Several items to consider when buying a homesite


May 23, 1999

Dear Mr. Azrael:

My wife and I are considering purchasing land in Howard County to build a home. Could you please provide the following information [on] how to purchase land: financing; restrictions; things to look out for; and any other helpful hints or things to consider during initial stages of purchasing land.

Cliff Saunders Owings Mills

Dear Mr. Saunders:

Here's a checklist of questions to consider if deciding whether to buy a particular lot or tract for a homesite.

Is the land served by public water and sewer? If not, you will need a well and/or septic system. Where these facilities exist, your land purchase contract should require that the well be tested and certified as to the quantity (yield) and quality (potability) of water. The septic system also should be tested and certified that it is in good working order.

If a well or septic system needs to be installed, the contract should specify whether the buyer or seller pays the cost. Normally, a buyer would not risk purchasing a homesite unless a viable well and septic system are assured.

Are there deed restrictions or covenants that affect the construction of the home or the use of the property? Maryland law requires the disclosure of restrictions and fees imposed by a homeowner's association.

You should read the homeowner's association documents carefully because many require preapproval of building plans by an architectural committee. Association documents also may impose restrictions on fences, sheds or other structures. Some restrictions prohibit the use of residential property for home businesses or professions.

If you're concerned about restrictions, include a clause in your contract requiring that all restrictions be disclosed and that you can cancel the deal if they are not satisfactory to you.

Will local regulations permit the location of the home you want to build? Many lots in subdivisions have approved site locations for the house. Moving the home beyond the approved "building envelope" may require approval by a county agency. Set-back requirements also must be observed. If you're concerned about the location of your home on the land, include a provision in the land purchase contract that allows for a "feasibility study" by a land engineer or architect.

Can you obtain the necessary financing? Banks and savings institutions typically will consider financing up to 75 percent of the appraised value of a homesite. You may need to make a 25 percent down payment. The landowner may be willing to take back a larger mortgage or provide a second mortgage for a portion of the purchase price. You should explore seller-financing options, and include a financing contingency in the land purchase contract.

An experienced attorney can draft a land purchase contract that contains the provisions and contingencies you need to make certain that the land meets your requirements. A lawyer also can assist in reviewing applicable restrictions, plats and governmental regulations.

Buying land for your "dream home" can be fun and well worth the effort. Just make sure your purchase contract properly protects you and gives you ample opportunity to check that you can build the home you want.


The Sun invites you to send real estate questions to Mailbag. Questions are answered by Jonathan A. Azrael of Azrael, Gann and Franz of Towson.

Questions -- including name, address and daytime telephone number -- may be sent in the following ways:

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