10 Questions For Interviewing Landowners

Insight on how to best approach a landowner with questions about the property you're interested in.

Over the years, I've spoken to a number of people who are trying to sell their land. For some reason, these conversations always seemed to be a little difficult for me. I often avoided the tough questions, gathered only general information, and subsequently spent a lot of time visiting properties that held no promise for me.

Eventually, I realized that landowner calls are actually interviews, not conversations, and that I need to ask a lot of questions to "qualify" the property and determine if it warrants the investment of more time and gas money.

Here are some questions that I ask when I call about a property. They may be a good starting point for you, too.

1. What is the price? That's pretty simple, but I usually follow this up with a few more price-related queries: Would you take less if I can close quickly? Would you consider owner financing? And I always ask how they arrived at their price and how that price compares to similar properties in the area.

2. What is the road frontage like? Paved? Dirt? Gravel? Any of these could be desirable or undesirable, depending on what you want. But you need to ask. There is no sense in driving three hours to look at a tract on a highway when you really want to find some peace and quiet at the end of a dirt road.

3. What is the access like? Is it an easement? Public road? Abandoned county road? Again, if you want road frontage, only invest your time in tracts that have it.

4. Is there mature timber on the tract? What percentage of those acres has mature timber? Is it natural or plantation? Has it been thinned? If so, when?

5. Are the mineral rights included? In many parts of the country this is not an issue, but in some areas the mineral rights are long gone. If that is the case, you may not be able to control when, where, or how these natural resources are mined, drilled, or excavated. This may not be a deal-killer, but you need to know.

6. Are there any leases on the property? Hunting leases, timber leases, cellular tower leases, and many others can affect the use of a prospective property. Some can be terminated. Some can't. You need to ask.

7. What is the exact location?
Ask for specifics here. You want to be able to use the various internet tools to look at aerial maps of the property, the neighbors, and the neighborhood. To do that you'll need an exact address. If the property doesn't have an exact address (and many don't), try to get GPS coordinates.

8. Do you own the property? Don't be afraid to ask the seller if he/she is the owner. You may laugh, but this is not a silly question and you may be surprised by the answers you get. There are many people who impersonate land owners, and you need to know if you are dealing with a single owner, one of many owners, an agent, a spouse, a child of an elderly landowner, a person who has the property under contract or has an option, or if you are dealing with someone who has been promised a finders fee if they find a buyer.

9. Can you send me maps, aerial photos, and timber data? Also remember that, while photos are good to have, they can be the product of "creative" photography and certainly don't tell the whole story of any tract.

10. Is the property currently under contract? Most real estate agents will disclose this but some private land owners may not. You don't want to drive two hours to look at a property someone else has already bought.

I've actually become comfortable with this "interview" process, and you can, too. A first call to a landowner or real estate agent doesn't have to feel like an inquisition. A few simple questions can quickly determine if a property is worth more of your attention and time.

Don Webb is the author of "Maximizing The Land Ownership Experience" and president of Greenwood Land Company, which provides land acquisition and consulting services. Contact him at (706) 575-4178 or go online to www.greenwoodproject.com.

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