location, location, location?”

How close are you to the nearest vet, local college for emergency animal diagnosis, emergency room, local doctor, feed supply stores, and so on.
The same goes for hardware stores, gardening stores, grocery stores and so on.

While homesteading does take care of most provisional needs, most of use still need replacement tools and supplies from time to time.


32. Can you get mail and packages delivered?

Rural homes most often don’t have a front yard mailbox. Instead, they might plop a community mailbox off a highway. With USPS, they won’t deliver on a private road, unless it’s a Sunday for some odd reason. You may need to get a small P.O. Box in town for a yearly fee.

Don’t worry about the size of the P.O. Box, you can go small and they will still hold large packages for you behind the counter. See if other places like UPS, Fedex or DHL also deliver to your rural address. We’ve had some oddball deliver couriers throw our packages at the private road sign into snow. Three weeks later, the snow melts and we find our packages. Nice.


33. How’s the wild game on your land?

If you plan to hunt, consider if there’s any wild game roaming around your new land. Think about the projection of bullets or arrows fired, and the proximity of neighboring roads, houses, etc.

With permission from the current land owner, you can often ask to setup game cameras on the lot and check them a few weeks later for activity. It’s the best way to know what’s really roaming around the land.


34. What are the local bylaws and building codes?

Do you need a permit for this or that? Do you have to abide by certain energy efficient codes and regulations? Are fire sprinklers required inside new structures? Even something as simple as a fire sprinkler system can add another twenty-grand to a project cost.

In some places, like California, you’re required to install modern lighting can that can’t accept a screw in bulb. They don’t trust you to do the right thing. Nope, you have to buy modern bulbs with wired connections. Out in CA, water pipes buried underground need to be sleeved to protect them from contamination too.

For some dense cities, standard Romex wire has banned for the longest time. You can find all sorts of odd codes if you road around the country.


35. Are all previously build improvements legal?

Swimming pools, structures, ponds, root cellars, sheds, storm shelters, barns, etc. often all need proper permits. If there’s no permit, it’s not the end of the world, just ask for “engineered structural plans”. No one wants to buy a house or barn that falls down on the them.


36. What local predators are on the land?

Will you have to protect your livestock from creatures like mountain lions, bears, raccoons, and so on? Will you need fences, if so how high and will they need to be electric? Is a livestock guardian dog required?

Ask to set up game cameras, or ask a local college what their agricultural department has found in your areas. Consider not so obvious creatures like rattlesnakes.


37. Are there any existing improvements?

Were they built on your property lines or accidentally on a bounding property? Are there going to be disputes down the road? Perhaps you’ve heard the story about a couple adding a swimming pool to their backyard, only for the next door neighbor to claim it’s on his lot. The end result was the pool had been built two feet over into the neighbors land. They had to remove the entire swimming pool and swallow a giant loss of money.

What condition are they in and will the need repairs? Pre-existing fences for example, can be a great cost-saver, and allow you to jump right into livestock.


38. Are there unwanted insects and pests?

We’ve seen hundreds of mice up here in the mountains in the past year. You can set as many traps as you want but they will just keep on coming. They will chew up wires in vehicles, home insulation, and so much more. They will eat just about anything that isn’t metal.

Are there insects such as carpenter bees, mosquitos, red ants and so on? All can be a problem to deal with.


39. How about the natural environmental conditions?

Is the land you want to buy in an earthquake zone, flooding zone, tornado zone and so on? Do you get strong winds or heavy flooding rains?


40. Is the lot a buildable lot?

Will you have to go through official channels and get approvals in order to build anything on your lot? Some lots are parked in conversation easement, meaning nothing can be built on them. The process isn’t as easy as just asking, instead you have to go through red-tape in order to “hopefully” get the government’s blessing.


41. Does your dream fit within the neighborhood?

They say, “Don’t overbuild for the neighborhood” if you want to maximize your improvement values when selling. But if you don’t ever plant to sell, who cares?

Of course, you should still consider if your dreams will be approved by the local governing body. Some won’t even approve simple things like odd-ball house colors, or unconventional structure methods. If aren’t in the correct zoning area, you might not be able to plop a farm wherever your heart dreams.


42. How many animal units are allowed per acre?

Some places have restrictions on how many animals you can care for per acre.


43. Are there any outstanding liens or other clouds on title?

You just want to buy land, not deal with disgruntled creditors or collectors.


