How to winterize your vacant property

By Caroline Kirby

Leaves are falling, and the temperature is dropping, and before you know it, the first day of winter will be here. Whether you have a vacation home, open land, or a vacant property you’re not sure what to do with just yet, don’t let “winterize your property” slip too far down the list.

Taking a few proactive measures in the next few weeks can help save you money on potential repairs and make your property more attractive to possible buyers.

Why winterize and what does it mean?

Unless you live in a tropical climate, then you are likely familiar with the special challenges and often unanticipated issues that come with colder weather and the winter season. Think of winterizing as “winter-proofing” your property so that it can stand up to the effects of the winter weather.

Some common troubles that may occur if your property hasn’t been properly winterized includes:

• Pest infestations
• Frozen pipes
• Increased chance of crime/theft
• Squatters

Each of these risks may vary depending on your property type and location. However, the following tips may still be useful no matter what your land is used for come wintertime.

How to winterize your property

Let’s start on the outside first – if you have a vacant lot or big area of land on your property, you’ll want to make sure you take the proper steps to keep the outside just as protected as any cabin or home.

• Don’t prune trees or shrubs before winter, as they may not have adequate time to heal before the cold arrives.
• If your area typically gets early snow, then go ahead and cover small trees or shrubs to protect them from heavy snow. You can also wrap young fruit trees to prevent winter injury.
• Check gutters for trapped water, ice, and any other blockages.
• Turn off water so that your hose or irrigation system won’t get damaged by any frost (an expensive surprise to fix once spring rolls around).
• Empty out and turn any outside storage containers upside down so that they won’t crack with fallen temperatures.
• Drain the fuel tank on your lawnmower or any other power equipment.
The Farmer’s Almanac recommends oiling your outside tools with vegetable oil to prevent rusting.

There’s plenty to do to get your property in shape for winter, but the steps above are a great place to get started. If you have a home or cabin that will be empty most of the winter, there are some other special steps you’ll want to take to ensure they are well-maintained through the cold.

One of the best places to start is to get in touch with your property insurer to see if they have any specific cold-weather requirements to keep your property safe. After you’ve done that, here are some other steps to take:

• Inspect for openings that critters could use to enter. If you have a fireplace, make sure the flue is closed.
• Avoid leaving a “for sale” sign outside the property as this could attract criminals or squatters.
• Turn off utilities like gas and electricity.
• Open faucets and drain all water lines to prevent pipes from bursting.
• Install a security system, motion sensor lights, or even a doorbell camera so that you can check in on your property no matter where you are.

Thinking ahead and acting now can save you from a hefty bill and a big headache later on. A little extra work in the next few weeks can help ensure that your property won’t be a problem for you come 2022. Want to sell your land before winter arrives? Learn more from LandHub.

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by Laura Mueller

Getting a land appraisal is an important step in both buying and selling land, since it provides both parties (as well as the bank) with an accurate idea of what the sale price should be. But how do land appraisers figure out what land is worth?

Like with residential real estate, appraisers look at a number of key factors to price out a piece of land, including its features, condition, and how it compares to the properties around it. However, appraising land does have some unique differences from appraising a home, and it can be helpful to know what they are if you’re getting ready to sell—or if you’re a buyer trying to get a land loan.

Here’s what to expect during a land appraisal, including the unique factors that appraisers take into account.

The Land Appraisal Process

A land appraisal generally takes anywhere from two weeks to two months, depending on the availability of an appraiser and the size and scope of the property.

The goal of the appraiser is to determine the maximum price and use potential of the land. This determination takes into consideration what the land is currently used for, as well as how it could possibly be used in the future. A large piece of vacant land, for example, may be worth well more than it appears at first glance if it’s suitable for future residential or commercial development.

A thorough appraisal is done in a number of steps, starting with research of the property and its surrounding area. What is it zoned for? Are there any major restrictions on the land? Is it in a flood zone? All of these considerations are essential for an accurate appraisal, even before an appraiser sets foot on the property.

Next up is a physical inspection. This inspection, plus the previously-completed research, is how an appraiser will figure out what the best potential use of the property is.
This will be followed by looking at comps, which the appraiser will use to make adjustments to the land’s value based on similar properties around it.
Last is an appraisal report. This tells the buyer, seller, and the bank what the true value of the property is assumed to be—and why.

Factors That Affect Land Value

An appraiser takes many factors into account when pricing out land, including these three big ones:

Usable acres – Not all acres are usable acres. An appraiser will look beyond the raw acreage of a property and figure out how much of the land can actually be utilized for its maximum use purpose based on topography and zoning, among other things.

Location – Better locations equal higher prices. If the land is located somewhere with a lot of promise in terms of profit or use potential, that will play a large role in determining its price.

Improvements – Improvements, including utilities and access roads, drive up the value of a piece of land. This is understandable, since these are high-cost features that often must be put in place in order for the land to achieve its best use.

