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Seven Land Buying Nightmares to Avoid

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Trees with graveyard demonstrating nightmares for buying landWhether you’re buying a lot or land either as an investment or if you want a site to build your new home, you know that land buying comes with its own set of pros and cons. In most cases, you’ll simply need to weigh your property needs against any drawbacks in order to reach a buying decision. However, keep your eyes open for these seven big land buying nightmares. Avoiding these nightmares when evaluating land for sale will both help your purchasing experience and can help ensure that your new residential lot is worth every penny that you spend.


1. Your mother-in-law has to move into the house with you.

You had planned to build a separate guest house for your mother-in-law when you bought the property, but just discovered that the zoning restrictions don’t allow for a second dwelling. Uh-oh…

Make sure you can use the property according to your plans.

Carefully go over all zoning, subdivision, covenants and other restrictions before buying. Information about restrictions – related to everything from pools, sheds, detached garages, those horses you wanted to keep on property and (yes) guest houses – won’t always be listed on the first page of a deed or in your sales contract. In fact, these types of restrictions are often buried deep or not even described in those documents. Make sure that you and your lawyer have checked all local zoning and land use information, as well as specific title restrictions in the land records, to confirm you will be able to do what you want to do with the property.

2. A graveyard could really keep you up at night.

If you buy a property that turns out to have a historic graveyard or other protected areas like wetlands, you could be in for a real nightmare, especially if it’s right in the middle of your property. (No kidding, we encountered the graveyard issue in one property we were buying to develop.)

Be aware of any environmental or historical conditions.Foggy cemetery with tombstones

Find out if an environmental survey of the land has been conducted or consider having one done yourself if it is an undeveloped parcel or was the site of activity that could lead to unwanted environmental conditions. For raw land purchases it’s a good idea to be aware of any endangered species, significant archaeological sites or protected wetlands on the property. The presence of such species, areas or conditions can have a detrimental impact on your ability to use the land. Of course, there’s also the issue of environmental contamination on a site, which can be quite expensive to remediate. And yes, we’ve been there and done that as well.


3. Shrinking land — The 15 acres you thought you bought actually is only 12.

A previous legal description of the land correctly indicated 15 acres, but last year three of those acres became part of the local road widening project.

Always conduct a land survey and obtain title insurance to confirm your acreage and lot lines.

Don’t just rely on the legal description of lot lines and acreage cited in the seller’s deed. Evaluating deeds against up-to-date land surveys will ensure you catch discrepancies, whether the changes occurred in recent years or the source deed was written more than 100 years ago when surveying methods were different. Either way, make sure that the information recorded matches up with the reality of the property today. When making your land purchase, your attorney can get title insurance along with your survey to help protect you by insuring the legal description of the lot lines and acreage that you are buying.


4. That ugly shed in the back that you were planning to tear down. It belongs to your neighbor…sort of.

Scary shack falling downIt turns out that the ugly shack has been claimed by your neighbor and it’s partly on his property and partly on yours. He thinks it’s a great place for old paint cans and tires. Now what do you do?

Research potential boundary disputes.

While your survey can show lot line “encroachments” to help avoid this issue, you still should be sure to investigate whether there are any potential boundary disputes on the property. Are there neighbors who insist that part of the property really belongs to them or that think they can use the property to access their land? Has someone built an unauthorized structure on the property? Buying a lot for sale that is subject to boundary disputes can be a big headache, and an uncomfortable situation with your new neighbors. Sometimes a simple discussion or written agreement with the neighbor – before you buy – can resolve boundary issues.

5. You wake up in your newly built home to the sound of chainsaws in your back 40 acres.

Little did you know that someone else owns the logging rights on your land…and they’re taking your trees!

Investigate mineral and logging rights.

If you’re a first-time buyer, you might not know that someone else can own the mineral or logging rights to a plot of land that you’re interested in buying. Make sure you understand what you’re getting, so check your contract and deed carefully to confirm what rights you’ll hold if you buy the property. If someone else controls mineral and logging rights on the land, you may face significant delays to complete any construction – or may have a rude awakening one morning. With the dramatic increase in shale gas drilling, many more property owners are selling their mineral rights. The separation of rights is not uncommon in certain areas; just be sure that you’re fully aware of what you’re buying.

6. You just bought a beautiful new lot…along with an existing mortgage.

The seller was desperate financially, so you got a great deal by closing quickly for cash. Or did you?

Check for any liens or encumbrances.

In addition to checking for restrictions on your use of the land, it’s essential that you be sure that your ownership of the lot is free and clear.  Nothing prevents a seller from deeding land that is burdened with unpaid mortgages – it is your duty as the buyer to make sure you are getting your ownership free of unexpected mortgages, judgments, liens and other encumbrances. Also make sure all the right “sellers” are involved in the sale, or you may end up only owning partial rights. Take your time. Usually these issues are easily avoided with the help of your attorney and a title insurance policy.

7. There’s no way to get to your new home.

You just bought a piece of land believing you could use the nearby driveway – after all, the seller drove you in on it. But now it seems you have no right to use it. The driveway is not on your land!

Confirm access before buying.Private Sign blocking access to land

Again, make sure your attorney reviews a current survey that confirms your access to a public road. Or, if the property relies on easements across neighboring land, then make sure you and your attorney review those documents to ensure that you have all the access you need. Also, if you need to come to an agreement with a neighbor for access (like sharing a driveway, for example), then make sure you get it in writing and record it in the land records so it will benefit your land.


Thousands of lots and land purchases are made each year without ever encountering a “nightmare”, but they can – and do – happen. Following these tips for avoiding land buying nightmares will help make your land and lot purchasing experience a more pleasant and smooth process – and can help ensure that you will be able to enjoy the land and your new home the way you’ve dreamed.


Looking for more details or other tips for buyers? You may be interested in our comprehensive series on 8 Tips for Buying Residential Lots and Land for a New Home.


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  1. says

    Oh, geeeze… it is so true! I was an agent working for a very very reputable firm in the Northwest. After refusing to take the listing due to distance to list his vacant farm house with view… my friends son talked me into taking it. Upon arrival to photograph the site for listing on the MLS… I opened the door of the house to find a bazillion candles… lit, and burning… all around the supposed “un” occupied farm house. Uh, no… it was not “staging” for sale… but it was the broker who had sold the house… not exactly what I would call “Fiduciary” responsibility, to live in your clients home. Form 17… that is my personal favorite! I am no longer an agent, but it is my oppinion, seek responsible and reputable help… preferably one who knows the meaning of “Fiduciary”. Happy Holidays, and Good Hunting! Thomas

  2. says

    This was really helpful! There are a lot of things that can go wrong with your property before you even realize what has happened. It’s good to keep all of these things in mind. Thanks so much for posting.

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