Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Land in Vermont

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Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Land in Vermont
By

Bart Waldon

Known for its picturesque landscapes of rolling green hills, quaint villages, maple syrup farms and excellent skiing, Vermont has long attracted those looking to enjoy rural living or set down roots in its small, tight-knit communities. With only around 620,000 residents spread over 9,600 square miles, Vermont provides a quieter way of life away from bustling city centers.

However, many eager land buyers attracted by Vermont's rustic beauty make crucial mistakes when purchasing property in the state. Its terrain and weather conditions, complicated regulations, high property taxes and specific land buying processes can catch the unwary off guard. By learning of and avoiding key pitfalls beforehand, you can buy your slice of Vermont properly.

Learn Vermont’s Tricky Terrain Before Selecting Property

Vermont’s landscape ranges from rugged mountains like the 4,393 feet tall Mount Mansfield, to pastoral valleys with rivers and lakes like Lake Champlain spanning New York and Canada. Its natural beauty comes with challenges for land buyers though.

Mountain Slopes Limit Buildability

The Green Mountains running North-South down the center and smaller ranges mean much Vermont land has steep, complex slopes. This topography limits where you can develop and build infrastructure like septic tanks, wells and driveways. Otherwise, land erosion occurs, destabilizing structures. Consider slope degree, orientation and soil composition at potential sites using contour maps. Flatter areas along rivers may better suit building.

Harsh, Changeable Weather Can Damage Property

Vermont’s winter lows can reach -20°F with heavy lake effect snow averaging 60+ inches in mountain areas. Spring warmth also brings flooding. Ensure any existing or planned structures on the land handle heavy snow loading on roofs and melting snow’s soil saturation. Evaluate prior weather damage too and plan for sufficient drainage.

Check Accessibility, Nearby Municipalities

Does the property have legal road access for vehicular traffic and utilities? Is it near amenities and resources in local population centers? Vermont’s lower population density means key services stay within villages, towns and cities along major routes. Ensure the land isn’t completely isolated unless you desire total privacy.

Understand Vermont’s Complex Zoning, Building Codes

Vermont gives significant control over property regulation to its 246 towns and cities under “home rule”. Municipalities administer their own zoning ordinances and building codes for construction standards, uses, setbacks etc. These rules differ across the state and dictate what you can develop on land, from houses to little camping cabins to wind turbines. Thoroughly research regulations applicable to any site.

Beware High Yearly Property Taxes

While Vermont has no annual general sales tax, it levies significant property taxes to fund education, municipal services and infrastructure. Expect yearly tax bills equaling 1-2% of a property’s assessed value. This gets further multiplied by the state’s Common Level of Appraisal adjustment factor around 1.10-1.20 to meet statutory targets. Accurately estimate carrying costs.

Follow Vermont’s Specific Real Estate Buying Process

Vermont prohibits attorney or other professional representation during the critical property closing process. This protects consumers somewhat yet also removes helpful guidance for signing the many required disclosures and legal property transfer filings. Familiarize yourself thoroughly with real estate forms and timeline expectations.

Work With Local Professionals Familiar with the Area

A real estate agent well-versed in their region provides invaluable insight on factors impacting land value like development potential per zoning ordinances. Appraisers determine fair market values for financing and assessment appeals. Surveyors map out precise boundaries to avoid future neighbor disputes. Attorneys still play key roles in title checks and due diligence.

Pinpoint Water Access Issues Before Buying

Does the land have water access? For riverfront parcels, determining riparian rights gets tricky regarding what you control along the riverbed versus public access rights. Well drilling costs also quickly add up in Vermont's bedrock and complex soils. Confirm availability of groundwater and infrastructure to support potable water needs for households or agriculture.

Evaluate Soil Composition and Septic Capacity

Intent on building your Vermont dream home? Local soil composition and permeability determine if the land supports standard or costly alternative septic systems. Clay-rich soils and high water tables especially constrain septic capacity that must align with home size. Otherwise, expect exorbitant hauling and treatment fees if the land can’t contain waste on-site.

Assess Act 250 Permit Needs Before Development

Vermont pioneered widespread environmental regulation in 1970 through Act 250 mandating permits for utility projects, housing developments over specified scales and commercial facilities. Act 250 covers 10 criteria from water quality to wildlife habitat impacts. Understand if your plans trigger oversight requiring technical studies that can add years to timelines if unprepared.

Verify Deed Restrictions Don’t Limit Land Use

When last sold, the owner may have entered covenants, easements or deed restrictions into the property title documents that encumber it in perpetuity. These could prevent subdivision into parcels, dictate no commercial usage or prohibit building altogether. Such limitations drastically undermine property value. Carefully assess filings with municipal clerks beforehand.

Final Thoughts

Vermont offers great appeal through beautiful landscapes supporting wonderful quality of life. Yet buying property here remains complicated for those unaware of zoning codes, taxes, soil conditions and other key factors that can make or break deals. By working with knowledgeable local professionals and thoroughly evaluating all determinants of buildability, accessibility and land use flexibility, you can find and buy great Vermont land worth investing in for the long-haul. Just don’t underestimate the complexities that come with paradise!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are some common zoning and permit issues I should research before buying Vermont land?

You'll want to thoroughly research the zoning classifications and building codes for any Vermont property to understand what you can and can't do. Each of the state's 246 cities and towns may have distinct regulations on minimum lot sizes, setback distances from property lines, height limits, usage categories (residential, commercial, agricultural etc.) and more that dictate what you can develop. Also assess needs for municipal permits and state-level Act 250 permits that add layers of oversight and requirements when disturbing land above certain area thresholds. Failing to account for what rules apply opens you up to significant headaches and remediation costs down the road.

How do Vermont's changeable weather patterns impact land buying decisions and costs?

Vermont is prone to harsh, variable weather from heavy winter snowstorms to spring flooding that can damage infrastructure on your land. Make sure to evaluate the land's drainage capacity, any prior weather-related damage and the age/condition of current buildings as heavy snow loading and soil saturation takes a toll over time. Also factor in potential expenses to improve drainage, elevate structures above floodplains and otherwise make the property more resilient against snow, rain and temperature extremes. Vermont's weather adds carrying costs you must plan for.

Should I have my own lawyer represent me at a Vermont real estate purchase closing?

No, Vermont statutes actually prohibit attorneys from representing buyers or sellers at the critical purchase and sale agreement closing process to prevent lawyers dominating negotiations. This means buyers lack counsel when reviewing numerous required disclosures and signing key property transfer documents. To avoid being caught unprepared, thoroughly familiarize yourself with closing procedures and forms available online through the Vermont Secretary of State well in advance. Also request sample completed forms from your real estate agent.

How do I ensure access to water and septic capacity on Vermont land I'm looking to build on?

Due to complex soils, bedrock and high water tables, many Vermont properties require expensive engineered septic systems or hauling fees for waste removal since standard systems fail. Carefully assess soils maps and data to gauge permeability rates that dictate septic capacity aligned to building/household sizes. Similarly, contact well drilling specialists to estimate likelihood of tapping into potable groundwater aquifers on-site to meet needs versus importing water. If water access appears doubtful, consider buying land near existing municipal water lines.

What professionals should I engage to help evaluate Vermont land I am considering purchasing?

Aside from an experienced real estate agent familiar with the area, also hire an independent appraiser, surveyor and civil engineering firm. Appraisals help set purchase offer amounts and secure financing. Surveys demarcate exact property boundaries to avoid squabbles with neighbors. Civil engineers test soils, model stormwater flows, identify suitable building placement and assess infrastructure installation feasibility essential to understand what you can develop on the land.

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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