How to Navigate Property Access Issues
If you’ve never invested in land, it may be best to steer clear of landlocked properties that may not have obvious access. If you are a seasoned investor, a risk-taker, a deal-seeker, or a real estate junkie then a piece of land with no access may be an exciting prospect. Most properties with no access are very cheap. There will be work to do after you purchase it, but that work can result in a large payoff. Super-cheap deals requiring a little work are the type of deals real estate junkies are always looking for. When evaluating the attractiveness of a piece of land, one important feature is whether or not it has access. Is it possible to legally drive to the land and put your feet on it? Or, as buyers have asked me a thousand times “would you have to take a helicopter to get to it?” Many cities and counties will not allow construction on a parcel that lacks access. Also, lenders may refuse to write loans to purchase, or build on, landlocked property. Landlocked parcels have less value compared to parcels with access. For this reason, sellers will want to determine if a parcel is landlocked when pricing it and buyers want to understand the access situation when deciding whether or not to purchase it.
When describing access to buyers, use the word “landlocked” which means a parcel has no legal access to ingress and egress. Focus on legal access rather than physical access because it is considered the top most important when buying a land. If the terrain allows, it can always be bulldozed to provide a clear and legal access to the buyer. Not all easements are for access. The simplest access is when a parcel has frontage on a publicly accessible road. However, sometimes topography or water features will restrict access to the property from the road, or there may be one or more other privately-owned parcels between the public road and the property. When the property does not or cannot be accessed directly from the public road, an easement through the other properties for a right of way is required.
Furthermore, an easement recorded on the parcel will not help you in getting to it. So when ordering a map of plotted easements, be sure to tell the title company that you want them to plot not only the easements on the property, but also easements leading to it. Tell them that your goal is to understand access. The reason it’s important to specify this is that the access easement will be recorded on the neighbor’s land, not the land for sale, and the title company might overlook it if you don’t explicitly ask to see it.
If it’s found that access is not available, there may be ways to get permission from adjacent landowners to provide access or attorneys may be able to file lawsuits for what is known as an easement by prescription to forcibly grant access. If a neighbor challenges the access, an attorney should be consulted to determine how to best enforce the agreement.
Type of easement is justified based on the property’s history. They will not award an easement that takes up too much of the owner’s property. You can also use the knowledge that lawsuits are an option to help arrive at an agreement with your neighbor, either with or without an attorney. Whichever way you get your easement, make sure it is wide enough for at least one car, and have a clear plan for how it will be maintained. If you are looking for a deal, or you want to turn one man’s trash into your treasure, take a look at landlocked property that others overlook because access isn’t there yet.
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