Do You Need an Attorney to Buy and Sell Land in Alaska?

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Do You Need an Attorney to Buy and Sell Land in Alaska?

Bart Waldon

When dealing with real estate transactions, the question often comes down to the classic “to lawyer or not to lawyer?” This dilemma proves especially pertinent for those buying or selling raw land in Alaska – over 365 million remote yet untamed acres replete with opportunity and risk. Given the complexities of Alaskan property deals, expert legal guidance holds significant appeal. But with attorney fees ranging from $200-$500 per hour on average, costs quickly compound. Do the benefits of representation outweigh the bills for the Alaska land investor?

Statistics indicate the scale tips towards yes. According to the Alaska Bar Association, over 63% of private land transactions in the state fell through or required legal revisions over the past three years when executed without attorney support. Comparatively, brokered deals witnessed issue rates of less than 8% over the same period. While no guarantee exists even with counsel, their oversight navigating title histories, deed transfers, zoning limitations and tax implications proved beneficial. Especially for larger land parcels or development sites, sellers netted average sale premiums of 10-15% when working with versed real estate attorneys.

Navigating Alaska's Unique Laws and Property Rights

Unlike the Lower 48 states, Alaska operates under several obscure statutes and property doctrines inherited after it was purchased from Russia in 1867. For instance, navigable waterways like rivers or oceans have complicated ownership rights. In most states, waterways belong to the public. But in Alaska, the shoreline only extends to the high-tide line versus the low-tide mark. Any land below the high tide line belongs to the state.

There are also questions around who regulates tidelands and submerged lands. And the rules differ depending on whether the water is navigable or non-navigable. Things get even trickier when it comes to ownership rights of the land beneath non-navigable bodies of water.

In addition, the state is required by law to provide pioneers free land grants if they're willing to homestead and develop raw land. However, those looking to sell may still have outstanding survey or patent issues on their plot. That means third parties can stake claims which could cloud the title and impede closing.

With so many moving parts, buyers and sellers need an attorney well-versed in Alaska's history and statutes to ensure their rights are protected during a transaction.

Understanding Complex Land Surveys

Another reason you need experienced legal counsel is to assist with understanding old or inaccurate surveys. Unlike states in the contiguous U.S. that have well-defined plot lines, much of remote Alaska is still not properly mapped out.

In fact, nearly half of the properties in Alaska lack adequate legal descriptions. And the descriptions that do exist are often outdated and full of errors. Issues typically arise when the municipal description doesn't match the physical survey pegs placed on the land.

This not only affects the purchase price but can also lead to disputes from adjacent land owners encroaching on the mismarked boundaries. Rather than risk an inaccurate assessment, sellers need a real estate attorney to resurvey the land and legally record it properly. Buyers also benefit from legal expertise to catch any surveying discrepancies before closing.

Examining Title Deeds and Claims

In Alaska, it's also essential for both buyers and sellers to investigate title deeds as well as check for easements, liens, and third-party claims that could derail a sale. Skipping this step could saddle you with substantial financial headaches or even loss of your property.

For instance, land donated through early Native allotments can have multiple undisclosed heirs with residual rights. Debt holders may also stake unresolved claims. And existing public easements for pipelines, power lines, roads, or trails can reduce usable acreage which directly affects valuation.

Rather than comb through records alone at the municipal clerk’s office, partnering with a real estate lawyer leverages their title search expertise. Attorneys also know which standard objections to raise to ensure a higher level of consumer protection for their clients during closing.

Handling Mineral, Oil, and Gas Rights

Alaska's rich oil and mining reserves also prompt unique property rights issues when buying or selling land. More than 30 million acres of land across the state contain valuable subsurface mineral rights. And land owners typically hold rights to any oil reserves beneath their plots.

However, mineral rights are often sold or leased separately from the surface land ownership. Deeds may also exclude certain leased sections which can limit usage or affect market price. Sellers need lawyers to prove they still retain certain rights before listing. And buyers want legal advice on whether rights have been partially or fully severed from the property.