44. Are there camping or RV restrictions?

We lived in our RV while building our ranch, which is frowned upon by our local county codes. In some places you can’t live in a RV or camp out on your own land for more than 2 weeks at a time. Crazy, to think that’s even true, but there is a loophole. In some places you can just “move” your RV or campsite every 2 weeks and you’re golden.

I know you can get an extended approval for up to six months from some governments, but that’s up to you.


45. What are the cost of the utilities?

Ask your neighbors. Are the electrical prices or propane costs out of hand? Does your local electric company have bizarre monthly fees?
Can you send solar power back to the grid and get a nice one-to-one credit, or do they offer you non-peak wholesale rates?

Are there any companies that will deliver bulk water, if so what are the rates? In our area, you can get four-thousand gallons of water delivered for about $400. To put that in perspective, we can buy the same amount of water for $100. So you’re paying $300 just for the delivery convenience.


46. What are the future projects of neighbor properties?

Do you really want a shooting range, junk yard, or industrial poultry operation next door to your land? Ask them. Look up pending permits.


47. Is grading and other earthwork required?

If you don’t own earthwork equipment, machine operating time can be expensive. If you’re on a sloped lot, the costs start to go up and up. In mountain areas, flat land is a premium to have and “spare” dirt is hard to find. Blasting isn’t terribly expensive, but when you hit solid bedrock, even the largest excavator can struggle to break it apart.


48. What are the road and driveway costs?

If you’re hundreds of feet away from the main road, expect to spend some loot on gravel or asphalt installation. While not terribly expensive, steep lots with rock, trees, etc. can really increase the costs. The same can be said for mucky, clay riddled land that requires base rock layers.


49. What are the sewer or water tap fees?

In places like Colorado for example, you can spend thousands of dollars just to tap into the local water supply.


50. Are there any oil pipeline locations or well pads?

Either nearby or on your land. Consider contamination and prior contracts.


51. What can you actually do without a permit?

Can you park a shipping container on your lot for storage? How many sheds can you built without a permit? Can you burry a water tank, or do any other work without approval and paying fees? Some places want a permit for literally everything but there can be exceptions.

In our case, we’re allowed to build a max of three 120 square feet sheds across 30 acres without needing a permit. They can’t be connected to any utilities or be over 12’ in height, etc.


52. How’s the crime rating in your area?

Do you have to deal with thieves or other criminals invading your private land? The last thing you want is a beautiful lot where your car and farming equipment gets stolen every other week.

Also consider the number of trespassing hunters. In rural, wooded areas there are a ton of hunters out there who disregard the rules of private property.


53. Can you subdivide the land?

Per your own wants and needs… Or has it already been subdivided?

We’ve heard of one instance where there was 30 acres of land that divided into 4 even lots. All was wonderful until one lot of owners got denied for a well permit. Why? Because one of the 4 lots already have an approved well permit. With hassle and headaches the problem can be resolved, but it takes time.


54. Are there any protective covenants or restrictions?

Has the land seller added any conditions that prevent you from harvesting timber for instance?

Are there requirements from the seller that prevent you from doing what you want on your land? Some can include clauses to block all farming activities for example.


55. How close is the nearest fire protection district?

Can they get to your land in the event of a wildfire? Will you be required to install a fire cistern or home sprinklers?

How is the fire rating for insurance reasons? Most locations have a rating for wildfire response time that determines insurance rates, you can ask for it.


56. How is the access to trash landfills?

Do you have local trash collection services coming up to your land? In rural areas, most trash companies won’t service you, so you’re stuck dropping off your trash to the landfill.

If the nearest landfill is hours away, you’re sort of out of luck. Can you get a dumpster company to come service your land? You may need one if you plan on constructing a barn or home.


57. What will the permit cost be?

Our permit cost to build a single-family home was over twenty-thousand dollars. Crazy!

But that’s not all you have to consider… How long is the wait to even get a permit in the first place?


58. What are the historical land values?

Is it a good deal or overpriced? Can you get an appraisal for a land loan? Most raw land loans require at least 50% down, so the appraisal can determine what you can afford. If you’re paying all-cash, then disregard the appraisal of course.

Most look at land as an investment, so do some pricing research before jumping in. Your local relator office usually has all the data that you can’t get just looking online.

