You may find a parcel of land for an incredible price and wonder how anyone could “give” away land for this price.
But if there’s one thing that land developers know, it’s that it’s wise to budget more for developmental costs and fees than for purchasing the land itself.
Depending on the land you purchase, the site development costs can differ drastically.
One cost, in particular, that should never be overlooked is that of bringing utilities to a piece of real estate that has no existing utilities.
Because most people want basic services on their property (power, water, etc.), purchasing land that has no utilities means you’ll need to oversee this development.
Here are 11 things that you should know about the process.
1. You can check beforehand if your vacant land has utilities
You’re looking at different parcels of vacant land to buy.
How do you know if your land has utilities or not?
There are websites that exist that can help you find providers in your area.
First off, you’ll need to know your street address.
Then, you’ll be able to do a search online or make a couple of phone calls.
This is one of the most important steps in your due diligence process because it will help determine how much bringing utilities to the land will cost.
A few things to keep in mind:
If you’re purchasing rural vacant land, your chances of having utilities are not as high as when you’re purchasing land in a more residential area.
If the parcel doesn’t have an address, you can use the County’s GIS maps to figure out the road access to your vacant land as well as the parcel boundaries.
If the county does not have one, then you can call the County Assessor’s office and ask for the coordinates of the boundaries of the property.
Please note, you’ll need to know the assessor’s parcel number in order to ask the County about any property information.
You can also use a resource like MapRight to find the boundary coordinates of the property.
For water and sewer, you can call the County’s Planning and Zoning Department or the Building Department.
For power, you can search on Google Maps for “[county name] power.”
After you find out the name of the company, you can call and leave a voicemail with your inquiry.
If they return your message saying they don’t provide services to your potential property, then you can ask which company you need to contact.
2. “Nearby” is a relative term
You may be told while you are looking at parcels of vacant land that there are “nearby utilities” (even if they are not on the property).
However, “nearby utilities” is a relative term, and you should exercise caution when told this.
For one, it’s incredibly vague.
Nearby doesn’t tell you how far the nearest utility lines are.
You may find them right across the street, or they may be miles away.
You should always make sure you know exactly where utility access is before you purchase.
Just knowing that “utilities are nearby” isn’t good enough when buying land.
It can be incredibly expensive and time-consuming to install – you want to make sure you have the full picture before investing.
Also, for some other common mistakes when buying land, you can watch our video below.
3. The cost will depend on your location
This is often the most popular question with any type of investment.
How much will bringing utilities to the land cost me?
Well, the short answer is that it depends.
Utility costs can be anywhere from $10,000 to over $30,000 depending on your location and proximity to utility connections.
Furthermore, some cities and power companies charge more for their services.
This means that the only way to know how much it will cost you is to get an estimate from your local services.
That said, if you’re looking for a ballpark estimate, the following may be helpful.
The local utility company that you research should be able to tell you where the nearest power lines are.
You should not depend on the seller of the property or the agent you’re working with to give you a definite answer (although they may have some knowledge).
Again, be wary of “nearby” as this is all relative.
In most cases, utility companies will charge you for every foot they have to extend a line to your property.
For example, the Tierra Grande subdivision in Valencia County, NM quotes $20,000 for every 1/2 mile.
For this reason, it’s wise to know what “nearby” means.
If it’s right next to your property or miles from your property, this makes a difference in terms of your budget.
If you don’t have a few extra thousand dollars to spend if the power lines end up being farther than expected, then this may not be a project that you want to take on.
It’s also wise to know whether or not the lines are on public property or private property.
If the lines are on private property, then you’ll need to seek permission from whoever owns that property.
Sewer or septic tank
Depending on the route you want to go, you can either connect to a local sewer system or install a septic system.
The costs of operating an independent septic system are often low compared to the monthly fee you’d pay for a sewer connection.
That said, the cost of installing a septic system can vary widely.
For more advanced septic systems, you can pay as much as $20,000.
For a simple, basic tank system, you can pay as little as $3,000.
The exact system you will need depends on the results of a perc test.
Thus, there are often a lot of decisions to be made based on what you want and what’s most appropriate for your land.
The majority of homes in the United States are serviced by municipal water supplies.
In general, this is the easiest and cheapest way to get your water.
Typically, you’d call the county, have them connect you to a pipe, and you’d have water.
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case for vacant landowners.
It often takes a little more than that to get the water you need.
Between all the procedures, permits, and requirements, it could be a few hundred to $5,000 before you get water on your land.
Because, simply put, nothing in life is free.
You may also consider drilling your own well.
This would be the option for those that live outside of the area serviced by the municipal water system.
Unless you have experience drilling wells yourself, you’re better of hiring a professional to help you.
They’ll select the best location on your land and ensure that it is installed properly.
Well installation is often expensive as well.
You can invest anywhere from $2,000 to $25,000 in a well, depending on how deep you need to go.
This is something to keep in mind if you’re on rural vacant land outside of the range of a municipal water source.
It is probably a good idea to discuss the potential cost of a well with a well installer or general contractor.
It is also important to note that some states require that you own water rights to the property before you can install a well.
Worst case scenario, there are options for getting water without a well.
Satellite television, internet, and cell phones are so necessary these days that these services are available in even the most remote areas.
You’ll likely find there is a company available in your area, and they may even be bundling the cost of all three together.
In this case, you may be best off finding out what others in your area are using and find reliable and price effective.
This way, you’re sure to have a service that is affordable and accessible in your given area.
4. Municipal water may not be an option
As mentioned above, municipal water isn’t an option for every single property.
City and residential properties are much more likely to have municipal water hookups.
This means that if the thought of installing a septic tank or digging a well just isn’t up your alley, then you may want to avoid those incredibly rural parcels of land.
