Many people find the process of buying land to be intimidating and overwhelming. I think this is because they are somewhat out of their comfort zone. Buying a house is easier because you live in a house and know your wants and needs and the builder and or developer takes care of many of the land issues such as water and waste disposal.
While there are many Realtors available to assist you in a home purchase, be sure that the Realtor that you use in your land acquisition is familiar with this type of transaction. One good criteria to look for is if the Realtor is an Accredited Land Consultant (ALC). This ensures that your agent knows and understands the land as well as has sucessfully closed on over 25 land transactions.
Regardless of whether you are purchasing the land for building your dream home, for recreation or investment, there are certain questions that you should have answered.
You have lived all your life in the city and want to move to the country, but there is no city sewer system! You have never had to think about where the human waste goes and really don't care to think about it now either!!
When buying land make sure that there has been a recent "perk" test. The term, perk, means soil percolation rate which is determined by the makeup of the soil and topography. A perk must be approved by the County Health Department which is regulated by the Virginia Department of Health. But, just because there is an official soil analysis report (perk) for a septic system, make sure that the county will still honor it. Standards for septic systems are constantly changing and an old "perk" report may no longer be valid.
There are many different type of septic systems. The gravity-fed is the conventional system, but there are also pump systems and alternative systems for areas where the soil doesn't "perc".
While one would think that a septic system would be designed by the number of bathrooms in a house, the system is actually based on the number of bedrooms. So, the more bedrooms you have in a home, the larger the septic system and drainage field must be.
Is there a well on the property or is there county or city water to the property? If not, then does the area have known problems with accessing water? The health department or a local well driller can give you answers, but the only way to know for sure is to drill a well if there's no county/city water.
You love the view that a specific tract of land offers. Be sure to do your research so that you know if there are any plans on record that might destroy that view. It's better to purchase knowing and accepting the worst-case scenario than to be surprised in a few years.
If the property does not have state road frontage, then does it have a deeded right of way? And if so, how large is the right of way? Does the right of way create any restrictions on the use of the land?
Division rights do not guarantee that you will be able to divide the property. It's best to talk with the county or a surveyor to get their interpetation.
Could there be any environmental problems? There are environmental inspectors available to research the past uses of the land to determine if there might be any hazzards on the property. It is like a home inspection for the land.
Each county has their own tax rate as well as a various schedules of when they conduct assessments. While most of the counties in Virginia are fairly reasonable compared to other areas in the country, you should be aware of the differences.
Most counties provide for a reduced real estate tax, called Land Use Tax, to provide tax breaks to real estate owners who have devoted their land to agricultural use, horticultural use, forest use and/or open space. Not all counties have land use taxation, so be sure to check with the county Commisioner of Revenue to find out the specifics of each particular county.
As a guideline, Albemarle County Virginia has the follwing criteria:
1. Agricultural Use: There must be a minimum of five acres and meet prescribed standards for production for sale of crops and/or livestock or be in an approved soil conservation program.
2. Horticulture Use: There must be a minimum of five-acres that are in the production of fruits, vegetables, or ornamental plants or products for sale.
3. Forest Use: There must be a minimum of 20 acres which includes standing timber and trees planted in such a manner to create a forest area.
4. Open Space: There must be at least 20 acres and be used to provide or preserve the land for park or recreational purposes, conservation of land or other natural resources, floodways, or historic or scenic purposes. To qualify the land must have a recorded perpetual conservation, historic, or open-space easement held by a public body such as the Virginia Outdoors Foundation or the Nature Conservancy.
If the property is not currently in land use, you will need to provide the county with the following documents. Once again, check with your county first to see if they require additional documentation.
1. The USDA/FSA farm number.
2. Federal Tax forms for Farm Expenses and Income or Farm Rental Income.
3. A Farm Management Conservation Plan or a Forest Management Plan.
4. Proof that the gross sales averaged more than $1,000. over the past three years.
5. Proof that the farm has been in agricultural use for the last five years.
IF YOU PURCHASE LAND THAT IS CURRENTLY IN LAND USE, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE SELLER SIGN THE NECESSARY FORMS AND FILE THEM IN ORDER THAT THE LAND USE TAXATION STAYS IN PLACE. If you lose the land use status, then you must start the process again, meaning that you pay normal real estate taxes during the five years while you re-establish the use.
TImber on the property can add value to the land and provide future income. If the property you are considering buying has a lot of woodland, you might consider having a timber cruise conducted.
If you plan to start a vineyard or orchard, you need to be sure the topography, orientation and drainage as well as other criteria are suitable for establishing a successful operation. The same goes for crop land and grazing land. All land is not created equally! There are many experts that can help advise you on the best land to purchase for your desired purpose. One of our best resources in the state is Va Tech.