What to Know When Buying Land

buying land

Is this property right for you?

By Wendy Tanson

Buying land and building are an exciting proposition. The idea of hand-picking the setting for your dream home is a special one, indeed. If your plans include building, here are some recommendations to keep in mind as you search for that perfect piece of land.

Perc Test/ Perk Test

First, look to see if the property has had a septic test done. Before building, the county is required to evaluate the soil to determine the water absorption rate of the soil, and what size septic tank will be allowed. This percolation test, often called a perc test, establishes the number of bedrooms that are allowed to be built on the specified piece of land. For example, if you want a four bedroom house and the land only “percs” for three, you’ll need to adjust your plans accordingly, perhaps making that fourth bedroom an office, bonus, or some other multi-use room that does not require a closet.

buying land

If a perc test hasn’t yet been done, be sure to request one of the seller as part of your offer, or conduct one prior to closing. Typically, once you file an application, the county offices will perform a perc test within about 3-4 weeks. If it’s a very busy time, however, it may take longer. So be sure to stipulate a closing date several weeks out, to allow for the perc test to be completed. If you and the seller have flexibility, you can always close earlier if the perc test is done in a more timely fashion.


Also key is the site plan for your home. Typically, a sketch of the footprint of your house is included when submitting an application for the perc test. Say for example, that the property percs for a three bedroom home, but that the septic field must be very large or you have other factors that will restrict the building envelope, such as a stream buffer. That acre of land may then allow for a home that’s 45′ x 60′, but not 55′ x 70′. So it’s quite important to include a sketch of where on the land you’d like the house to be set, and an approximate size of the footprint of your planned house.

buying land

If you’ve already chosen a builder, s/he can be instrumental in this process as well. And if your acreage is sufficient and you have flexibility in where you locate the home on the land, your builder can guide you as to the optimum placement of the home for privacy, for passive solar features, or other features that are important to you.


Two other factors should be considered before you make an offer: noise and future development. If you’re concerned about traffic patterns, visit the property at different times of day. Go during rush hour and on the weekend to gauge noise levels. In addition, stand at different points on your lot, particularly near where you think the house will be sited. Sometimes, what you don’t hear uphill is much louder downhill, or vice versa. So if noise is a concern and you’re on a sloping lot, you’ll definitely want to check for sound at different topography levels.

Buying land

Regarding future development, if you’re considering a lot which backs to a large parcel, you may wish to know whether there are any plans for development, and/or who owns it and how long they plan to keep it in the family. County records are a great source for this information. You can research who owns the land, and perhaps speak to the owners personally about their plans. In addition, the county planning office can inform you about any proposed development for the property adjoining your lot. County planning can also provide information on the minimum buffers between developments, and minimum acreage requirements for each home, so you’ll know the possibilities if the property is ever developed.

If you’re thinking of purchasing land now, but building in the more distant future, here are two things to keep in mind: 1) perc tests are valid for five years, so you may need to have the testing redone if your building plans go beyond the five year time-frame; and 2) you may wish to have your Realtor provide appreciation rates for the area in which your thinking of buying. Sometimes, homeowners purchase land to build in the future, and then their needs change, and it becomes of interest or necessity to sell the property. So if you don’t plan to build in the next year or two, be sure to learn the average appreciation rates, in case circumstances cause you to sell. You’ll want to be confident your investment is the best one possible.

home rendering

Buying land and building a home an exciting, sometimes challenging, and always fulfilling experience. If you’re on the hunt for that perfect setting for you new home, the above tips should provide guidance as you search. Here’s to your new house!

Wendy Tanson is a Broker with Nest Realty Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill. With decades of experience in the area, Wendy has the local market knowledge to be a trusted partner in the home buying or selling process. To learn more about Wendy, visit her agent page.

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