Do you want to buy land some day? If so, you aren’t alone, and the reasons why you may want to purchase land are endless.
Maybe you have a plan for a dream home, and you’re looking for some developed land to build it on. Or you could be looking to invest in undeveloped land just outside of a booming area. Heck, maybe you just want to tear around on the four-wheelers once in a while without disturbing the neighbors.
Whatever the reason, lots of people are interested in land ownership. But how do you buy land?
How to Buy Land
The land-buying process really isn’t all that different from the home-buying process. So, if you’ve bought a home before, you pretty much already know how this works!
There are some key differences between buying land and buying a house, though. That’s why you’ll want to follow three important steps as you navigate the process of buying land—whether you’re doing it so you can build a house or for another reason, like investing.
The three steps for how to purchase land are . . .
- Decide where to buy land.
- Make sure you have enough money to buy land.
- Build a team of all-star pros.
Following those steps is the best way to buy land. Let’s break each of them down.
Step 1: Decide where to buy land.
Even if you’re simply buying land to build a home, you still want to think like an investor. That means you’ll want to buy a property that will grow in value over time.
Find expert agents to help you buy your home.
Figuring out whether a property’s value will go up can be tricky—getting it right will require you to do some homework. You should do some digging on these seven things before signing the dotted line.
The three most important things in real estate are location, location and location. While you may be fine with owning land that’s completely off the grid, you need to consider how a future buyer would feel about that. And here’s a spoiler: Most folks won’t want to drive an hour to reach the nearest signs of civilization—like grocery stores and gas stations.
When you’re evaluating the value of a location, and whether that value will increase, some things you should consider are which school district the property falls into, how close the land is to highways and stores, and its distance from emergency services, like hospitals and fire stations.
Check with your city, county and state zoning ordinances to see if it’s even possible to build a home on the land you’re looking at. That will affect the land’s value and its potential to grow regardless of whether you want to build. You should also look into whether the government has any plans that could impact the land value, like new highways or powerplants. Stuff like that is more common than you may think, so watch out!
You need to consider the type of soil, the number of trees, and the elevation or flatness of the terrain. Those are all things that will affect the cost of building a home and, in turn, the value of the land. For instance: Hard, rocky soil may mean no basement. And if you buy property in the wetlands, you'll have to deal with tough regulations and pay for an expensive septic system.
Performing a full topography assessment is highly technical, which makes it tough if you aren’t trained as a farmer or geologist. That’s part of the reason why you’ll want to get a team of top-notch experts on your side as you navigate the land-buying process (we’ll talk more about that in Step 3).
4. Environmental Concerns
Make sure you’re aware of environmental dangers that could affect your land (like flooding or other natural disasters), as well as any endangered plants or animals living on your property. If you buy in a wooded area, check to see how many trees you’re allowed to clear. This stuff should pop up when you look at zoning regulations and topography, but you should be proactive about checking out environmental concerns just in case.
5. Road Access
When you buy land, you need to make sure you can get to it easily. That means you need to know if the roads leading to it are someone else’s private property. If so, you’ll have to get legal permission (the official term is easement) to use them.
Unfortunately, that may come with a fee and an agreement that you’ll share road maintenance costs. (No, baking cookies for your neighbor won’t get the job done.)
Even though it’s a hassle, easement is incredibly important to think about before you commit. If you don’t have an easement, you won’t be able to get to your property—so you may as well not even buy it. Of course, if the roads leading to the land aren’t private property, you’re in the clear!
6. Utility Services
The land might not come with access to city water, electricity, cable lines or city sewage systems, which would seriously hurt its value. Check the city limits to see if you’ll have to invest time and money into building your own septic system, water well or electricity access. Don’t forget to check your cell service, too, when you visit your potential purchase.
CCR stands for covenants, conditions and restrictions. These are rules imposed by an HOA or local government that could affect what you’re allowed to do with your property. The land may be perfect for your flamingo farm, but if the CCRs restrict the breeding of pink birds for some reason, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Step 2: Make sure you have enough money to buy land.
This is where the reason you’re buying land really comes into play. That’s because the amount of money you should save before buying land depends on whether you plan to build a home, use the land as an investment, or start that flamingo farm.
And by the way, you’ll need to save some cash on the front end either way. If you’re trying to figure out how to buy land with no money, just know that’s a terrible idea.
If You’re Buying Property to Build a Home
If you’re buying land so you can use it to build a home for your family to live in, the best plan is to pay cash for everything—the land and your future home. If that’s not realistic for you, taking out a loan is okay, but you need to know a few things before you go down that path.
First, you’ll have to take out separate loans for the land and the homebuilding. Getting a land loan is a very different process than getting a mortgage, and the rules are different too. That’s why you’ll want to work with a quality real estate agent, because they’ll be able to help you figure out which type of land loan you need and how much of a down payment is required (more on that later).
When it comes to the homebuilding loan, you’ll want to treat it like a mortgage. That means you’ll want to get a 15-year fixed-rate loan, and you should save up a strong down payment of at least 5–10%. If you can save up a bigger down payment, like 20%, that would be even better because you’d avoid having to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) .
On top of all that, you need to make sure you’ve checked all of these boxes:
- You’re debt-free. No car payments, student loans or credit card balances.
- You have a fully funded emergency fund that will cover at least 3–6 months of expenses.
- You know that your monthly payments between the land and house loans will be no more than 25% of your monthly take-home income.
If You’re Buying Property as an Investment
If your living situation is squared away and you’re buying land as an investment or for some other reason, taking out a loan is a bad idea. Don’t invest in land (or real estate, for that matter) unless you can pay for it in cash.
Going into debt for an investment will only bring you stress. You’ll have much more peace—and, ultimately, make more money—if you save up to buy land with cash.
You also shouldn’t buy land as an investment unless you’re . . .
- Completely debt-free with a paid-for home.
- Already investing 15% of your pretax income into retirement accounts.
- Saving for your kids to go to college debt-free (if you have kids).
If you haven’t hit all three of those goals yet, that’s where your focus needs to be for now.
Step 3: Build a team of all-star pros.
Once you know where you want to buy land and you’ve got the money to do it, you need to get an all-star team of pros on your side. If you’re planning to build a house, that’ll mean looking for an architect, a contractor or project manager, and a builder. Your team will look a little different (and smaller) if you’re just buying the land as an investment, but you’ll need a good real estate agent either way.
Look: Buying land can be complicated, so you’ll want to work with someone who can help you do it properly! They’ll be able to help you with some of the more technical stuff we’ve talked about, like zoning, land loan requirements, topography and other words that are hard to pronounce.
The best way to make sure you get an experienced, high-quality agent is finding a RamseyTrusted pro in your area. We don’t just slap that label on anyone, either. RamseyTrusted agents provide rock-star customer service, and they’re experts in their local communities. They have the heart of a teacher, which means they’ll take you through all the ins and outs of how to buy land with patience and grace.