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Purchasing Land: Beyond the For-Sale Sign

Carol K. Platt

By Carol K. Platt

Even Mark Twain said “Buy Land, they aren’t making it anymore.” The promise of land ownership and religious freedom brought people to Plymouth Rock, to Ellis Island and then settled this nation from New York to California. America’s founders found it important enough to grant all United States citizens with the constitutional rights to private property. In essence, the title is to the land, but the ownership is a constitutional right. Yet, with all the importance placed on land, far too many buyers pay first and ask questions later. Ask these questions first:

1. Has any activity at any time created a condition where contaminants or pollutants have been used on the land? Examples: trash dump, chemical sprays, oil changes, containers stored, buried items, shooting ranges, sludge (human waste) spreads, cattle dipping vats, old rail tracks, etc.

2. Are there any items on the property that are not readily observable (capped wells, buried tanks)?

3. Are there septic tanks on the property and when did the last testing of the septic tank occur?

4. Are there any endangered or threatened animal or plant species living on the property?

5. Is there a survey? In addition, does the survey show easements or encroachments on the property and how old is the survey?

6. Where is the copy of the deed and does the deed match the survey and the signatories on the exclusive right of sale contract? In addition, are mineral rights included in the Deed and is anything or anyone excluded in the Deed?

7. When was the last title search done? In addition, who will pay for the current title search, when will it be done and can legal rights be conveyed in a warranty deed or special warranty deed? Consider obtaining title insurance!

8. Have any documents ever been filed with a governmental agency? Examples: Wetland delineations, conservation easements, conservation plans, best management practices plan. In addition, is the property currently registered under any governmental program (conservation, water storage, crop stipends, equip, NRCS, Forestry Services, etc.)?

9. Has the property ever been leased and is there a current lease on the property? In addition, does that lease transfer to a new owner and who will receive the money from the lease before and after closing?

10. If there is an agricultural crop, who owns it? Who is responsible for growing, selling and harvesting the crop? Who will incur the expenses to harvest and how will the revenues be distributed before and after closing? Is the crop insured or can it be insured? This includes timber.

11. What improvements, if any, will be sold with the property and at what price? Examples: barns, storage buildings, hunting stands, blinds and feeders, windmills, pumps, pump houses, electrical and solar fencing, aerators, gates, cattle chutes, animal pens, round pens, chicken coops, lighting, etc.

12. Is there personal property included in the price or available to purchase? Examples: farm equipment, troughs and feeders, sprayers, horse tack, hoses, hay, feed, etc.

13. Will improvements and personal property that is not sold with the property be removed before or after the sale and who will pay for the cost of removal and bear the liability for the removal? When will the removal be completed?

14. What is the depreciated value of any personal property that will be purchased in addition to the real estate?

15. What are the current zoning, use code, future land use and building codes affecting the property? Is the property under any threat or action of eminent domain? Are there any pending or proposed governmental special assessments?

16. Where are all utilities in relationship to the property and who is the provider?

It’s extremely important that you do your due diligence when purchasing land and work with a REALTOR® familiar with the type of due diligence items and questions that must be answered when working with land. Do not hesitate to call in specialists to assess value and risk such as engineers, land planners, environmental consultants, etc. Many properties have some challenges, but all have value and opportunities for enjoyment, productivity and investment. What’s important is that you know what those challenges are, how they affect value and what costs are incurred with them? It’s become a bit more detailed since the “right to own private property” in our United States constitution was written, but no less financially or personally rewarding. And…except in the case of a lava flow, they really aren’t making any more of it!

Carol K. Platt, CRB, Broker Associate/Designated REALTOR® for Crosby and Associates, Inc. in St. Cloud specializes in commercial and land properties throughout Central Florida.