land evaluation checklist

A Checklist For Evaluating Land To Purchase

I was recently reading an article about tasks to perform after buying a tract of land. I decided to develop a list of topics to consider for those evaluating land to purchase before buying any land to help when comparing properties to ensure you buy the best property. We have all heard about buyer’s remorse, so it is important to consider the following before you make that important purchase.

1. Access – How is the property accessed? You may have road frontage or an easement. Is the easement prescriptive or deeded? I would not be comfortable buying a tract with a prescriptive easement and long term verbal agreements are often forgotten about by inheriting heirs.  These prescriptive easements can be converted to a legal or deeded easement, but be prepared for a court battle and legal fees.

I work in a county where there are a lot of transitional properties, so access is key. The county requires that each parcel of land have at least 50 feet of road frontage on a county road or state highway. If you are buying for investment purposes and are planning to subdivide the property, lots of road frontage is important. Check with the local county planning and zoning folks beforehand.

flood plain

2. Flood Plain – These are soils that typically flood after a huge rain event and it affects the utility of the property. I used to manage 85,000 acres of land for a timber company. We categorized property by inoperable and operable acres. The inoperable property was generally Streamside Management Zones and Flood Plains. The utility of the property affects the value. This information is readily available and your real estate agent should provide this information.

Also these areas will not support a conventional septic system. If you are buying land to build a house or cabin, know where these flood prone areas are prior to your purchase.

3. Topography – I have written a blog post about Topographic Maps. Like flood plains, topography can affect the utility of the property. Very steep property is not conducive to farming and logging. Be sure to look at topo maps of the property and nothing can substitute walking the property. Take a close look before you make that important purchase.

4.  Neighbors – With all the technology out there, it is pretty easy to determine who your neighbors are. I can access this information from the tax assessor website. You might be interested to know if they live on the property or if they are absentee landowners. Could you imagine buying a tract of land to learn later that a waste management company owns the property next door? A little work up front can save you lots of heart ache later on.

5. Property lines – I have written a blog post about maintaining your property lines. All landowners should mark and walk your property lines on a regular basis. It is a good idea to know where they are, especially before you buy. If a neighbor is encroaching on the property you need to alleviate the problem. Property lines that are maintained and painted provide a visual aid to your neighbors so everyone is on the same page and knows where the property lines are!

soil type

6.  Soils – In certain areas of the country, soils and soil productivity drive price. Farming (tillable acres) land is evaluated on the productivity of the soils. Most of the property in West Central Georgia is timberland and this can be evaluated based on Site Index. When buying timberland, operable acres and site index should be considered.

7.  Survey – This is huge! I will tell you about two tracts of land I have been involved with recently. These are real life stories. I was contacted by a landowner who had property in Harris County, GA. They solicited my help on a timber sale and later contacted me to sell the property. The tax assessor showed 170 acres and I told them they had more and suggested having the property surveyed before selling. The survey yielded 213 acres…advantage Seller!

In another situation, I was contacted by a Family Limited Partnership. The property had been in the family for 3 generations. The property was beautiful and the timber was over 60 years old. The family had an old plat from the 1920s from Columbus Power and Electric who built Lake Harding. The lake is now owned by Georgia Power and they own up to the 525 foot elevation. They were paying taxes on 236 acres. I estimated about 185 acres and arranged to have the property surveyed. The survey yielded 176.6 acres.

If you buy or inherit property, have a survey, you need to know what you own. These are both also a great examples of why it is important to work with a real estate agent that specializes in land transactions in your area.

8.  Timber Cruise – Timber cruises are important when buying timberland. First of all the amount and type of timber helps when valuing the property. Secondly, the timber cruise will help when conducting cost allocation on the property. This is the process where you assign value to the timber and the dirt. Cost allocation will save you lots of money when the time comes to thin or harvest your trees. You will pay taxes on the capital gain (revenue less depletion).

Interested in purchasing a land property? Land transactions require specialized expertise from an agent, like an Accredited Land Consultant (ALC), with experience and education in the industry! Find A Land Consultant near you for expert advice.

This post was originally published on The Dirt Blog.

Kent Morris, ALC, is a Registered Forester and Associate Broker who has experience in fields such as timber appraisals, harvesting, thinnings, and timber sales.

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