6 Tips for Buying Land While Staying On Budget

Buying land in the Hudson Valley seems simple enough. You find a picturesque parcel that fits your requirements—close to a cute town, high in the mountains, with water views. Simpler than building the house, right? But, it requires as much thought and consideration as the house itself. The land you choose can affect every part of the home-building process and quickly steamroll your budget if you’re not careful.

For a few tips on how to find and buy land while keeping your budget top-of-mind, we turned to the owners of Atlantic Custom Homes, Hudson Valley and Connecticut’s independent dealers of Lindal Cedar Homes, Jennifer and Pascal Smith Couti. As a full-service design and project management firm that exclusively sells Lindal Cedar Homes’ post-and-beam home packages, the Smith Coutis specialize in guiding their clients through the home-building process from land selection to the completion of construction.

1. Be Realistic About Your Budget
For the Smith Coutis, the budgeting process is one of the most important parts of the home-building process. “Every project and budget is different, which is why we put a lot of emphasis on helping clients decide how much of their total budget should be spent on land. As a general rule, we recommend spending less than 10 percent of your total budget on land. Realistically someone with a total budget of $750,000 should be looking for land less than $50,000. It’s important not to overspend on land or you won’t be able to afford the house you want to build on it,” Jennifer says.

2. Match Your Strategy to the Market
According to the Smith Coutis, your buying strategy should be different for a sellers’ market than a buyers’ market. Today’s sellers’ market, a result of Covid-19, is pushing more people to buy outside of cities. This means you have less negotiating power as a buyer and may need to move quickly to snag your ideal spot. “If you really like a piece of land, complete some high-impact research, then be ready to put an offer in quickly,” says Jennifer. “Use GIS data and county maps to examine the flood maps in the area and keep an eye out for wetlands and easements that can make the building process more difficult and costly down the road. Sellers are getting multiple, full-ask bids, so be prepared to move fast.”

3. Find a Real Estate Agent with a Track Record for Buying Land
According to the Smith Coutis, the entire process of buying and building on the land will be made easier with the right team on your side. Jennifer recommends taking the time to find a real estate agent who is already skilled in the art of buying land and the permitting and zoning regulations that go along with it. “An agent experienced with buying land will be able to vet the property for you based on your budget and requirements better than an agent who specializes in home sales only,” she says.

4. Know Your Must-Haves
As part of your property research, Jennifer recommends that her clients make a list of what the land absolutely needs to have and stick with it. “Most people think panoramic views of the mountains or water is a requirement, but you need to think realistically about what your budget will allow,” she says. If your must-have is peace and quiet, for instance, scout out parcels that have serene, unobstructed views of the surrounding woods, which will be far less costly than water views.

5. Expand Your Search Radius
“Being even 20 minutes to a half hour outside a popular town versus being in the town itself, can make a dramatic difference in how much land costs,” says Jennifer. “If you’ve got your heart set on a specific town but don’t have the budget to match, open up your search radius to include nearby or comparable towns or rural locales that have a similar cultural fit.”

6. Weed Out Any Hidden Prep Costs
A piece of land might look ideal on the surface, but the Smith Coutis recommend that their clients always keep an eye out for site prep costs like rock and tree removal, grading and drainage, and roughing in long driveways. “You may want to be out in the woods, but it’s important to realize that the cost of roughing in a non-paved driveway can bust your budget when it’s 800 feet long versus 100,” says Jennifer.

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