Pros and Cons of Buying Land in Utah

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Pros and Cons of Buying Land in Utah

Bart Waldon

Utah, known as the Beehive State, is a western state defined by its diverse terrain spanning arid deserts, lush green valleys, foreboding canyons and towering mountains. This variety of landscapes provides many opportunities for buying land for different intended uses. With its scenic national parks and recreational areas, Utah offers great potential for investment in recreational and residential land.

Before deciding to buy land in Utah, it is important to understand the pros and cons to make an informed decision. Here we will overview the key factors to consider.

Pros of Buying Land in Utah

Affordable Pricing
Compared to more densely populated coastal states, land prices in Utah are very reasonable. There is a good inventory of vacant plots available at affordable rates per acre depending on the location, terrain and availability of access roads or utilities. This makes Utah an economical option for large acreage purchases.

In northern Utah, most land cost averages $5,000 - $15,000 per acre. In central Utah including the Wasatch Back area near Park City, land can range from $20,000 per acre up to $1 million+ per acre for high-end recreational properties with mountain views or ski-in access. Southern Utah tends to be more affordable, with desert land available under $5k per acre in many regions like around St. George. Federal land sell-offs occasionally offer great bargains as well.

Recreational Opportunities
With 5 National Parks including Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands and ample state parks and recreational land, Utah provides outstanding opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Buying recreational land can allow building a cabin as a vacation getaway or to live in full-time for the intrepid outdoors fan. There is abundant hiking, biking, skiing, boating and off-roading access right from private recreational land.

Especially for residential use, analyzing recreation options nearby is advised. Seek areas adjoining national forest land or with hiking/biking trails that originate through private property. Ski-in / ski-out parcels and lakefront plots for boating also offer premium recreational features.

Scenic Beauty
From the iconic red rocks of Southern Utah to the lush forests of the Wasatch Mountains, there is incredible diversity and beauty across the state. The scenic vistas make recreational land more valuable for camping/glamping retreats. The landscape also appeals for residential plots, especially with mountain or canyon views.

Utah's unique geology and ecosystems translate to very aesthetically pleasing scenery. Prospective buyers are willing to pay more for mesas, rock formations, arches, slot canyons, hoodoos and other captivating land features. Be aware that building may be restricted in protected areas however. Plots bordering national/state park lands often come at a premium.

Tax Benefits 

Utah has moderately low property tax rates, which is a plus for investment properties or vacant land intended for longer-term holds. Agricultural land can receive a preferential tax rate under the Farmland Assessment Act. Conservation easements that preserve natural land can also provide both property tax and income tax reductions.

Utah property taxes range around 0.6% - 1.2% depending on the county, which compares very favorably to other states. Areas like Washington County (St. George region) and counties bordering Nevada/Wyoming tend to be on the lower end. Wasatch and Summit counties with prime ski resort areas pay the highest.

Cons of Buying Land in Utah

Limited Infrastructure
Outside of the main Wasatch Front metro region, infrastructure is limited in much of the state. It is important to research plot locations to understand if there is existing road access, availability to extend utilities, cell coverage, etc. Adding infrastructure can be very costly and impact development plans.

Utility expansion is a key aspect. Ensure power lines and natural gas lines are present or can be feasibly extended. Evaluate options for accessing municipal water lines or drilling a well. Septic compatibility is also important, especially in sandy or clay-based soils. Ensure any infrastructure gaps are accounted for in purchase offer prices and development budgets.

Weather Extremes 

Utah weather varies from very hot summers to frigid winters with heavy snowfall in the mountains. The climate impacts considerations like road maintenance costs, need for grading/drainage to manage runoff and complications for building. Wind and flash flooding can also cause issues.

In far southern Utah, summers over 100 F are common while northern Utah sees cold winters with substantial snow. Monsoon rains between fall and spring can damage dirt access roads. Wind is also very prevalent, so a wind break may be advised for buildings or ventilation considerations. Carefully study the microclimate and weather trends for intended land use.

