What You Need to Ask Yourself When Buying Land

Why is Land Use Planning Important? When to Use Land? What Can You Use Land for? More importantly: What do You Want to Use Your Land for?

There are a lot of things you need to know before you buy land. I have another article on questions you need to ask before you buy and piece of property. But the one thing you need to ask yourself is: What do I want to use my land for?

What Do You Want to Use Your Land For?

This is a big question. It’s not like deciding on your next coffee from Starbucks, or your next meal at a nice restaurant. This is like deciding what kind of house you want – it’s a really big decision that if played out correctly, could either be an incredible investment or one of your biggest regrets.

For a house, you would have to think about things like, am I going to be living here alone? Do I want to have children in this house? Do I want to downsize, but still have enough room for people and family to come visit and stay with me? How much are utilities and property taxes going to cost me each year?

People put a lot of time and energy thinking about their next home, and you should put that same careful thought into your next land purchase.

It may seem daunting, land should be easy right? There are no roofs to replace, driveways to pave, shutters to paint, no foundation that needs to be examined before purchasing. There are mortgages, no realtors or lawyers (most of the time – learn more here).  

Don’t worry – land is EASY. You just need to know what you want the land for, that is, how you want to use it. I’m going to walk you through the process and help you decide what type of land is best for you. There’s even a decision tree where you can quickly and easily decide what type of land you need to look for, based on what you want.  

Before we jump into it, let’s quickly briefly go over the types of land you’re going to be dealing with. From a high-level perspective, there are 3 different types of land for sale you can consider investing in.

How Many Types of Land are There?

Residential: This land is to be used for private, single-family and multi-family housing. The zoning will tell you whether it’s a family dwelling (such as a house or cabin), or a multi-family dwelling (townhomes). This type of land is typically the most affordable option to purchase.

Commercial: This land is meant for business use. It can be used for anything from office buildings, plazas, malls to woodworking and craftsman shops. It also includes things like grocery stores, barbershops, and restaurants. As you drive through the heart of your own town, for example, most of what you see will be Commercial land.

Industrial: This land is suited for manufacturing and producing goods, and is almost always much bigger than anything in a Commercial or Residential area. It would be used for factories and warehouses and such. This type of land is often owned or leased by companies that do manufacturing work.

What to Use Land For?

It should be pretty easy for you to look at these three types of land and know where you want to be.

Do you want to build a new home or a vacation home? A place where you can install a mobile home or a tiny home? Maybe create a custom cabin or manufactured home? Or possibly you want to build a townhome as a new rental unit? You’re looking at Residential land.  

Do you want to build a new office structure, and rent it out? Maybe you want to build a new shopping mall in town? Or a parking lot? You need to be examining Commercial land.

Maybe you just want a massive parcel, something you can subdivide out for different factories and production plants? A place out of the city that you can lease out to manufacturing companies? You need to stick to Industrial land.


 How to Check Land Type

You might be thinking, okay that’s all fairly straightforward. But how do I find out what category a property falls under? Luckily, this is a relatively simple check. You only need 1 thing: the property’s parcel number, or Assessor’s parcel number (APN).

You should be able to ask the seller for the APN. If you’re on a site like Lands of America, LandWatch, Landmodo, or Land and Farm, this information should be readily available on the ad. If you’re on a broader buy/sell site like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or eBay, you will probably have to send the seller a message to get the APN because you don’t always get sophisticated sellers on these sites.

Let’s walk through an example together. This is an example of one of our own (Compass Land USA) ads on Landmodo.  

You will find the APN listed in the ad description, it’s 402116205008. You can also see that this property is in Charlotte County, Florida. Perfect! This is all the information you need.

 Heading over to Charlotte County’s site, we want to look for the Assessor page, and the Real Property Record Search function (Tip: you can even just type a search into Google “Charlotte County Assessor parcel search”). 


From the County Assessor’s parcel search page, you will need to type in the APN in the Parcel ID Number box. Run the search, and select the parcel when the page is done loading. You will see that for our example property, the current use, as defined and set out by the County, is Vacant Residential.

The setup for each County’s search system will be slightly different. Sometimes a County will define this category as ‘land use’, instead of ‘current use’, for instance. But the idea is the same. You need to know what County the property is in and you need the APN.

Alternatively, if the idea of having to look this up yourself online makes you nervous, you can always call the County’s Assessor office, and provide them with the APN, and they will tell you what type of property it is and its appropriate use.

How Land Use Changes

The boundary lines start to get less clear when you want to do things like camp or use an RV because a lot of counties don’t allow those activities on residential lots.  

In this case, you need to look for property that is zoned as Recreational, Undeveloped, or Agricultural. Unfortunately, there isn’t a standard across the US. Each County will use different verbiage and descriptions. When you’re researching different properties, you can ask the buyer if things like camping, RVs, or mobile homes are allowed on the lot, and they should be able to tell you. If they don’t know, you can always check the County’s zoning ordinance.

For example, I know for certain based on experience that many counties in Florida do not allow any camping or RV activities on Residential properties. All of this has to be done in a specified campsite or RV/Trailer park.

But, there are many counties in Arizona that use Agricultural land use description for their Residential properties, and that gives you a lot more freedom. In these areas, you can certainly camp, bring in an RV, bring in chickens and horses, you can do almost anything on these lots.

Your Bottom Line on Land Use

Before you buy land, you need to know what you want to use it for. Then you can narrow your search according to the land type. Once you find a property you like, you can verify the land type and allowed use by using the APN and the County’s resources.

If you’re looking for inspiration on how you can use land, check out this article! It gives you a list of 44 different ways you can use land.

If you have any questions or comments, you can leave me a comment below! I hope you found this helpful!

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