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Buying Vacant Land

02.01.10 written by

Are there active, plugged or abandoned gas and oil wells on the property? Locating a plugged oil and gas well is important, as it can significantly impact your building plans.

Are there mines below the property? The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) also has an abandoned underground mine interactive map which allows you to view the location of mine shafts in the area. Note, the DNR map locators are not guaranteed to locate all mine shafts. However, reviewing mine shafts in the near vicinity should cause you to conduct further inquiry and due diligence on the issue.

Has the land been strip-mined? Usually, strip mining is obvious but requires a trained eye for land which has been reclaimed more than 20 years ago. Try searching for old strip mining permits from the local Division of Mineral Resources Management Office. Also, speak to neighbors to see what they know about the land.
Is the property located in a federally protected wetlands or in a floodplain? Land located in wetlands and/or flood plains can result in significant delays in construction and even prevent you from conducting any construction.

Where are the boundaries? Be sure to have a survey of the property you are purchasing and to walk the property after the pins have been placed. There is nothing more frustrating than purchasing a property only to learn several years later that the property boundaries are not where you expected. Consider making your contract contingent upon your approval of the survey.

Are there zoning and building regulations? Review all zoning rules and be sure you know what the setback requirements to make sure can build appropriately. Also, if the property is being split from another tract of land, make sure the split will comply with the local Regional Planning Commission’s regulations.

Are there environmental concerns? Consider previous uses of the property in determining the level of your environmental risk. Was the property used as a gas station, a dump, a tannery…? Ask questions of the seller to see what they know about the previous use of the property. Make sure there were no previous spills on the property from underground storage tanks by running a Corrective Action search on the Department of Commerce. Also, conduct a Facility Search to determine whether or not there are any registered underground storage tanks on the property. If a prior use creates concern for environmental issues on the property, be sure to obtain a Phase I Environmental Study Report from a professional.

Will there be city sewer? If not, consider the type and location of the sewage system you would install on the property. Try to obtain a pre-approval from the Health Department prior to closing.

Will you need to drill a well on the property? If so, contact neighbors to see if they had any problem drilling their water wells and the depth of their wells. Additionally, logs can be obtained from the County regarding depths of wells in the area. You can also have your well contractor inspect the property for insights on well depth.
Are gas, electric, and telephone available to the property? At times, landowners will need to incur costs to run lines to their property, and you should consider this cost in determining a purchase price for the property.

Are there are any rights of third parties affecting the property? Be sure to check for any easements, rights-of-way, or other rights in favor of third parties in the chain of title to determine whether or not it will affect your use of the property. The title company will be able to help you review this information.

Is there road access to the property? If there is no road access, then you will need to receive city, county and/or state approvals for the installation of a drive, which could affect your use of the property.

In order to reduce the number of surprises you have after you purchase your real estate, work with your realtor, contractors, attorney and local government officials in answering the above questions.

NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.