A comprehensive appraisal is always a necessity. Before you list land for sale or close on a land deal as a buyer, get one done so that you know the price of a property is in line with what it’s really worth.

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By Caroline Kirby

If you’ve bought or sold a home before then, you’re likely familiar with the term escrow. Need a refresher? Escrow, simply put, is a legal concept that was created to facilitate the sale or purchase of the property. Most of the time, people hear of “escrow” when discussing buying or selling a home. It’s important to recognize that the rules hold the same when it comes to the sale or purchase of land. Looking to buy or sell some real estate? You’ll want to get clear on escrow.

Understanding Escrow

Escrow is an arrangement that involves an impartial third party (the escrow holder) who will hold on to legal documents and funds until the buyer and seller reach an agreement and provide instructions for the holder to distribute.

Who are the parties involved in escrow?

• The buyer
• The seller
• The escrow holder
• Sometimes a lender

What does “in escrow” mean?

This is probably a phrase many of us have heard before without a clue to what it meant. “In escrow” just means that the funds and documents are being held by the escrow agent until the conditions of the contract are fulfilled.

Why do we need escrow?

When it comes to property, escrow can add a layer of security to protect the buyer’s good faith deposit and to hold the homeowner’s funds for taxes and insurance.

How does escrow fit into the land buying/selling process?

Although most information you’ll come across online may be specific to the home buying/selling process, escrow is also part of the land purchasing process. Whether you’re the buyer or seller, you will likely encounter an escrow account as part of your process.

When engaging in a land contract, a buyer makes installment payments to a seller; it’s common to have a title company or escrow account service provider to handle the monthly payments. This can guarantee that the contract is moving forward as agreed upon so that all parties are protected.

Remember, the escrow account provider or escrow holder is a neutral third party with no interests in either the buyer or seller. Both parties will pay escrow for their work. Escrow doesn’t last forever when the payments made equal the contract sales price or the contract terms are met; the escrow agent will facilitate the transfer of the property.

What exactly does the escrow holder do?

When broken down into simple terms, it may seem like the escrow agent is getting paid to do, well, not much, but the truth is your escrow provider has a lot of tasks to accomplish. Some of the most important to-do’s include:

• Open order for title insurance and get buyer approval
• Prorates insurance, taxes, rents, etc.
• Receive and disburse funds
• Prepare a final statement for each party
• Record deeds and loan documents before delivering to buyer and seller

Escrow can last the length of your loan, but each lender will have its own requirements for removing escrow. This process is beneficial for all involved and can make a stressful transaction run more smoothly.

Escrow can even be used for much more outside of real estate, like online transactions or stocks. Escrow accounts are not always required but can be especially useful for those looking to break up payments into smaller amounts.

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By Caroline Kirby

Did you know that the history of winemaking in the United States dates back to as early as 1840, yet the culture of producing wine isn’t quite as robust as in other parts of the world. While the history is somewhat unknown and the celebration of American wine is still growing, in the last decade or so, there has been an increased interest in viticulture across most of the country.

Buying a vineyard, whether to make your own wine for personal use or to eventually sell and invite others on to your land to try, can be a tricky process. No matter how intimidating it may seem, there’s one thing to keep in mind – finding the right piece of land is essential to a successful vineyard.

What to know about buying land for winemaking

First things first, have a clear budget in mind and know exactly what you’re working with. Vineyards are extremely costly operations, and while it may be a dream of yours, if you’re not well-organized, it could quickly become a nightmare. Some factors that are crucial and should be prioritized when looking for land (and budgeting) includes:

• Evaluating soil quality
• Understanding and identifying a water source
• Assessing the amenities on the property (if any are pre-existing)
• The size of operation you will run
• Potential investors
• Distilling and sanitizing equipment

These items are just a few of the many that are critical to a successful vineyard operation. Now that you have some background to move forward let’s get clear on the type of land to look for.

Where can you buy land for a vineyard?

When discussing wine from the United States, the West Coast, specifically California, immediately comes to mind for most people. However, there are a handful of wine regions across the country that aren’t in the Golden State.

There are actually quite a few wine trails across the nation, but some of the most popular are:

• New Mexico
• Texas Hill Country
• Missouri
• Yadkin Valley of North Carolina
• Michigan
• Minnesota

Keep in mind that in addition to these six up-and-coming areas, California and Oregon are two of the most common areas with rich histories of American winemaking. Now that you know which areas of the country to focus on, here are the specifics when it comes to the actual land.

It can be tough and expensive to find quality land for growing grapes, but not impossible! Typically hillsides are the best land types to look for, but that doesn’t mean flat land is totally out of the question – it will just require more time and work to cultivate great grapes. An area that has a healthy balance between the elements, like sun and wind, is also important and can impact how your grapes turn out.

