Vacant Land

Why would you want to buy unimproved property?

We love buying land because it’s a tangible investment that we can see, walk on, improve over time to build equity and pass on to our heirs. We think everyone should have a little bit of land in any investment portfolio. If you’ve always wanted an island property, this is a great time to invest in land! That being said, you need to do your research to make sure that the property you buy is buildable.

Buying property, especially undeveloped land, may be a bit intimidating so we’ve prepared a list of resource links that might be helpful in your research. Whatever property you choose, some key factors must always be considered….

Are you sure you know where it is? 

This may seem obvious but there have been many cases over the years, where people have purchased a piece of property and found out that they actually bought the neighboring property.  If it needs a survey, is seller willing to pay for it? You should always get title insurance when you buy land and ask for an extended policy if you have any concerns.

Does it have water? 

If it needs a private well, check well history in the area and/or water rights the property may have.  The state of Washington has really “tightened up” the requirements for putting in a new well, so be sure to check with them about the application process. See impact of Hirst Decision on water rights…. very important!
If it has access to a community water system, what are the hookup fees and meter costs?
To confirm water availability:

What are your options for septic? 

Have soil logs been done?  Septic design?  Will you be able to go with a conventional system or is your designer going to have to get creative?  What will it cost you?
Site Preparation?  What are your costs for utility installation, tree removal and building site excavation?
Other Concerns?  Some other issues you may need to research are CCR’s, HOA fees and assessments, environmental concerns, drainage or wetlands, proximity to shoreline or critical areas, zoning and density potential for adjacent properties…..and more.

Do I have to pay cash or are there loan programs available for land?

Often sellers are willing to help finance your purchase for 5 to 10 years. You will probably need to offer a 20-25% down payment and pay an interest rate 1 to 2% over what a residential loan at a bank might cost. Bank loans are possible if the property has a well or hookup to public or community water available. They will also require current septic logs or design. We can give you a list of banks who offer these types of loans.

 One of the best ways to buy vacant land is a HELOC if you have equity in your principal residence. This way, you can offer the seller a CASH offer and possibly have more negotiating power.

Is it hard to get permits?

Each county is different, but most will require proof of water availability and a septic design in order to secure a building permit. Timeframes will vary depending on time of year, but you should probably plan on 6-9 months from time of permit application until you can start to build. If your property is waterfront, it can take longer as there may be other studies that will need to be done first. Some people choose to hire a professional to help them with this process. In San Juan County, a Land Use Permit is required before any development can take place. You can find information on filing this permit here. We advise not skipping this step. The fines can be pretty hefty!

As you do your initial evaluation of the property, San Juan County has this portal for a quick site assessment.


Here are some links to help you with your research: