2022 Boise Idaho Real Estate Blog

Interested in Buying Land? Here are 9 Questions to Ask Your Real Estate Agent

Main Treasure Valley Life

Buying real estate comes down to two things: buying an existing building or buying land to build buildings on. When it comes to buying land, there are different considerations to take into account than buying an existing house. If you are shopping on the MLS for land to build a home, ask these questions about the property to make sure it fits your residential and financial needs.

How will you finance the building lot?

As with everything in real estate, it is a matter of how you will finance the deal. When it comes to a building lot while working with a builder, there is a loan for the lot and one for the house. With vacant land, the waters become a bit muddier. Banks consider land loans to be a riskier investment than a home mortgage because it can sometimes be harder to sell the land or take longer for the investment to pay off. As such, banks require higher required down payments. To combat this, many developers buy the land with cash. To get the details about financing options for vacant land, talk to your lender to find out what kind of financing you and the land qualify for.


What is the property zoned for?

Every property is zoned by the county/municipality for a specific use. You will want to check with the county zoning office to learn how the land was designed to be used. This information can also often be found on the for sale listing. If the land is zoned for commercial use, but your intentions are for residential use, you will have to petition the zoning to get it changed, which is lengthy and tedious. You are much better off looking for residentially zoned land if that is your end goal. 

The property’s zoning is also reflective of the local government’s plans for future development, so that is another detail to pay attention to at the zoning office.

What makes this land desirable?

Here are 3 of the most important ways to judge a piece of land before you buy it. 

  • Location, location, location: this is the fundamental phrase of real estate. Where a building lot is located determines nearly everything about it: value (real and perceived), ROI potential, and development potential. School districts, golf course proximity, industrial/commercial operations, and access to things to do all help inform the land’s purchase price. 
  • Topography: Not all land is inherently buildable. A prospective buyer has to look at the soil, land grading, and elevation changes. If the property has hard and rocky soil, it will take more time and effort to dig out the foundation or even a basement. Marshy areas may be prone to flooding. In which case, there will be higher insurance premiums as well as extra time and money for building up the land to encourage draining and prevent flooding. 
  • Environmental concerns: Depending on the property, there may be some natural obstacles to pay attention to. A wooded area may have stipulations about how many trees you can remove from the property to build. If there are endangered plants or animals on the property, it may be illegal to remove them or even build on the property. Lastly, check with local statues to make sure that your planned use for the land is allowed in that area.

Where is the land located?

  • Here are some extra considerations with the land’s location:
  • Is the lot close to local amenities, things to do, and points of interest?
  • What do adjoining properties look like
  • What are adjoining properties being used for?
  • Are there any strange or undesirable smells or sounds?
  • What are future development/growth plans for the area?

Is there road access?

In less developed areas, easy road access may not be available. Land in the mountains may only be accessible by vehicles with high ground clearance and four-wheel drive, which can make access difficult. If the land is far enough away, the county may not maintain the road, which will take more time and money to grade and pave the road to make it passable.

Sometimes, there you may have to pass through a neighbor’s property to get to yours. In this case, an easement may need to be drawn up to show you can use their land to get to yours. With the easement, you and your neighbor will have to reach an agreement to determine who maintains the road to get to your land via theirs.

Are there utility hookups?

If the land you are interested in is close to existing city subdivisions or municipal properties, you will likely have easy access to city utilities like water, sewer, electricity, and internet. There is a cost to tap into these utilities, but there is less hassle overall. 

If you don’t have access to municipal utilities, you will have to install a septic system. To do this, a percolation test will be needed to determine how well the ground absorbs water. If the land doesn't meet certain standards, it won’t support a septic system.

Finally, there is access to water. Check into the lot’s water rights and if they will be transferred in the sale. Depending on the age of the property, you may be pleasantly surprised by the amount of water rights the land has access to. If there isn’t a well already drilled, contact the state’s land resources department to look into testing and drilling a well. Your real estate agent can help you gather resources. If a well has already been drilled, have the well tested for water production and safety.

Is there an existing structure on the property?

A plot of land may have an old barn or house on the property that may need to be demolished or removed before you can develop it. Removal services will take extra time and money to deal with. If the structure is old enough, it may contain asbestos, lead paint, or lead pipes, which require specialized equipment to remove safely. Be sure to ask the current owner if there are existing septic tanks or underground storage tanks so they can be safely built around or excavated.

What are the dimensions and size of the land?

The size and shape of the land completely dictate how the land can be developed. The county will have records of the property boundaries. In addition, a land planner can help you determine how the land can be used and how the existing vegetation will impact your plans.

Are there any building setbacks?

Setback ordinances are property laws that govern property lines and boundaries, and how structures must be built within those boundaries. Take these setback guidelines into account when making your decision for buying and building on the land.

Let's say a hypothetical plot of land is 200 feet wide with a 50-foot setback on each side of the property. This means that your building can be no wider than 100 feet to comply with the property rules. This is why working with a land surveyor and your builder to determine how your building(s) will look and how they will sit on the property is imperative.

Posted by AndrewS at 4/21/2021 3:17:00 AM

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