Keys To Land Access
September 24, 2010
What is the access like?
This is one of the first questions I ask when evaluating land for a purchase, and it's one of the first questions you should ask as well. That's because adequate access is often a make-or-break issue for land sales. If you're buying land, you want to be able to get to it, get on it, and get around it.
Issues of access aren't always as simple as they may seem. For instance, easy access via state highway or interstate can make for a convenient drive, but too much of a good thing is not necessarily a good thing. While easy to get to, a tract located just off a busy highway may not be very relaxing. If you're seeking quiet solitude in the deer stand, you probably don't want to listen to airplanes taking off or 18-wheelers rumbling down the interstate.
However, if you get too far off the beaten path, you can find yourself bouncing for miles down a rutted country road or slipping and sliding on a narrow, muddy path. No fun. One tip is to look for mailboxes. If someone else lives on the road, there is a good chance that school buses travel the road, in which case it will probably be accessible year-around.
Once you get to a potential tract, pay close attention to how you actually get on the land. If it has road frontage, you can probably drive onto it. But that may not be the case. High banks or ravines can make it impossible to access the land from the frontage road. States control where (or if) you can locate a driveway on a state highway, and counties may have rules regarding minimum frontage for a driveway on any road. If a seller promotes access "through" a neighbors property (even if the tract has frontage), I'd suggest you start asking a lot of questions, and perhaps looking for another tract to buy.
If a tract has no road frontage, it is either accessed via an easement or it is landlocked. An easement offers legal access to the property by traveling across someone else's land. Land- locked property, on the other hand, is surrounded by adjacent landowners and can't be accessed without permission.
Easements are not necessarily bad, although they can create some limitations on building and subdividing, and they do come with some common-sense responsibilities associated with protecting the property rights of the landowner whose property you're crossing. But easements don't affect the hunting, and they do offer a degree of privacy that highway frontage can't. Landlocked tracts, on the other hand, are almost always a problem.
There is a way to tell the difference. An easement is recorded just like a deed and is verifiable through a title search. No matter what a seller may tell you about historical access, abandoned county roads, and gentleman's agreements over access, if he or she can't produce (or your attorney can't find) a recorded easement, then one probably doesn't exist. Next tract, please.
Once you get onto the tract, you want to be able to access most of it through an internal road system. Now I'm not suggesting that every acre needs to have a road going through it, but be mindful that inaccessible areas of any property may wind up being unused. For most properties a good network of roads and four-wheeler trails offers the best of both worlds. If you're considering building a road system, remember that natural obstacles like ravines, creeks, and steep inclines can be expensive to overcome. You may want to get some professional advice before you commit your money to a tract with no internal road system.
So remember: Can I get to it? Can I get on it? Can I get around on it? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you may want to keep looking.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR 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.