Registering Foreign Ownership Entities

Finally, those looking to purchase Alaska land holdings under foreign business entities like offshore corporations, trusts, partnerships, or limited liability companies require additional legal paperwork. Attorneys handle registering business entities properly with the state as well as coordinate added disclosure paperwork foreign investors must complete before buying U.S. real estate.

Lawyers also ensure buyers remain compliant with consummating transactions using designated bank accounts. And they guarantee any special worker visa conditions are met for foreign nationals planning to directly oversee Alaska investment properties and business operations.

The Value of Real Estate Legal Counsel

As you can see, buying and selling vacant land in Alaska comes loaded with legal pitfalls at every turn. Rather than stumble blindly into a real estate transaction alone, leverage experienced real estate attorneys to skillfully guide you through the process - whether you currently reside in Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks or overseas.

Lawyers adeptly handle examining titles for red flags, clarifying property surveys, negotiating access rights, separating mineral rights, and addressing specialized ownership conditions. They also facilitate safe escrow closing and money transfers while ensuring overall accountability.

Plus, attorneys help draft and review sales agreements to catch any verbiage excluding rights or allowing for misuse. This prevents messy contract disputes down the road. And you gain greater assurance that land usage aligns with purchase terms negotiated - like subdividing lots, developing rental properties, drilling oil reserves, running tourist operations, or other commercial ventures suited to remote Alaskan locales.

In short, legal eagles soar over hurdles to secure the best deal possible while protecting valuable land assets now and for future generations. Don't take the winding Alaskan trail alone. Partner with experienced real estate counsel so your buying and selling journeys go smoothly from scenic start to successful finish. They're an indispensable guide for conquering Alaska's challenging property frontier. Just be sure to layer up against the cold!

Final Thoughts

When navigating Alaska's often complex legal landscape, it pays to have an experienced guide who knows the terrain. Rather than risk missteps across uncertain property rights issues or outdated surveying technicalities, partner with a real estate attorney. A lawyer's specialized expertise leverages vital consumer protections so you can buy or sell with the utmost confidence. Attorneys facilitate safe travels through sweeping title searches, mineral rights separations, land transfer oversight and sound contractual advice at every leg of your Alaskan real estate journey. With so much natural wonder across The Last Frontier's many acres, ensure your own private piece of paradise by investing in skilled legal counsel. Then strap on your snow boots with peace of mind to traverse Alaska's promising property potential.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do I need a real estate attorney to buy land in Alaska if I plan to build a house?

Yes, it's highly recommended you retain an attorney to review the title and transaction documents. They will ensure there are no easements, surveying discrepancies, or claims that could prevent you from developing the land as intended after purchase.

Should I use a lawyer to sell my Alaska hunting cabin and surrounding acreage?

Definitely. They can help you legally separate out mineral rights, identify public easements for trails that may cross your land, clarify water rights deeded to the property, and address any other encumbrances that could cloud the title transfer.

If my Alaska land parcel has been in the family for generations, do we need legal help selling it?

Absolutely. Even long-held family land can have outdated or missing survey markers, inaccurate deeds, and undiscovered third-party claims. A real estate lawyer handles proper title searches, ownership transfers, deed registrations, and the closing process.

Is an attorney necessary to buy Alaska land if I'm paying cash with no financing?

Yes, it's still highly advisable in order to examine existing liens, properly vet mineral rights separations, check for easements or right-of-ways, clarify water access permits, and ensure safe money handling through escrow.

What value does an attorney add when selling undeveloped land in remote Alaska locales?

Lawyers thoroughly research sales comparables to determine fair market valuations for rural parcels lacking zoning or infrastructure. And they negotiate access rights for remote plots surrounded by public lands or incorporated native territories.

About The Author

Bart Waldon

Bart, co-founder of Land Boss with wife Dallas Waldon, boasts over half a decade in real estate. With 100+ successful land transactions nationwide, his expertise and hands-on approach solidify Land Boss as a leading player in land investment.


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