Let’s face it: the pandemic continues to be a defining factor in every part of Ontario’s housing market, from buying and selling to building a house from scratch.
We’ve already covered how the home-building process is different in these times. But let’s back up a little: what if you’re in the market for an empty lot?
Well, we have good news for you. Although the process for buying a house has changed dramatically during the pandemic, the process of buying land is essentially the same ‒ you’ll just need a bit more ingenuity, patience, and persistence to pull it off!
Here’s what you can expect when it comes to buying a vacant lot during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Is Now a Good Time to Buy Land?
- Searching for the Perfect Lot
- Visiting a Potential Property
- Adding up the Costs
- Finding a Home Builder During COVID-19
1. Is Now a Good Time to Buy Land?
Buy land, build a home, and save money. Simple, right?
These days, buying an empty lot and starting from scratch is by far the best way to escape to the country. Not only does it save you endless open houses and tiresome bidding wars, but you’re guaranteed to get exactly the home or cottage you’ve been dreaming of.
That said, it’s imperative that you do your homework before purchasing a vacant lot. A property may look perfect on paper, but the devil’s in the details!
As an example, let’s consider a secluded lakeside lot in cottage country. There’s no arguing that the lake is beautiful, but…are you sure it’s safe to swim? Are there signs of erosion at the shoreline? Is it legal to build a dock? And the land itself ‒ does it have electricity, water, and gas? What’s it like driving there in the winter?
The list goes on. And these are all things you need to think about even before you start looking into building permits, which are a whole other story!
Bottom line is, don’t rush into buying an empty lot just because we’re living in a pandemic. Due diligence is the key to getting the land and home of your dreams.
As the saying goes, you can change the house, but you can never change the view!
2. Searching for the Perfect Lot
These days, virtually every land search starts online.
One of the upsides of sheltering in place is that you have more time to research potential locations. Take some time to virtually explore the locations you want to move to, typical land values in the area, and the average selling prices for vacant lots similar to what you’re looking for.
Make sure you’re familiar with real estate terms and listing abbreviations so that you can easily narrow down your search.
Now is also a good time to ask family and friends for realtor recommendations. Always be sure to verify a potential realtor’s credentials online. Confirm that the agent holds a valid licence and has no upcoming hearings or past disciplinary decisions. Last but not least, make a shortlist of candidates to interview by phone or Zoom meeting.
3. Visiting a Potential Property
Once you’ve found land you are interested in, the next step is to contact the seller or their realtor directly (or have your realtor contact them) to arrange a viewing.
Real estate has been considered an essential service from the start of the pandemic. However, since the process usually involves face-to-face interactions between many people, safety protocols have been in place to protect buyers, sellers, and realtors.
Despite bans on open houses at various points throughout the pandemic, realtors can usually still take buyers to see vacant lots. Some realtors also provide live video tours of the land, which is particularly helpful if the lot is far away and you’re under a stay-at-home order.
It has always been crucial to obtaining the landowner’s permission before visiting a vacant lot, even if the lot is remote and totally empty. This is of even greater importance during the pandemic. Be respectful of the landowner and make sure you have permission before setting foot on their property!
Lastly, if you have scheduled an in-person viewing, be sure to cancel if you are sick. Health comes first, no matter how keen you are to start building your dream home!
If time is of the essence, you can always ask the owner or agent for a live video tour instead.
4. Adding up the Costs
Buying land and building from scratch can be the key to affording the house of your dreams.
However, you shouldn’t forget that the land purchase and building costs are only one part of the equation.
First, you’ll need to pay for an up-to-date land survey to ensure you know the true and accurate boundaries of the lot. Don’t rely on a survey provided by the seller. You don’t want to find out later that your dream home is actually on someone else’s property!
After that, you’ll likely want to invest in title insurance. Although Ontario does not require title insurance, you should talk about it with your lawyer and broker or insurance company to make an informed decision based on your specific situation and needs.
The cost of utilities is another important consideration, especially for remote properties. As a result of lockdowns and delays, bringing utilities like electricity, gas, phone and internet lines will likely be costlier than it would have been before.
Then, of course, there are permits. You’ll require a building permit for everything from the home or cottage itself to utilities like electricity and septic tank, to amenities such as a dock or shed. In many cases, the pandemic has also delayed this process, causing backlogs that extend both the time and cost necessary to get started.
But don’t lose heart. You can track and plan for these additional costs in your budget from the start. With a solid plan, a bit of patience, and some perseverance, you’ll have the property of your dreams in no time!
5. Finding a Home Builder During COVID-19
Of course, there’s one last piece of the property puzzle: the home or cottage you plan to build there.
In these uncertain times, it is especially important to find a home builder you can trust, and who can provide a realistic price estimate even before you settle on a vacant lot.