Before making any purchases for a vineyard, be sure to have the soil tested. This will be the literal foundation of your project and ensure you are set up for success. Buying land to create a vineyard can be a big task, but with these first steps in mind, it doesn’t have to be complicated!

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After a year like 2020, it’s no surprise that many people considered taking the phrase “going off the grid” to new levels. In fact, there have been several reports of mass movements of people leaving their city lives and looking for ways to live more self-reliance and off-the-grid living.

While this lifestyle certainly isn’t new, it has become an appealing idea for many who may have never considered it pre-pandemic. Whether you’re looking to go off-grid completely or you’re curious about how you could craft a more self-sustaining lifestyle, there is plenty to learn. Here are the basics in getting started.

Going off the grid isn’t that simple

It doesn’t matter if you’re from a small town in the Midwest or you grew up in Brooklyn; moving to an off-the-grid lifestyle will take serious preparation and will require a lot of learning.

This lifestyle can be very rewarding, but it isn’t for everyone. Remember that living off the land means you will literally only survive with the resources that come from the land you own. Things like food, water, and shelter are your main priorities now.

• Your water source can come from harvesting rainwater, using wind or solar power, or digging a well. Stocking up on clean water will be essential.
• Having refuge from the elements is just as important as having food and water. You need more than a roof over your head. You’ll need security from wild animals and intruders in addition to reliable housing that can withstand extreme heat, snow, rain, wind, and cold.
• Cue the Bear Grylls re-runs – going off the grid means you’ll be going back to the hunter-gatherer life. Food sourcing will require skills in hunting, farming, gardening, fishing, and even composting. You’ll need food plots to attract animals and good land for growing.

Where should I begin?

Going off the grid safely is not something that can be done overnight. Instead, you will need to take time to really learn and prepare so that you can have a safe and healthy life. Here are some ways that you can ease the transition and ensure you’re safe:

• Learn about power sources while still living on the grid
• Start a small garden if you don’t already have experience.
• Downsize your current lifestyle by removing junk and items that aren’t necessary
• Budget, budget, budget! Many people think off-grid=free, but this is not the case. There are certainly plenty of costs that you will have while living off the grid.
• Begin training because living off-grid is a highly physical lifestyle

These changes are small steps that can make a real difference over time. As you learn more about the off-grid lifestyle, you may be curious about starting to look for land.

Some of the most popular places for this lifestyle include states like Texas, Alaska, Washington, Ohio, Missouri, Wyoming, Idaho, Tennessee, Montana, and Nevada. However, keep in mind that each state has its own unique challenges, whether it be high property taxes or extreme weather. Take the time to learn and consider what it is you’re looking for from going off the grid before making any major decisions.

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By Caroline Kirby

Whether you’re a first-time buyer or an experienced investor, considering the potential liability of a property is often an afterthought for many buying land. While every state has its own laws which certainly curb the liability placed on landowners, there are some things you should keep top of mind to ensure you’re protected.

What is landowner liability?

The National Agricultural Law Center cites landowner liability as being the “duty of care owed by landowners,” and while some states classify liability as more of a general duty of care, others are more specific.

If you open your land up to others for activities such as hunting, fishing, riding ATVs, hiking, camping, etc., then you will definitely want to ensure your property is covered.

Do your due diligence and get clear on the laws in the area where you plan to buy land. Once you know what you’re working with, there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself from liability issues on your property.

What are potential liabilities on your land?

Every land and region will differ, but in general, there are some common issues that you can get ahead of with a little planning. Regardless of if you plan to live on the property or it will mostly be vacant land, there are some potential liabilities you could be exposed to. The most common issues are often:

• Road or sidewalk defects
• Insufficiently lit areas
• Attractive nuisance doctrine
• Inadequate security

While the other items are straightforward, the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine is lesser-known to many. This is a law in many jurisdictions created to protect children. Cornell Law defines this as “a landowner may be liable for injuries to children who trespass on land if the injury results from a hazardous object or condition on the land that is likely to attract children who are unable to appreciate the risk posed by the object or condition.” This is especially applicable to properties that have items such as a dock, a piece of machinery, or even a tiny home that could reasonably attract a child’s attention.

How can you protect yourself from liability?

Whether you’re looking to purchase more land or have owned a property for years, it’s worth taking a look at the following steps to ensure that you and your property are as safe as possible. Want to protect yourself from liability? Follow these steps:

• Take a walk around your property and identify any potential hazards such as potholes, broken equipment, no caution or warning signs, etc. This is especially important if you have a vacant property.
• Speak with an attorney to draft up a liability release form for people who will use or enter your property.
• Create a specific list of rules for activities that you have on your land and ensure they are visible to visitors.
• Look into liability insurance as this could ensure you are protected from all angles.

Manage your risks and protect yourself by getting clear on your legal responsibilities. If you’re looking for more helpful landowner info, check out LandHub’s blog library for more resources!

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