Water Rights
Utah water laws are complex, mainly due to the arid climate. Questioning surface water rights and usage is highly recommended before purchasing land. Lack of an existing water source could restrict plans like farming, livestock, tree planting or other irrigation needs. Drilling a well may also prove difficult in dry areas.

Surface water rights have precedence, so an existing stream, river or lake on the property is a major plus. Understand adjudication regulations that dictate allocations and usage based on prior stream volumes. Well permits must be acquired for groundwater extraction with quantity limits in drought prone areas. Research these water factors thoroughly before buying.

Remote Locations 

While the scenic remoteness of Utah land can be desirable, the distance from services requires some preparedness. Medical care, grocery stores, fuel, hardware stores, etc. may be a lengthy drive. Travel delays are also more likely in winter months when roads may not be plowed promptly. Having contingencies for remote access during snow storms or washouts is prudent.

Isolated areas require more self reliance. Stock extra food/water and have backup power options if possible. Satellite internet and cell boosters can aid communication when broadband cable is not available. Snow removal equipment may be essential and all weather, high clearance vehicles advised. Understanding the remote aspects ahead of time allows proper planning.

Land Use Regulations
Zoning regulations, building codes, mineral rights and easements should be researched in depth prior to buying land. Otherwise, intended usage for recreation, residential or commercial purposes may be restricted or problematic. In particular, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land usage should be understood for adjacency implications.

Inspect county records for any easements granted for access, utilities, water, etc. that cross the land. Confirm no prior mineral leases exist that permit subsurface extraction. Study county zoning rules and the permitting/compliance steps to achieve development goals before finalizing a purchase.

Reselling Challenges
The remote aspects or infrastructure limitations of Utah land inventory can deter potential buyers. Marketing land for resale typically requires 1-2 years for the right buyer willing to take on development work. Partnering with specialized land buying companies can help sell more rapidly, but may involve pricing at a significant discount.

Patience is key for reselling land, unless selling under distressed circumstances. Utilizing land specialist brokers familiar with local market demand can aid sales. Alternatively, companies exist that purchase land at reduced pricing, taking on the effort to resell while providing a quick transaction. Understand options in case plans change.

Final Thoughts

Utah provides a unique landscape for striking recreational land investments, future residential plots or scenic hideaways. By carefully assessing all the considerations around terrain, access, utilities, weather, water and regulations - buyers can uncover gems amid the ample land opportunities. Paying attention to due diligence allows fully informing purchase decisions. While buying land has risks, partnering with specialized local companies can help streamline transactions with the experience to vet properties and resell faster through their buyer networks. Utah land can ultimately make for a rewarding investment as the Beehive State continues attracting new residents.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are average land prices per acre in Utah?

Land prices vary greatly by county and zone, with private recreational land averaging $5k-$15k per acre in northern Utah to over $1 million per acre for prime ski or lake access properties. Desert land in southern Utah can still be found for under $5k per acre.

Does Utah tax land or just the improvements?

Utah assesses property taxes on both land and improvements, using a combined valuation approach factoring items like lot size, location, existing structures, assessed use case, etc. Typical effective tax rates range 0.6% - 1.2%.

How much deposit is typical for buying land?

A 10-30% earnest money deposit is typical when buying land in Utah. This provides the seller assurance on the buyer’s intent and reserves the property while closing processes progress. Deposit amounts can vary based on contract terms.

Should mineral rights be investigated when purchasing land?

Yes, mineral rights should always be vetted ahead of buying land. Surface rights don't always include subsurface rights, so prior mineral leases could disrupt land usage despite land ownership. Check deeds for exclusions.

What are steps to research water rights when buying land?

Lookup records via the Utah Division of Water Rights to view water right owners, allotment volumes, usage stipulations and precedents surrounding any water sources associated with the land. The findings impact irrigation plans.

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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