What You Need to Know About Buying Land in Florida
What are Florida wetlands? Where are Florida wetlands located? Where are Florida flood zones located? Read this before you buy land in Florida.
If you’re planning on buying land in Florida, you need to know a couple things - specifically the concerns about flood zones and wetlands. Are you now thinking, what are wetlands? Keep reading, this article could save you thousands of dollars and total heartbreak.
Quick Overview - Why Buy Land?
Investing in land and buying land is not a well understood concept. Most people don’t know for sure how land buying works. And even fewer people understand how investing in land is a smart strategic move for diversifying your portfolio. You don’t want to be one of these people.
No one is talking about why land is a great investment. That presents you with a fantastic opportunity.
Here are 3 big reasons why people are buying land:
Land is a finite resource - there’s only so much of it!
Land is a tangible resource, it can’t disappear like stock or shares.
Land is affordable! You can owner finance any of our properties for sale.
If you’re looking for more, here are 9 more reasons why land is such a great investment.
So, now that you’re convinced buying land is a great idea (*wink*), you'll be happy to know that you don’t need a realtor or broker, and there isn’t a mountain of paperwork to go through.
You Can’t Control the Weather
We buy a lot of land in Florida, and you shouldn’t let flood zones or other water issues scare you off from investing and buying land there. It’s just like buying land anywhere else, you need to do your research on the lot before you buy.
Every state has natural concerns you need to be wary of. If you’re up in the north east in areas like New York, Vermont, or Maine and you decide to buy a secluded lot, you may not be able to access it during the winter months because of all the snowfall.
If you’re in the west coast in a state like California, you might be worried that your piece of rural land could be subject to seasonal forest fires (which have gotten pretty bad over the last couple years!).
If you’re in the Gulf Coast and south east states you need to be wary of hurricanes, and the resulting flooding. If you’re in middle America you probably need to be cautious about tornadoes. There’s something to watch for in every state and season. That’s why due diligence and research on a property before you buy it is so important.
Questions to Ask Before You Buy Land
At Compass Land USA, we do extensive due diligence on all properties before we purchase them. If you decide to try and purchase a property yourself, you should start your research and due diligence process with the following 15 questions (you can find more in-depth explanation of the questions and why they’re important here):
What is the Chain of Title? In other words, do you know who the buyer is? To determine if the property has a clear and concise title chain, you should always start with asking the seller to send you a copy of the deed. If they don't have the deed on hand, you can check on the county's website for the deed history.
What are the Property Back Taxes? Once you've concluded who owns the parcel, your next step is to confirm the amount of back taxes, liens, or debts owed on the property (if any).
Is the Property in an HOA or POA? When you buy land, it's important to know if the property you are going to purchase is part of an HOA/POA because they usually have an annual fee and their own restrictions and property use rules to be aware of.
What is the Property Zoning? Is the lot buildable? What other construction is planned or possible on the surrounding land? Is this property agricultural, residential or commercial?
What Can You Use the Land For? The most common classifications of vacant land are recreational, residential, and undeveloped. It's pretty important to follow the zoning requirements and HOA/POA rules.
Does the Property Have Utilities? It's not common for vacant and rural properties to have utilities. If the property is part of a developed subdivision, chances are it will have access to at least power and water, but there will be a connection fee for activating them.
What Property Taxes do You Pay? Land is less expensive to hold over a long-term than most other real estate assets, like townhomes or apartment buildings. You still have to check the amount of annual property taxes before you buy. You as the owner will still be responsible for property taxes.
Does the Land Have Common Facilities? It's rare, but sometimes there are common facilities (water, septic, road, etc.), or common property that the homeowners or developer will need to manage.
How to Access the Property? Rural properties are great, and a lot of people really value the privacy they offer. But sometimes, these properties don't have legal road access. That means you would technically have to trespass on a neighbor's lot or on a private access route to get to your land.
Is the Property Where Wetlands Are Located? Wetlands don't generally appeal to land buyers and investors. They're either seasonally or permanently saturated with water and will contain marshes and swamps. We’re going to get more into wetlands below!
What is the Property Size? It's crucial to understand the size and shape of the parcel. It will let you know how much "stuff" you can build, or how much space you have to roam.
Is the Land Near a Conservation Easement? A conservation easement is a restriction placed on a piece of property to protect its resources. It's is a legally binding agreement that can limit the landowner from planting, clearing, or hunting on certain areas of land.
Who Owns Mineral Rights to My Property? Mineral, Timber, and Water Rights to the land are often owned separate from the land itself. Here’s some information for you on how Mineral Rights work.
Are There Any Water Features? A water feature can refer to a river, creek, lake, spring, pond, stream - a body of water that already exists on the property. A water feature can potentially increase the value of the property, or if it's a wetland or marsh, potentially decrease the value.
Who are Your Neighbors? Who are the neighbors surrounding your lot? If you had to sell this property again in a year, is it desirable to other potential buyers?
