Buying Vacant Land in Muskoka

Karen Acton - Buying Vacant Land in MuskokaSearching for vacant land to build a new home or cottage on can be very exciting and even if you are working with a Realtor you are often scouting and exploring on your own. However, as buyers you should be aware that purchasing raw land will require extensive due diligence. Do you know the right land buying questions to ask?

It is entirely possible that the sellers will not even have all the answers, so the onus is on you with the help of your Realtor to investigate the issues thoroughly until you’re confident in making the purchase.

Here are 8 questions to help you make a good decision.

1. Is there a survey of the land?
Raw land in this area, especially large parcels, may have never been surveyed and still have a legal description in chains! When a lot is surveyed by a professional surveyor, you can feel confident in the amount of acreage being sold but without, you may or may not be getting the land you contract for. A topography survey (if available) shows lines at every 1 or 2 feet/meters of elevation change along the site, thus giving you a two-dimensional representation of the site’s slope. Sometimes there is a site plan
or an old building location survey showing the location of structures that may not be there now but will indicate areas that may need special review. Some surveys or plans may also show existing utilities and easements.

2. Are the boundaries clearly and accurately marked?
Ideally, corners of the property lines should be marked on the site however in this area it is not always the case. Larger lots rarely have the corners marked and finding them may be very difficult especially if the seller is not familiar with them. At some time prior to making any offer to purchase firm it is very advisable to be sure exactly what you are purchasing by ensuring that the corners have been identified.

3. Are there any Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions?
Covenants, conditions, and restrictions are common and vary in impact depending on the location, municipality and type. Utility companies reserve rights, known as easements, over land to maintain services, municipalities also do this for access to utilities and roads. Some developments may have restrictive covenants with home size minimums or other requirements. Municipalities may have zoning and planning restrictions.

4. Is the title to the property clear?
Property with a clear title is “worry-free” and far more attractive than property which is encumbered by liens and taxes. If there is a large debt associated with the property it may be hard for the seller to accept a fair offer. When working with a Realtor you will be protected from this becoming an issue by clauses in the agreement. If you are buying privately make sure you cover this with the seller.

5. What has the land been used for in the past?
While we are a rural community and most land being sold in this region has never been used for any kind of manufacturing or industry you will still want to seek disclosure as to what its prior uses have been. For instance, if at one time it was a marina you need to know if there were or are still any underground fuel tanks or if there was a scrap car yard on a portion of the lot (cars now all gone) was there a soil sample done to verify that there has been no oil and gasoline seepage contaminating the land? It is important to know that if you buy land that later turns out to need remediation you will be responsible for the cost.

6. What utilities are available in the area?
Providing utility infrastructure to a site is a significant expense, so it is important to know what is existing, what is available and what you will need to install.
If the land has road access you can very likely expect to have electricity and phone utilities at the road. A few rural locations and most urban ones in the area will have access to natural gas. Cell phone service while getting better almost daily is not always good in all locations. Cable service for TV and internet delivery may not be available. Unless you are in one of the Muskoka towns water and sewer will not be available and well and septic will be required.

7. What are the current taxes on the property?
The seller should know this, but if there is any question you can verify the tax assessment and the current mill rate with the municipal office. Understanding the annual tax amount will be essential in understanding your ongoing holding costs. Of course, if you build on the land, your new taxes will reflect the value of the home and any outbuildings you add.

8. What is the property’s zoning?
Every property is assigned a zoning type. The lot may be zoned for residential or commercial. If it’s residential, you may be limited to a single home – sometimes called dwelling units – or be allowed to build multiple units. Zoning will also tell you other restrictions like how tall a building may be on the lot and how close you can build to a property line. Talk to your local planning department to determine the
property’s zoning if the seller does not know.

When buying vacant land in Muskoka, be sure to get answers to all the important questions as well as cost estimates before you firm up an offer. That way you can be sure to enjoy the land for its intended purpose with no expensive or disappointing surprises. Contact me anytime for assistance in this complex and exciting process.

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