Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Land in California

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Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Land in California

Bart Waldon

With California containing over 100 million acres of total land area, the state offers abundant property investment opportunities to develop residential spaces, commercial buildings, agricultural operations and more based on the potential usages individual land parcels allow. However, navigating real estate deals requires awareness avoiding common pitfalls crashing closings. 

Understanding how these errors derail deals empowers buyers to dodge frustrations through proper due diligence and support hiring experienced property professionals guiding transactions to smooth conclusions.

Breaking Down California Land Ownership

Before buying land anywhere in California, research must analyze: who owns the property rights. Details like precise acreage, classification type - private, state or federally held, rectified boundary lines and usage permissions all require verification through official county records.

California contains over 100 million acres of land with ownership categorized as:

  • Federal Government - 45.8%
  • Private Holdings - 44%
  • State Government Lands - 5.3%
  • Other Public Lands - 4.9%

With private land holders representing nearly half of total acreage, many California families and individuals elect placing parcels up for sale eventually. Wise buyers avoid disasters through adequate preparations identifying issues ahead of closings.

Failing To Check Parcel Zoning Restrictions

Perhaps the most prevalent land buying error involves neglecting to thoroughly verify purchase property zoning classifications before acquiring deeds. Surprising revelations of restrictions severely limiting intended usage plans surface too late derailing entire project viabilities. Suddenly residential housing communities can’t get built on lands zoned only for commercial agriculture without lengthy zoning appeals. Wind farm or solar array installations won't be permitted on tracts designated solely for low density residential usage.

Savvy California land buyers have zoning designation specifics clearly validated in writing by local county authorities before finalizing purchases. Signed zoning classification letters become part of closing documentations transferring titles. With definitive advance zoning knowledge, unsuitable land uses get avoided and suitable development plans or site flipping opportunities get confirmed early.

Neglecting In-Depth Environmental Assessments

Another common but potentially very costly mistake buyers make entails omitting comprehensive environmental testing assessments on land before acquiring titles. While visual site inspections provide superficial outlooks and useful historical ownership data emerges on title reports, undetected contamination issues could lurk beneath ground surfaces without scientific soil, water and air quality sampling.

Land development projects or farm operations get halted indefinitely upon discovering buried hazardous substance deposits, industrial chemical residues or unacceptable wastewater concentrations only laboratory assessments reveal on properties after purchase transactions complete, pennies finally drop and disastrous liabilities arise.

Instead, wise California land buyers condition contracts on satisfactory testing results by certified environmental engineering specialists documenting no adverse findings. This contingency right safeguards investments against surprises that could convert profitable raw land into undevelopable toxic hazmat nightmares instantly.

Skipping Surveying to Confirm Parcel Boundaries

Risky assumptions around vaguely defined property boundaries also plague land buyers lacking vital surveying data quantifying precise acreage and perimeter metes and bounds on target purchase sites. Municipality records might align roughly with general boundaries, but without registered professional land surveyors performing up-to-date site visits certifying exact measurements, boundary discrepancies may emerge post-purchase from abutting land owners suddenly contesting space rights based on conflicting surveys they conducted.

Costly legal battles ensue without clearly established property lines all relevant parties definitively recognize through official registry filings. Survey gaps also hide unseen patchworks where small strips along perceived edges were sold separately at differing times unbeknownst to buyers. These ownership voids then block access rights thought secured based on inaccurate initial boundary assumptions. Always mandating deeded boundaries get expertly surveyed guarantees true land rights.

Missing Encroachment Issues Before Finalizing

When previously surveyed parcel boundaries unknowingly tolerated some degree of structural encroachments by abutting land owners gradually over time, problems reconciling past oversights arise later. Common examples include adjacent farmers’ irrigation features creeping gradually onto purchased properties many yards beyond lines. Or prior owners permitted neighbors garage additions positioning slightly onto land now being acquired by new buyers focused just on house locations without checking detached buildings alignments precisely.

