Country Lore: Shopping for Land

If you're ready to start shopping for land, follow Craig Idlebrook's tips for finding and buying great property.
By Craig Idlebrook
February/March 2006
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Land ho! Shopping for land is an adventure, but make sure you ask a lot of questions before you buy.

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Here are some tips for when you are ready to shop for land, based on the experiences of myself and my wife. With persistence, planning and just a touch of compromise, you can find country property that will fit your needs for a lifetime.

  • Decide what you're looking for. Write down all your needs for land, employment and community, then try narrowing down that list to must-haves.
  • Know how much you can afford and how you want to pay — mortgage, cash or land contract. Check out Rob Roy's book, Mortgage-Free! Radical Strategies for Home Ownership.
  • Thanks to the Internet, you can look for land anywhere in the United States with a mere click of the mouse. Once you have identified the area of the country in which you want to live, go for a visit to get a feel for the area. Also, learn as much as you can about property values, city and state taxes, nearby hazards, school bus routes, mail delivery, etc.
  • A real estate agent can help you start looking for property. Real estate agents do a great deal of the work associated with buying property, and they know what's happening in the community. Also, search for rural property in the local paper and ask around town if anyone knows of a property that might soon be for sale. Post notes in businesses such as laundromats and farm supply stores.
  • When you've identified a couple of realistic land options, it's time to start walking properties. Be sure to have your "needs " list with you so you don't forget any critical elements.
  • Above all, ask the real estate agent and seller a lot of questions. Ask about the land's prior use and about hunting practices or ATV trails in the area. Check on water rights, mineral rights and utility easements.
  • You'll want to have a copy of a survey of the land so you'll know its exact boundaries. If a relatively recent survey is not on file or the owner is not able to show you the corner markers and lines, then you will want to have a survey done before closing on the property. Surveyors are a bit like Indiana Jones. They'll pore through old records to find clues for property boundaries, then bushwhack through the property to find those clues. Once the survey is complete, the land's boundaries will be clearly marked and you will get a survey map and a full report.
  • Make sure there's deeded access to the property. If the access is across someone else's property, it should be a deeded easement. If you take out a mortgage, a title search will be done to assure that the owner is the legal owner and can legally sell the property. If you pay cash or do a land contract, always have a title search done, even if you have to pay for it. Be extremely wary of a quitclaim deed, which could signal that the seller's claim on the land may not be legally valid.

Craig Idlebrook
Ellsworth, Maine

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