Real Estate

Buying a vacant lot? Watch out for these red flags

Two cottage chairs on an empty lot by a lake Photo by Alessandro Cancian/Shutterstock

To get the cottage you want, you may be thinking of buying a vacant lot and building from scratch. But buyer beware: even though a property may look good (on paper or in person), you still have to do your due diligence. There may be something that screams, “Walk away!” Here are a few warning signs.

What’s next door?
Look at the zoning for the surrounding properties, says Matthew Ferris, the manager of planning and development for Lac Ste. Anne County, Alta. The land beside you may be zoned for commercial or industrial use, not exactly the neighbour you’d want.

Will the water rise?
Find out if the land on offer lies on a flood plain; ask the local municipality or conservation authority for an up-to-date flood plain map. As Shawn Persaud, the director of planning and development for the Township of Tiny, Ont., says: “Water damage can be a huge pain.”

Can you put in a septic system?
If there’s no waste-water system in place, check if the lot can accommodate a septic system. Cameron Smellie, a builder in Georgian Bay, Ont., also advises that you run a soil test to see if the drainage is appropriate.

Are there any restrictions?
Land title sometimes comes with a restrictive covenant (also called a deed restriction), which outlines what owners can and can’t do with the property, such as limiting the size, height, or location of any building. Removing a covenant or amending one could mean going to court.

Who’s next door?
Think about the complications if the lot requires an easement of some sort: if you need to set up an electrical line across a neighbour’s property and you need their approval, for example, or if the only access to the property is over their land. If you’re not up for those kinds of neighbour negotiations, keep looking.

Featured Video