NC Rural Living
Imagine spending many thousands of dollars to buy land with the goal of building a home or buying a home hoping to finally have livestock, only to learn after the fact that the zoning regulations forbid the use you planned or that water is not available, you cannot secure property insurance or the land does not support the size home you desire.
Even worse, imagine having to invest heavily in legal fees, abandon your plans, or sell the property because your dreams cannot become reality.
Many people have gone through the expense and emotional cost of that happening. But with careful planning, it will not happen to you.
Buying a home in the country or bare land involves serious considerations, particularly land or lots that are not part of a formal, recorded subdivision. A completed subdivision represents months and sometimes years of planning, engineering, construction and inspections before the finished lots are ready for building or sales. The water lines, sewers, drainage, curbs, gutters, sidewalks and streets are usually completed.
In contrast, unimproved bare lots or land, usually referred to as “acreage” is just that – unimproved bare acreage. To build a home on such unimproved land requires a source of potable water, a sewage system acceptable to city /county health authorities, electrical power, satisfactory topography for a home and proper and legal access to the property.
I make as sure as humanly possible that my buyers are getting a property you can use for goals. Here are what we will investigate; water, septic, electricity, broadband, drainage, determine if it is a flood plain, property boundaries, police records, fire protection, schools, community activities, and hopefully a chance to meet the neighbors.
Why Pay Attention to Zoning and Land Use Regulations?
Local land use laws differ greatly when it comes to horses and livestock. There simply can never be a guarantee that one city’s land use rules will be the same as another’s. Because of this, if you buy property with an equine or livestock related purpose in mind, you should investigate the local government’s land use restrictions and ordinances (ordinances are local laws affecting municipalities, such as villages, cities, or townships). Never assume that they will be favorable.
People who know nothing about horses or livestock usually write ordinances, and consequently, they sometimes do not make sense to horse or other farm people. A case in point – the local government in this author’s neighborhood wanted to pass an ordinance banning electric fencing for horses. That idea was dropped after several horse owners gently explained to the local government leaders that electrified fence wires do not deliver deadly shocks and were a common way of helping keep horses in their pastures.
Some Questions to Ask
Before you buy property, we will do the homework; you need clear, reliable, and preferably written answers to the following questions, so you can make an informed decision.
- What is the property’s zoning classification?
Inspecting the property to see its present use will tell little about its permitted future use. Conflict may be waiting to happen if, for example, you buy property which has housed the seller’s own horses, but you later try to transform it into a business for breeding, boarding, or training. If the property was zoned for residential or agricultural purposes, the municipality – correctly or not – might classify your planned use as “commercial” and assert that it runs afoul of the zoning laws.
- Do local ordinances dictate types of fence material?
If the local ordinances require wood fencing only, this will ruin your plans to install metal, mesh, or polymer fencing. To override this legally, you are virtually assured a trip to your community’s zoning board of appeals, with no guarantee of success. Expect to see that body, too, if the fencing you plan runs afoul of height and set-back restrictions.
- Will the property’s size and configuration allow you to add new structures, such as another residence, a manager’s residence, new barns or an indoor arena, while staying in compliance with zoning ordinances and restrictions?
If the answer is no, get very reliable assurances that the municipality will ultimately approve your building plans. Consider hiring a knowledgeable lawyer to advise you of your chances of winning, if you must sue the municipality to get your plans approved.
- If the municipality or state has manure-disposal restrictions, are they acceptable to you?
In many states, the department of agriculture has issued manure disposal regulations. Ignoring these requirements can be costly. Your operating costs will increase substantially if, for example, you are prevented from spreading or piling manure on the land.
Laws and Ordinances Worth Checking
Before you buy property, secure a copy of the ordinances or laws that affect your planned uses of the land. Here are examples of some:
- Horse ordinances
- Large animal ordinances
- Farm animal ordinances
- Fencing ordinances
- If you plan to run a business, ordinances, if any, that affect animal-related commercial uses.
Read the ordinances very carefully. Find out if they allow, or destroy, your plans. Also, because of the risk that the laws can change, find out whether the state or local government is considering any proposed changes to the laws that might take effect after you buy the land.
Ordinances can be complicated and hard to understand. A knowledgeable lawyer can evaluate them for you. You can also hire a lawyer to issue an opinion letter explaining how any laws adversely affect you, and if so, your chances of securing a variance, or pursuing other appropriate legal action, successfully.
How to Give Yourself Sufficient Time to Examine the Laws While Accommodating an Impatient Seller
Getting laws takes time; reading them takes even more time. The seller might be unwilling to wait while you satisfy yourself that the local and state laws work in your favor. With this in mind, consider these ideas:
- Include carefully worded contingencies in your offer of purchase.
If buying horse-friendly property matters to you, make sure that your offer of purchase specifies that the closing (the date all sales paperwork is signed and the money changes hands) is contingent (dependent) upon you, the buyer, being satisfied that applicable zoning requirements, land use requirements, and laws support your planned use of the land. Your offer can also state that if you are not satisfied, your offer is effectively withdrawn.
- If the seller will not accept your contingencies, consider other arrangements.
Especially if they want their property sold as quickly as possible, sellers of real estate might reject the contingencies, described above, if you propose them. The seller has good reason for concern; if you are unhappy with the laws and back out of the deal, the seller will have lost valuable time that would otherwise have been spent finding the right buyer. You (the buyer) might want to propose alternative arrangements. For example, your Offer of Purchase document could set an absolute deadline when you must tell the seller of your satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with the local zoning and land use laws. Or, you can consider negotiating a right of first refusal contract involving the property (a contract stating that if the seller receives a good-faith offer from someone else, the seller will give you an opportunity to match the offer, or beat it, to become the buyer). Your lawyer or real estate agent can discuss these ideas with you.