Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Land in Alaska

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Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Land in Alaska

Bart Waldon

When buying land in Alaska, it's crucial to be aware of potential pitfalls to ensure a successful investment. According to a 2021 report by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the state has approximately 104 million acres of land available for private ownership, with prices varying significantly based on location and accessibility. In 2020, the Alaska Multiple Listing Service reported that the median price for land sales in Alaska was $50,000. However, 15% of land buyers in the state experienced issues with access, utilities, or zoning, leading to unexpected costs and delays. To avoid these and other common mistakes when buying land in Alaska, it's essential to conduct thorough research, work with experienced professionals, and carefully consider factors such as property accessibility, zoning regulations, and environmental concerns.

Do Your Research on the Area

Before setting out to purchase land in Alaska, it is critical that you extensively research the area where the property is located. Alaska has wide variations in climate, geography, accessibility and development across its different regions. Make sure to find out details like:

  • Climate and weather patterns - winters can be extremely cold with heavy snowfall. Summers may have risks from wildfires and storms.
  • Accessibility - how remote is the land? Can you drive to it or only access by boat/plane? Are there roads to the property?
  • Infrastructure - is electricity, water, sewer available? Or will you need to develop these.
  • Zoning laws - can you build the structures you want on the land? Make sure to check borough and city regulations.
  • Natural hazards - is the area prone to risks like flooding, tsunamis, avalanches or landslides?
  • Wildlife - bears, moose and other animals may impact how you can use the property.

Thoroughly researching the area will help set proper expectations and allow you to plan accordingly.

Verify Legal Access to the Property

Since much of Alaska is rugged and isolated, legal access to properties can be complex. Many parcels may only be accessed by bush planes, helicopters, boats or snow machines. Others require access easements across other private or public lands. Still others have no legal access at all.

When buying land in Alaska, you must confirm there is legal ingress and egress. Ask to see documents proving deeded easements or guaranteed public access rights. If access is in question, consider walking the property first. Nothing is worse than buying land, only to find out you can’t actually get to it!

Inspect the Property Thoroughly

Do not purchase land in Alaska sight unseen. The property may look great in listing photos but have major issues not captured in pictures. Before buying, do a thorough inspection, looking for:

  • Boundary markers - are property lines clearly defined? Get a survey done if uncertain.
  • Buildable area - is there suitable space to build structures amid wetlands or steep slopes?
  • Vegetation - note timber that could be harvested or hazards like overgrown brush.
  • Topography - check for hidden challenges like gullies, sinkholes or rock outcroppings.
  • Water issues - is there standing water or signs of drainage problems?
  • Existing structures - do buildings or other assets like wells appear in good shape?

Taking the time to thoroughly walk and inspect the property will help avoid major surprises down the road.

Understand Permitting and Build Requirements

To construct any structures on your new Alaskan property - whether a house, garage, road, dock or more - you will need permits and inspections. Requirements vary significantly across the state’s boroughs and municipalities. Make sure to research:

  • Land use and zoning - confirm what you want to build or develop is allowed.
  • Permitting steps - what plans need to be submitted? What are timelines?
  • Costs - permit fees, inspection charges, other expenses. These can really add up.
  • Green building codes - for projects like new homes, energy efficiency rules may apply.
  • Easements and setbacks - how far from property lines can you build?
  • Wastewater systems - are septic systems allowed? If not, you may need to install expensive alternative systems.

Having a handle on permitting before buying lets you budget appropriately and avoid frustrations later.

Watch for Scams and Fraud

With Alaska's vast wilderness and many remote parcels, land scams are common. Buyers get excited about big acreage for low prices but don't do enough vetting. Be very wary of deals that seem too good to be true. Watch for:

  • Unverified owners - ask for ID and check public records to confirm they actually own the land.
  • Phantom parcels - scammers sell land they don’t actually own. Check boundary records carefully.
  • Access issues - shady sellers may claim parcels have access that doesn’t really exist. Always verify legal access.
  • Understating risks - some conceal known defects or hazards to offload bad parcels. Do your own inspection.

By being vigilant and doing due diligence, you can avoid becoming victim to Alaska land scams. Get professional help if you have any concerns.

Pick the Right Professionals

Buying land in Alaska is complicated - especially when buying remotely. You need reliable professionals on your side. This includes:

Real Estate Agents - Hire an agent who specializes in land you can trust. Avoid agents just looking for quick commissions.

Property Inspector - Use an inspector with experience assessing rural Alaskan land. They can identify potential issues.

Surveyors - Make sure boundary lines are clearly marked and defined through an official survey. This resolves disputes.

Lawyers - Have an Alaska real estate attorney review documents to protect your interests.

Accountants - Consult a tax professional to optimize handling of any timber, mineral rights etc.

Though it costs more upfront, skilled local professionals are worth every penny when buying in Alaska. Don’t cut corners to save money.

Consider Accessibility and Utilities

As highlighted earlier, many Alaskan lands are quite remote. While this detachment from society appeals to some buyers, consider:

  • How will you access the property for visits and to transport building materials?
  • What will be needed to bring utilities like electricity and water to the property?
  • Can you install renewable power solutions like solar, wind or geothermal?
  • How far is the nearest hospital, grocery store, gasoline station?
  • Is cell service or high speed internet available? Can satellite fill gaps?

Isolation provides great privacy and recreation but also limits convenience and increases risks. Evaluate carefully.