What to Watch for with Florida Land
If you’ve gone through those 15 questions for your potential property, you’re in pretty good shape! But, as we mentioned before there are some state specific things to watch for. When buying land in Florida, flood zones, wetlands, and floodways are something you need to be aware of.
Technically the entire state of Florida is a flood zone, because it’s located below sea level. Obviously there are areas that get more water than others, but in a lot of Florida you’re going to experience standing water after a heavy rainfall. So buying land that’s in a designated flood zone isn’t necessarily a terrible thing.
Florida Wetlands and Buying Land
Let’s look at wetlands first. Wetlands are a marsh or swamp-like ecosystem, where the soil is always covered by water. Have you ever heard the saying God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands?
The Netherlands is below sea level, almost all of it could be wetlands, but the Dutch are constantly pumping water moving water back to the ocean. This will be your life if you try to build on wetlands in Florida. You will constantly be fighting back water, and it will be very expensive to mitigate that water elsewhere.
You also have to watch out for damaging existing wells by building on wetlands, In that case, you would have to get special permits from the county and that a lot of work. Unless you are head over heels in love with the property, I don’t recommend buying property designated as wetlands.
You can check on the US Fish and Wildlife Service website map with the address of the property to see if it’s in a wetlands - click here for the mapper.
To use the mapper, click on the ‘Wetlands Mapper’ link at the bottom of the page. Accept the terms and conditions presented to you to use the map. After accepting the terms, you can search for a specific location or address in the map, for example Okeechobee, FL, USA. Click ‘Legend’ on the right-hand side of the page to see all the defined wetlands in the area, ranging from Riverines, Lakes, Freshwater Ponds, and Deepwaters.
Florida Flood Zones and Buying Land
Flood zones are different. Flood zones are described by the 1% annual chance of flooding or a 1 in a 100 year flood. There are different zones as described by FEMA. Zone X has the lowest level of risk for flooding, whereas properties in Zone A or Zone AE are considered to have a high risk of flooding.
You can easily check on the FEMA Flood Map or county GIS map to see which zone the property is in. To use the FEMA Flood Map, search for an exact address or a location, for example Okeechobee, FL, USA. You can download the maps and see any published revisions or amendments. You will also see areas labeled on the map such as ‘Area of Minimal Flood Hazard’, ‘Zone AE’, ‘Zone A’, etc.
To use a county GIS map, start by searching Google for the county, for example Charlotte County GIS map. You can find this map here. This only works if you know what county your property is in - you can quickly check this on your deed if you don’t remember.
You will have to search for the specific address of your property (like 3 Main Street), instead of a broad area (like Okeechobee). Go to ‘Layers’ at the top right-hand side of the map and select ‘New FEMA Flood Zones’. Make sure you have the legend visible. You can then see if your property is in a flood zone, and which zone it is.
Note: Every county GIS mapping system is different, so the verbiage might vary. If you have trouble using the county’s GIS, you can give them a call for help walking through it.
It’s not a terrible thing to buy land in a flood zone, because you’ll recall that’s technically all of Florida. Just know what zone you’re in because it’s easier to get insurance for low risk flood zones than for high risk flood zones. You might also want to bring in fill dirt if you find out you’re in a more severe flood zone area.
Florida Floodways and Buying Land
The final water related issue we’re going to go over is regulatory floodways. Floodways describes the water course and the adjacent lands that must be preserved to help mitigate flood water and keep the water from reaching a certain height.
What does this mean? It is extremely difficult to get the approval to build or modify regulatory floodways and the land included in that.
You would need special permits, and engineering consultation, and more often than not, structures are not allowed to be placed in a floodway area. These rules will vary by county. You should contact the Planning and Zoning Department to get more information.
Plus the insurance would be incredibly expensive because if there is a surge in flood water, it’s going to be at the floodways first. So floodway land should definitely be avoided, if possible.
Bottom Line on Buying Florida Land
Always do your due diligence before buying land! There are always things to watch out for.
When buying land In Florida, key things to watch out for are floodways, flood zones, and wetlands. Floodway is not your ideal case, I recommend avoiding buying this type of property, or if you can’t avoid it, have an in-depth discussion with the county and make sure you understand the consequences.
A wetland is a marsh or swamp-like environment, not impossible to build on, but you’ll be doing it for the rest of your life, like the Dutch systems in the Netherlands. You can use the US Fish and Wildlife Service mapper to check if there are wetlands on or near your property.
Flood zones are not a complete turn-off, you just need to be aware of which zone you are in and what that means for insurance policies. You can use the county’s GIS map or the FEMA flood mapper to find out if your property is in a flood zone.
These 3 issues are pretty important in Florida. You can easily find all this information by doing your due diligence before you purchase a property.
When you purchase a property through Compass Land USA, we do all this due diligence for you. So you don’t have to worry about these 3 issues. I hope this helped you understand what you need to know about buying land in Florida.
If you have any questions about the process of buying land you can leave a comment below. I’d be happy to go over this process with you and address any questions you have. I look forward to hearing from you!
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