Pros and Cons of Buying Land in Washington

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Pros and Cons of Buying Land in Washington
By

Bart Waldon

Washington has diverse landscapes across the state, from the jagged Cascade peaks to the windswept Pacific coastline. There is no question the natural beauty here makes land ownership appealing. Waking up to sun-dappled evergreens or panoramic mountain views would be a dream. The state also offers prime opportunities for agriculture, vineyards, recreation property and more.

However, interested buyers need to look beyond the superficial appeal. Make sure to research factors like flood zones, soil conditions, utility access and zoning restrictions which could limit plans for the land. Also consider that remote rural parcels come with the trade-off of being distant from amenities. And navigation of complex regulations is critical, especially for development near urban hubs.

Washington provides outstanding potential for land buyers who are willing to put in the upfront work. The key is going in with eyes wide open about both the advantages and disadvantages of locations under consideration. Conduct thorough due diligence and lean on local experts like real estate attorneys. A carefully made investment can reap rewards for decades to come.

The Advantages of Buying Land in Washington

Nature's Beauty Inspires Daily

Having unfettered access to alpine lakes, mossy forests and rocky bluffs provides a wellspring of inspiration. Days feel fuller when you wake up gazing at mountains and fall asleep to the sound of rivers. The landscapes invigorate in a way city scenes can't match. Being enveloped by raw natural wonder makes the challenges of rural ownership worthwhile for many.

Find Your Preferred Climate

With diverse geography spanning rainforests to high desert, Washington offers several climate zones to match needs. Urbanites acclimated to Puget Sound's mild temperatures may find Northeastern winters too harsh. Meanwhile, those fleeing Southwest heat embrace the state's cooler pockets. Location research helps buyers identify areas aligned with lifestyle vision, whether that means snowy winters or moderate year-round temps. Zones cater to any comfort preference.

Fertile Lands Boost Agriculture

Volcanic minerals and glacier-fed plains birthed extremely fertile lands here, evident in the abounding orchards, vineyards and croplands. Generations-old family farms still thrive off the bounty. For green-thumbed buyers, the rich land supports cultivating fields of amber waves of grain or rows of lush vines. Agricultural prospects entice many to put down roots.

Tech Growth Sparks Development

Seattle-area locals have witnessed the meteoric rise of technology firms big and small. Former forests and fields now house glossy campuses drawing tens of thousands of skilled workers. The influx fills commercial and residential space once rapid enough. For developers and landlords, proximity to expanding tech hubs offers lucrative potential as the industry flourishes.

Low Property Tax Burden

Washington has no state income tax, and property taxes are below the national average at just 0.9% of assessed home value. This makes buying land more affordable compared to other states with higher tax burdens. For example, the property tax in Texas is 1.9%. The Washington State Property Tax Exemption Program also reduces the burden for qualifying disabled persons, veterans and seniors.

Few Restrictions on Land Use

Unlike certain states where zoning rules severely limit what you can do, Washington impose fairly minimal restrictions on private land usage outside of designated urban areas. This gives landowners more flexibility, whether they want to build multiple dwellings, establish commercial operations, harvest timber, engage in animal husbandry, etc. Of course, some regulations still apply for environmental impact reasons, but overall the landscape is friendly to development.

The Potential Downsides of Buying Land in Washington

Wet and Cold Western Region Climate

While the mild temperatures west of the Cascades are positive for some, others find the persistently overcast skies depressing during fall and winter. Seattle averages 154 days per year with precipitation, mainly as drizzle. Temperatures rarely rise above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you prefer sunny days and four full seasons, Eastern Washington is likely the better choice.

Challenging Mountainous Terrain

While majestic to admire, the steep rugged mountains and rocky terrain that dominate Washington make construction more difficult. Bringing heavy equipment up mountain slopes or digging into hard bedrock substantially increases costs. There may be few flat areas suitable for building, and cold winter temperatures can impede progress. Landslides are also a concern on unstable cliffs.

