You don’t want just an ordinary house in Leesburg, Virginia. You’re shopping for your dream house in Manassas. So, what do you do? You buy a vacant lot and build your Virginia dream home. Maybe a few acres of Virginia wilderness appeals to your pioneer spirit. Maybe it’s a desire to build a house exactly the way you want, which means starting with an unimproved, vacant lot in a new subdivision.

Whatever the motivation, buying land is different from buying a house. Things that never come into discussion in a home purchase – access, utilities, easements, land-use restrictions – become extremely important to consider in a land purchase.

  • Know your plan. Just as with buying a house, first you have to decide what you want. Once that’s finalized and the search area is narrowed, spend a day at the planning and zoning department. Look at the county’s long-range land-use plan. Areas will be designated for business, residential use of varying densities, agriculture and public use, such as parks and schools. It will also warn you whether a garbage dump or maximum-security prison could become your new neighbor.
  • Determine if the Virginia lot is in a recorded subdivision or is unrecorded acreage. If it’s in a subdivision, ask to see the plat, plus the subdivision restrictions. This applies whether you’re buying in the city or in a rural county. You want to look at both because the more modern plats will have details that aren’t necessarily listed on the subdivision restrictions.
  • Understand the boundaries. Subdivision restrictions will tell you how much control you have over the use of the property. The restrictions can cover everything from the kinds of pets you can have to whether you can park a boat in the driveway. If there’s a homeowner’s association, you need to find out how much the annual fees are and what they cover.
  • Know the costs. Unlike home mortgages, where competition is fierce, financing for unimproved property is an intensely local marketplace. The most common financing comes from the seller himself. A typical deal might require a 20-percent down payment, with the seller holding a note for the balance. The interest rate and terms of the loan are entirely negotiable.