Confirm Activities You Want to Do Are Allowed

For many buyers of Alaskan lands, activities like hunting, fishing, hiking and ATV riding are big draws. However, use of your land is not guaranteed. Be sure to:

  • Check fishing and hunting regulations - many areas have restrictions or require special licenses.
  • Understand public land access laws - your property may be open to others for recreation.
  • Review HOA covenants if part of a community - they may limit ATV usage, target shooting etc.
  • Check local noise and nuisance ordinances - these govern everything fromparties to operating equipment.

By asking lots of questions ahead of time, you can avoid frustrations over usage limits after purchasing the property.

Plan for Future Operating and Improvement Costs

Raw land is cheap but preparing it for your needs can get expensive. Be realistic about long-term costs like:

  • Building access roads, trails, docks or airstrips
  • Clearing trees, leveling areas for building
  • Drilling wells for water access
  • Installing septic or wastewater systems
  • Running electricity, internet and other utilities
  • Ongoing supplies like fuel for generators
  • Property taxes, insurance, maintenance fees
  • Travel costs to access the property

Create a budget to see if you can comfortably handle both the purchase price and future costs. The cheapest land may not make financial sense long term.

Look for Partners If Taking on Too Much

For first-time Alaska land buyers, the scale of ownership may be underestimated. Hundreds or thousands of acres is exciting but also a big responsibility. If taking on more than you can handle, consider:

  • Finding an investment partner to share acquisition and operating costs
  • Dividing the land into smaller parcels that are more manageable
  • Leasing use rights like mineral, energy or timber rights to others
  • Dropping the most difficult to access or hazardous portions

You want your Alaskan property to be a dream come true, not a nightmare. Be strategic in taking on what you can reasonably handle.

Plan for Caretaking When Away

Unless you plan to live on your Alaska property year-round, you’ll need caretakers to monitor the land when you are away. This includes:

  • Checking for trespassers or squatters
  • Keeping ATV trails, airstrips and access points maintained
  • Performing repairs on off-grid power solutions
  • Managing rental units if planning vacation rentals
  • Monitoring for fire risks and wildlife issues

Identify trustworthy people willing to help oversee your land. Without caretakers, remote properties can quickly become liabilities.

Follow Best Practices for Your Plans

How you utilize your land in Alaska can vary wildly - from building a vacation cabin to operating a wilderness lodge to simply holding pristine open space. Make sure you follow best practices for your goals including:

  • Using fire-resistant building materials and creating defensible space if building in wooded areas
  • Following all regulations if doing short term vacation rentals of cabins
  • Creating a forest management plan if harvesting timber - this is often required
  • Using only approved outfitters when booking hunts or fishing trips
  • Limiting impact and following “leave no trace” principles if keeping land mostly undeveloped

Understanding these nuances ahead of time ensures your plans align with regulations and sustainability practices.

Allocate Contingency Funds in Your Budget

When costing out your Alaska land purchase and improvement plans, be sure to build in contingencies. Given the uncertainties involved, you should allocate at least 10-20% extra for:

  • Unexpected construction challenges requiring more materials
  • Permitting delays or surprise inspection fees
  • Spikes in fuel or supply costs to operate off-grid
  • Emergency repairs like fixing flood damage
  • Legal fees from boundary disputes or easement issues

With contingency funds, you won't be scrambling to pay for surprise overages. This gives more flexibility to handle the inevitable hiccups.

Seek Expert Help When Needed

Everything in this article may seem daunting. That's understandable - buying land in Alaska has lots of complex steps. The key is being thorough and seeking expert help when needed. This includes:

  • Real estate agents knowledgeable about Alaska lands
  • Land use attorneys to protect you legally
  • Permitting expediters familiar with local processes
  • Appraisers who regularly value remote parcels

Yes, these specialists add more upfront cost. But they save huge sums long term by setting your plans on the right course and avoiding costly missteps.

Owning a piece of Alaska is an amazing adventure. While the buying process takes effort and savvy, the reward is having your own breathtaking corner of America’s last frontier. By heeding these tips, you’ll be poised for success. Here’s to realizing your Alaskan land ownership dreams!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are some key things I should research about an area in Alaska before purchasing land there?

It's critical to research details like the climate, terrain, accessibility, infrastructure availability, zoning regulations, natural hazards, and presence of wildlife. This will help you determine if the property aligns with your plans and budget.

If buying remote land in Alaska accessible only by bush plane, what should I confirm regarding legal access?

You need to verify there are guaranteed legal easements or public access rights allowing you to access the property by air. Request to see the recorded easement documentation and consider an initial flyover.

Why is it risky to purchase Alaska land sight unseen and what should I inspect on-site first?

Major issues like boundary confusion, terrain challenges, water problems or dilapidated structures may not be evident in listing photos. Do an on-site inspection walking the entire property and checking boundaries, soil, vegetation, topography and existing buildings first.

What type of professionals should I utilize when buying Alaska land to protect my interests?

Seek out real estate agents, property inspectors, surveyors, lawyers and accountants who specialize in rural Alaskan properties. Though pricier, they help avoid major costly mistakes.

What ongoing costs beyond the purchase price should I budget for with Alaska land?

Be sure to allocate funds for building access points, clearing land, installing utilities, property taxes and insurance, travel/transport, caretakers when away and maintenance of off-grid systems. The initial price is just the beginning.

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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