Remote Rural Locations

Affordable land in Washington is abundant in remote, sparsely populated areas far from towns and cities. But with remoteness comes lack of infrastructure like utilities, internet access, cell phone service and medical facilities. For example, Klickitat County in southeast Washington is over 70% public lands, making private parcels extremely isolated. Self-sufficiency is required.

Wildfire Danger

The hot, arid climate east of the Cascades unfortunately comes with a major wildfire hazard. The past decade has seen multiple severe summer wildfires burning hundreds of thousands of acres, destroying properties and threatening lives. Concrete construction, defensible space vegetation clearing and access to water for fire crews is strongly advised.

Flooding in Western Valleys

While rain shadows limit precipitation east of the mountains, rivers flowing west from the Cascades frequently flood during fall and winter storms. Valleys with glacier sediment deposits tend to be prone to having water pools on the surface. Land needs proper drainage infrastructure to avoid damage, along with potential wetland disruption regulations.

Permitting and Regulations Near Cities

Within city limits and unincorporated urban areas, land usage and development requires extensive permitting and compliance with zoning restrictions. Even basic improvements like parking lots can get held up by bureaucratic processes. Construction stormwater plans, traffic studies and more may be required. Knowledge of these complex regulations is essential.

Steep Prices Near Urban Hubs

Land near Seattle or Spokane's urban cores or close to the coastline commands premium pricing, often out of reach for average buyers. Even bare vacant plots can sell for upwards of $200,000 an acre. Financing challenges may exist too, as banks are wary of lending for what they consider risky rural properties. Saving up a large down payment is key.

Title and Boundary Issues

With complex deed history and poorly marked boundaries, rural land purchases come with an increased risk of title disputes or survey issues. Easements may exist without being properly documented too. Out-of-state buyers also face challenges performing proper due diligence. A trusted real estate attorney is a worthwhile investment before any transaction.

By being aware of potential pitfalls like these, buyers can make smart decisions about which locations match their needs and budget. Although buying vacant land is never risk-free, proper diligence and research helps minimize the chance of unpleasant surprises down the road. With abundant natural riches and opportunities, Washington remains an ideal place to put down roots and open exciting new chapters in life.

Final Thoughts

Purchasing land is a major investment that requires carefully weighing the pros and cons. Washington offers many advantages like natural beauty, agricultural potential, and a growing tech economy. However, considerations like climate fit, remote locations, urban costs and permitting complexity should not be overlooked. Conducting in-depth research and analysis with the help of knowledgeable local professionals can make the difference between a rewarding investment and a problematic one. With proper planning and eyes wide open to all facets of a property, land ownership in picturesque Washington can be a fruitful endeavor that brings joy. The state's diverse landscape allows finding just the right spot to match your dreams and lifestyle.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are some good locations to buy affordable land in Washington?

The eastern and central rural areas of Washington tend to have more affordable land prices compared to the western side of the state. Counties like Okanogan, Adams, Grant and Klickitat offer cheaper vacant plots while still providing good livability and access to small communities.

What permits do I need to build a house on vacant land in Washington?

At minimum you'll need a cleared building site, access road, electrical service, well water and septic tank for a rural home. This requires land use permits, utility hookup permits, road access and driveway permits, environmental approvals and final construction permits. Hire a local permit expediter.

Should I buy forested land or clear-cut land in Washington?

Cleared land is easier to develop but may lose its value over time as forests regrow. Forested land provides resources like timber which you can selectively log, but will need to be cleared for building. A mixed parcel with both open spaces and tree coverage provides the most flexibility.

What questions should I ask when evaluating a vacant land purchase?

Does the parcel perk for septic system drainage? What are zoning restrictions and maximum buildable areas? Are there any easements, encroachments or right-of-ways? What is the flood and wildfire risk? How far away are utilities and municipal services?

Should I buy land in an LLC name or personal name in Washington?

Buying land through a company like an LLC adds a layer of liability protection in case of lawsuits or bankruptcy. However it comes with formal registration requirements and annual fees. For personal use land, buying in your personal name is simpler and avoids double taxation on sale. Consult an attorney about the best option.

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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