Attempts removing unauthorized encroachments by new owners then spark unwanted disputes post-purchase. Litigation costs battling over previous feet of leniency that now require firm resolutions through courts or tear downs waste thousands pursuing corrections that careful prior boundary verifications would have prevented altogether by handling ahead of deeds transfers.

Forgetting Easements Rightfully Burdening Land

When land rights get purchased without carefully detailing any easements attached to properties in advance, unexpected sharing of access rights-of-way with utilities companies, local municipalities, private parties or land-locked neighboring properties then encumber usage plans unexpectedly after purchase transactions complete. Storm drainage easements might suddenly forbid building over retention ponds. Historic walking paths can't get redirected infringing on public access. Planned fence upgrades won't be permitted bordering power line easements etc.

Such overlooked details contained in title reports that buyers gloss over without complete attorney explanations ahead of deed sign-offs lead to problematic barriers diminishing or blocking entire development visions centered around new land holdings. Always exercise full due diligence here.

Ignoring Title Contingency Contract Clauses

Lastly all purchasers of real estate properties should protect acquisitions by conditioning deals upon clear property title conveyances at closing timeframes. This contingency agreement gives buyers power walking away penalty-free if title companies flag defects like open judgements/liens tied to land, past fraudulent sales, pending litigation regarding deed disputes or any other echoes from distant past ownership claims clouding clean title transfers.

While title insurance does offer financial protections later if any flawed ownership claims emerge to challenge new proprietors, exercising initial title contingency options to opt out of purchases altogether remains the best prevention avoiding predicaments unnecessarily. Besides allowing bad deals to unravel freely, contingencies also create opportunities renegotiating sales prices downward wherever title defects surface but buyers tolerate acquiring lands at reduced costs. So fully leverage these protective provisions.

In summary, California land buyers guard against worst-case scenarios through proper planning steps and contingency leverage assisted by qualified real estate attorneys helping evaluate zoning codes, standard purchase terms and inspection results ahead of closing dates. Exercise smart cautions first.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, California land buyers must take proactive precautionary steps verifying property details like precise acreage, zoning classifications, easements definitions and environmental conditions before finalizing purchases with clear title contingencies shielding investments against undiscovered issues arising later. Seeking experienced real estate attorney guidance reviewing title reports and physical inspection results provides prudent protection pursuing land development ventures or agricultural enterprises without disastrous surprises sabotaging site usage viability or devaluing hard-earned site purchases after closing transactions. Conduct thorough due diligence combined with hazardous materials assessments, boundary surveys and zoning confirmations from local authorities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the top land buying mistake in California? 

Neglecting to thoroughly verify intended property zoning usages in writing beforehand ranks as the most prevalent land purchase error made repeatedly by buyers lacking awareness around seeking area parcel classification validations early from pertinent county and municipal planning departments.

Why should I request land survey information upfront before purchasing sites? 

Signed registered professional land survey documentation prevents costly future neighbor disputes contesting assumed California property boundaries and total acreage figures verbalized during sales by confirming precise metes, bounds and usage rights through county registry filings.

Could property title issues threaten my land purchase?

Absolutely. Exercise title contingency rights within purchase contracts allowing penalty-free withdrawal from deals whenever title companies uncover existing judgements/liens tied to land parcels or reveal past fraudulent sales cases clouding clean title conveyances.

What if prior land owners permitted encroachments onto boundary lines? 

Seeking quick boundary line verifications through surveyors becomes essential even on previously surveyed parcels ensuring current structures from adjoining sites don't exceed historical allowances that buyers must address later at significant legal cost battling over boundary technicalities unknown before title transfers.

Why assess environmental conditions on land pre-purchase? 

Because potential underground hazards like buried trash pits, abandoned gas tanks or contaminated soils often remain undetectable without scientific testing procedures assessing safety. Discovery of adverse contamination issues post-closing derails entire development plans through immense remediation costs or usage barriers.

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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