Buying Vacant Land: Will You Have Water?

Look into whether you'll be able to tap into a public water supply or a community well before you finalize your land purchase.

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If you’re looking for a piece of land on which to build a home, pay particular attention to where you’ll get your water. The availability of water can greatly affect your use of, and the value of, the property. Before you buy, determine whether the land is served by a public water source or a community well, or whether you’ll need to dig your own well.

Is the Land Served by a Public Water Supply?

If the property is inside city limits, it will probably have access to public water. That means water from a central location, distributed through a system of water lines, and accessible for public use. Public water is commonly provided by a governmental entity or water company.

To find out whether public water is available, look at the details of the sales listing for the land or talk to the seller or a real estate agent (if one is involved).

If your research shows that public water is available to the land, your next step is to contact the local water provider or building department (or alternative applicable governmental agency) and ask about:

  • The location of the main water line. (If it’s far away, you might need a lengthy, more costly connection.)
  • What procedures and permits you’ll need to follow or obtain in order to connect to the main line. (Some locations require only a copy of a building permit, while others require additional permitting.)
  • Whether a connection fee is necessary, and if so, how much it is (connection fees can range from hundreds to thousands, of dollars, depending on the location).
  • What regulations and requirements govern new connections. (For example, you may have to hire a plumber to install the connection. Also, the line ordinarily must be buried at a certain depth, usually especially deep in colder climates.)
  • Whether you must purchase a water meter and, if so, at what cost (these can run into the thousands of dollars).

Costs of Using Public Water

Because you will have to pay for your water usage once connected, you might also want to get an idea of local rates. Charges are generally billed monthly, and depend on how much you use.

For example, some water providers charge a base monthly rate, plus a certain amount per gallon when the customer uses more than a certain amount. Knowing the rates ahead of time can help you avoid buying an area with sky-high water bills, which might break your budget.

Is the Land Served by a Community Well?

If the land is not served by public water, but is in an area of high population density, such as a suburb or a particular type of planned developments, it might be served by a community well. If so, you must find out more from the entity that owns the well.

The type of planned development we’re talking about here is one where people buy vacant land (rather than commissioning the building of a home from the developer), but the developer sets up a homeowners’ association and constructs common areas and infrastructure. You then arrange for the building of your own home (subject to the association’s architectural guidelines) and connect to the community well, assuming there is one.

Typically, an association (the homeowners’ association in a planned development, or a separate water association in other areas) owns and controls the community well. Contact the association and find out:

  • How much the connection (or “tap”) fee is.
  • The water quality (ask for copies for any water quality reports).
  • The procedures and requirements for connecting to the community system (the association will likely have a number of rules and regulations governing this).
  • Whether you need to purchase a water meter, and if so, how much it costs.
  • Whether the well is in good condition, and
  • Whether there is a reliable and sufficient supply of water.

Using a Community Well

As with a public water system, once you are connected to a community well, you are responsible for periodically paying water usage fees to the association. To be prepared for what’s in store, you should also ask the association about the water rates, as well as what restrictions it places on water use.

Sometimes, when a homeowners’ association owns the well, the water usage fees are included in the regular dues paid by homeowners. You might have to pay additional charges for the costs the association incurs in repairing, replacing, maintaining, and monitoring the well.

When an Individual Well Is Required

If a property has no access to a public or community water source, you’ll have to dig an individual well to get running water for the land. The cost and success of digging a well varies greatly, depending on the location of the property and the availability and location of underground water on the land.

Ask a Local Professional What's Involved in Drilling a Well There

Before you buy a piece of land that requires digging an individual well, find out as much information as you can about wells in the area. Contact a licensed well driller (or the county building department) to determine:

  • What state and local regulations govern individual wells.
  • The probability of finding a reliable, sustainable water supply.
  • The depth and cost of a typical well in the area (a deeper well will cost more to drill).
  • What types of permits are required, and
  • An estimate of how long the process might take.

Limits on Using Well Water

You'll want to find out what regulations might affect a well once it’s up and running. For example, due to water rights issues, many areas regulate the amount of water you can remove from a well. How the well water is used might also be restricted.

In some areas, well water can only be used for household purposes. That would mean that irrigation (including watering your garden), or even washing a car, would not be allowed. Many areas also require periodic water monitoring to ensure good water quality.

Know About Water Availability Before You Buy

If you find out about a property’s water source before you buy, you’re in a better position to assess its value and usability. Do your research to help ensure you’re not left “high and dry” after a purchase.

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