5. You may need approval from your neighbors
You’ve likely heard about easements and done your due diligence to see if you need one for access to the lot.
If you don’t know what an easement is, you can watch our video below to learn about them.
Well, bringing utilities to vacant land may also require an easement.
Sometimes you need permission from your neighbors to install power poles and lines or other elements in the utility process.
Knowing that someone else could be a barrier to your ability to do what you want with your property may make it difficult
6. Don’t forget to check the quality of your water source
If you choose to install a well, you must check the quality of your water source.
The CDC recommends that all well water be tested regularly, so you can make this an annual occurrence in the spring.
This is often a good time because you can check whether there are any mechanical problems or other issues that have developed over winter.
Check to see whether your water tests positive for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH levels.
It’s necessary to check continuously as water can be impacted by the soil composition, surrounding land use activities, and overall rain and groundwater quality.
If your water source is determined to be unsafe for any reason, be sure to treat it in a timely manner so that you can continue to use it in a safe manner.
7. Look at all of your options
Just like municipal water is often the most convenient option, so is connecting the local power company’s grid.
However, while it may be the simplest and most convenient option, it isn’t always the best.
Or the least expensive.
When you look at your specific property, you may discover that it’s not the right option for you.
Remember to keep the following questions in mind…
Will powerlines run overhead or underground? In either scenario, you may need to discuss this with neighbors if lines cross over into their property.
How far will the power company need to run lines to connect my parcel to power? How much will this cost?
Is this area prone to brown or blackouts?
How many transformers will you need?
Will you require a backup generator?
It may also be worth considering whether you should look into alternative power like wind and solar.
Just because a local power company is available doesn’t mean they are the best option for your land.
Do the research before purchasing to ensure you know what will be best when bringing utilities to the vacant land.
8. A septic system requires space
In addition to money, a septic system requires a decent amount of space.
Depending on how much land you purchase, this may be a factor in the decision of whether or not you opt to connect to a local sewer system (if you have the option).
Once you install a septic tank, you won’t be able to build or drive in this area.
It’s also worth noting that almost all land is subject to state and local laws governing the installation and maintenance of septic systems.
This is because failing septic systems are a major source of water pollution.
You want to make sure that your water remains clear of any bacteria infiltrating nearby water supplies and does not impact water supplies for those around you.
If you want to know how much land you need for a septic system, you can check out our post on whether an acre is big enough.
9. Remember, it will take quite a while
Utilities can take more time than you think to install, and you won’t necessarily be in charge of the timeline.
You should expect that your utility connections will take months at the very least.
You’ll need to go through the process of getting permits, which can take weeks and months on their own.
When you’re thinking about the timeline of this process, factor in delays.
By doing this, you’ll avoid disappointment.
You should also look at how different approaches may impact the timeline.
For example, depending on your property, you may have to run underground lines instead of overhead lines.
This will both cost more and take longer.
This means it could be months before you have power on your property.
If you do not have to go this route and can run the lines overhead, you still may need to get permission from your neighbors to add power poles on their property.
Add weeks for this agreement to take place.
Either way, you’ll want to be realistic about how long bringing utilities to a parcel of vacant land can take.
Those who think that adding utilities can be done on their own personal timeline often don’t understand how the process works.
10. Bringing utilities to vacant land can be a major expense
You’ve heard it, you’ve read it, but it never hurts to read it again.
If you don’t have extra time or money (upwards of $30,000) to invest in utilities for your new parcel of land, then this likely isn’t the right lot for you.
And that’s okay!
You don’t have to commit to bringing utilities to vacant land if it’s an expense that won’t be worth it in the end.
However, many vacant landowners have found a perfect parcel of land that just happens to be lacking utilities.
If they’re given the land for free or get an otherwise great deal on it, then investing money in it may be the right move.
You may also just want to use the property for recreational purposes.
It ultimately depends on you and your specific set of circumstances.
You can find more ways to get cheap land in our video below:
11. You’ll have a lot of decisions to make
One of the most important things to know when buying vacant land with no utilities is that it’s not a quick and easy process.
You’ll need to spend all of the normal time doing due diligence and then spend additional time and effort with the property as the utilities are being installed.
You’ll also need to make a lot of decisions, including:
Should you connect to the local sewer system or install a septic system?
Is there municipal water?
Should you dig a well?
How far are the power lines?
Will your neighbors let you put a power pole in their yard?
How can you best utilize your land if you need a well or septic system to be in a certain spot?
What laws do you need to keep in mind?
How will you ensure that you maintain a water testing schedule?
The list of questions goes on!
Ask yourself, “Is this the perfect plot of land?”
“Do I need utilities?”
“Do I have the time and money to invest in a project of this size?”
If the answer is an unequivocal yes, then go for it!
Bringing utilities to vacant land is no small task.
You’ll start the process by doing a lot of due diligence.
At that point, you’ll survey what exactly your property needs.
Are you close enough to a city that you have access to sewage and municipal water?
Or is your vacant land rural enough that you’re looking at a septic system and digging for a well?
Unfortunately, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution when it comes to bringing utilities to vacant land.
It requires a lot of time, effort, research, and money.
Yet, if you’re equipped to take it on, it can be what transforms your property from a “great” parcel of land into the “perfect” parcel of land.
For more information on buying, selling, or investing in vacant land, check out our other resources below.
We’re here to help throughout the entire land buying and selling process!
If you are looking to buy affordable land, you can check out our Listings page.
If reading this article got you interested in land investing, you can check out our article on How to Get Started in Land Investing.
And if you are looking to sell land, visit our page on how to Sell Your Land.
If you are looking for Free Land, check out our free land giveaway.
Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.