Also, see if you can get the seller to drop the price. Just ask. We saved $15K off the asking price just by simple negotiation. We’ve heard stories of families mailing out a letter of their family goals, plans for the land, etc. and getting a really fair price for land. People are human after all, sometimes kind.


59. Are there any protected species on the land?

Imagine buying land only to find out it’s a habitat for over a thousand protected turtles. You can’t get rid of them. Or how about a protected osprey nest in a dead tree. You’re not going to be cutting down that tree, ever. These things can have a serious impact on what you’re legally able to do with a piece of land.


60. Are there any artifacts or historical markers?

The last thing you want is to encounter a historical Indian burial site or graveyard. Do some historical and preservation society research before you buy land for your homestead.


61. Are there any legal concerns regarding what you do or grow?

Here in colorful Colorado we can legally grow Marijuana on our ranch should we wish to do so. In other states, that’s just no possible with a friendly visit from law enforcement. Enjoy the felony.

The same can be said for personal protection, i.e. firearms. Some counties or local ordinances will ban semi-automatic rifles and high-cap magazines, and other gun-related items. If you live in a rural area where the police response time is an hour, you’re not going to want to be unarmed and alone.


62. What is the cost to clear the land?

Is it heavily forested with lots of trees and shrubs to remove? Are there any suitable clear pads for building structures? Do you have to deal with a bunch of unwanted vegetation?


63. Do the neighbors have loose dogs?

We love a friendly visit from the local pups, as all are nice, but some dogs aren’t. If you have livestock this can be a huge concern. We’ve heard numerous stories of neighboring dogs getting into pastures and butchering tens of alpacas. So sad, but it happens.


64. Is there storm water runoff coming from neighbor properties?

Changes to grading can flood your lot with gushing water after storms. Neighbors who redirect their drainage pipes to your land can create all sorts of water-related issues, in both pastures and basement foundations.

Are there upstream contamination sources that flow onto your property? Are there piles of waste or manure, etc. that are leaching into the local river or creek water?


65. How’s are the free local smells?

Year around, I know of a lot that had fresh, wonderful air but once a year a farmer next door would load manure on his farm land. The smell stayed around for a week, and needless to say it was super strong! It’s not a big deal, but just perhaps don’t plan an outdoor party that weekend. Other considerations that drift odors onto your property include dumpsters, comport piles, animals, burning trash and so on.


66. What are the nearby noise levels?

Does your next door neighbor operate loud machinery, have a shooting range, or perhaps a rock crusher near your land?

Is your land located next to a busy interstate highway or roadway? Is this a hotspot for roadwork and construction? Do they have any plans to expand the road further into your property? Are logging companies nearby using chainsaws non-stop to harvest timber?


67. What are the utility easements?

How far can they come onto your property to maintain or repair underground or overhead lines? Can they trench new communication lines through the middle of your lot? Most utility companies can use approx. fifteen or so feet from a road for infrastructure.

Has the previous land owner entered into a contract to maintain a cell or communications tower?


68. Is there pre-existing irrigation?

This can be both a major time and cost saver. What is the condition and is it overgrown?


69. What markets are nearby to sell to customers?

Can you find employment if you’re not working remote online?

If you are your own boss, are there any local farmers markets nearby or distribution hubs to sell your harvest? How about butchers to process meat, shipping companies to transfer packages and so on?


70. What’s the hardiness zone?

This will greatly determine what you can and can’t growing your specific region. This also will give you an idea of the reality of harsh winters, which can require more electric to heat your home or barn. Also consider will water pipes freeze, or is there anything else exposed to the elements that will require insulation?

Providing water to livestock is rather easy, but when winter comes and the ground freezes, you have to consider different methods in cold climates.

Also consider which animals will perish and which thrive in freezing temperatures. Will you need additional loafing sheds in order to protect your livestock from exposure to elements?


71. What are the local agriculture programs?

You can find all sorts of grants for agriculture land if you’re willing to look, approach the local governing agency and apply with a solid plan. For instance, in Boulder you can get a few thousand-dollars if you’re doing soil improvements and get approved.


72. What is the condition of the existing structures?

Get a home inspection if there’s one already existing on the land. Look for existing structural problems such as a cut floor joist to run ductwork or wiring. Carefully inspect for leaks, mold, and electrical problems.

In some cases, if you are thinking renovation, consider the age of the home. Do you really want to pay for asbestos abatement services? They can get really expensive and are wrapped in red-tape.

On the flip side, if you’ve got a barn, you can re-claim the historical wood and resell it to companies and individuals. Old timber beams and hand-hewn wood can fetch a small fortune!


73. Are there any trades in your region?

Depending on how far your land is from society, you may have problems getting trades to come service your home, animals or equipment. Check to see if there’s any contractors, roofers, plumbers and so on within a hundred miles or less of your lot.

Imagine trying to get new siding or emergency repairs and no one will drive an hour plus to get to your land. Consider if you can even get a tractor dealer or diesel mechanic out to service your farming machinery.


74. What’s the average cost to build in your area?

How expensive will it be to develop your farm or home? Look for average square footage costs to build and take advantage of builder quotes, and online calculator tools. In someplace $150 per square foot is reasonable for a small home, and in other locations that will barely cover the foundation costs alone.


75. What’s the cost of living in your area?

What will your homestead need to produce in order to cover local costs? Are there schools nearby for further education advancements, or for children who you may or may not have right now? Are the public schools just fine, or are there more expensive private school options?
Food costs can double depending on where you live, as can water bills, electric, propane, gasoline, and so on.


76. How’s the privacy?

Are your neighbors overlooking your property?

Do you have a flat piece of land that anyone can see driving by? Does the open field next to a busy road seem okay with you, or do you prefer to be isolated in the woods for total privacy?

Personally, I don’t prefer seeing my neighbors from my bathroom window or any window for that matter.


77. Are you next to public lands?

Sometimes this is the best news to hear as it will prevent people from building next to your lot. Look for lots that back up to conversation lands or natural forest lands and parks.

It’s like owning a giant natural, eyes-only backyard without the taxes or maintenance.


78. What’s the average rainfall per year?

If you’re collecting rainwater, you’ll want to know the numbers. Even if you get little rain but a great deal of snowfall, you’ll be surprised with the water amount.


79. Are there impact or development fees?

Local governments can charge a small fortune in addition to your typical permitting costs.


80. Are there square footage limits imposed by local government?

Some places have a maximum presumptive size limit which uses averages from nearby structures and homes. They don’t want you to build too large, or if you want to, you’ll have to fork over cash for environmental credits.


81. Do your neighbors have special exemptions or zoning variances?

Can they start a large-scale pig farm next door?


82. What are the regions insurance rates?

Are you in a wildfire zone or perhaps in a high-risk flooding area? Can you even get insured at all? In some places, finding insurance can be a challenge. And if you do find it, expect to pay an arm and a leg!

We’ve heard stories of people buying land with homes that have traditional wood burning fireplaces. Apparently, some insurance companies see this as a problem and jack up the rates. Other places have wildfire mitigation programs that can reduce insurance costs.


83. Can a well be used for animals or a single-family household only?

Some local governments will place restrictions on this.


84. Do you have to deal with erosion issues?

Is a nearby creek or waterway taking away your dirt with every rainstorm? Rivers can remove a lot of bank material and strip away topsoil when a heavy rain rolls through.

Even wind can have a major impact on land erosion too.


85. Is the land riddled with toxic weeds and plants?

Land Buying Tips To Consider Removing Toxic Weeds For Livestock

Certain weeds can be lethal to livestock, and require removal. Examine the cost to remove these. Use apps and books to determine what naturally is growing on your land.


Even more considerations:

86. Is the acre enough for your family and future plans?

87. Was there a foreclosure and eviction proceeding that resulted in a disgruntled previous owner?

89. Are there salinity or alkalinity soil issues?

90. Are there water-logging problems from over-saturated irrigation, canal seepage or inadequate drainage?

91. Desertification problems can cover fertile soil with sand from nearby regions.

92. Have poor farming practices depleted the soil of all nutrients?

93. Will you experience push back from nearby residents from any forms of development?

94. Will future construction, landscaping or fencing by neighbors block prized views?

95. Nearby rental properties or evidence of rentals if you prefer to not have a rotating assortment of random neighbors.



The Materials Magazine
Get value. Give value. Help fund high performance construction content that’s forever free.

No paid eBooks, courses, blocked content walls, memberships, or other pay-to-access nonsense. The Materials Magazine was built to educate + support the next generation; it’s forever free.

Did you find this content helpful?

    Great to hear! Please share what helped you today.

    Sorry to hear! Please share what could have been better.

    Authors + Contributors