Cheap Land, What's the Catch?

12 Replies

I live in Washington State and am looking for some land for recreation purposes and, possibly, build a VRBO in the future. With the varied landscapes in Washington, we have many options. Primarily, I am looking at either something at the ocean, or on a lake or riverfront in the mountains.

Browsing real estate sites, I'm seeing what seem like great deals - e.g. 5-15 acre lots for under $50K. Some of these properties have been listed for months and even years. Some of these are surrounded by $1M homes. Which makes me ask, what's the catch?

Being new to REI, can anyone give me any advice on what I should be looking for?

Most likely they are unbuildable due to zoning, too small, sloped too steep, wetlands issues. There is usually a good reason, but worth looking into and learning about.

Originally posted by @George C. :
Most likely they are unbuildable due to zoning, too small, sloped too steep, wetlands issues. There is usually a good reason, but worth looking into and learning about.

Also, may be land locked or have other access issues, utilities not available nearby, septic not possible, next to undesirable commercial, etc.

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   There is sometimes a diamond in the rough that everyone else thought was unbuildable, that you *can* build on after you get it dirt cheap. I got one like that in 2008, it was worth $125K as buildable, but it was unbuildable as most thought and I got it for $19K, after speaking to the Engineer who got a failed perk 20 years earlier. He told me that there was a chance that a section of the property might perk & it did while I had it under contract.  That one was a home run.

Usually, you'll have to look into it further. The listing agent will probably give you some or part of the story. Sometimes, it's just a matter of getting creative and seeing what successful folks have done in the past. Good luck!

Great feedback everyone. I appreciate the advice. When looking at listings, I am checking to be sure that electricity is available. Most of the lots I am looking at either have a well or need a well dug - something I can deal with.

The "unbuildable" aspect is something I will have to dig into.

@Jon Klaus , what do you mean by "land locked?" I'm not familiar with that term.


@Jon Klaus, what do you mean by "land locked?" I'm not familiar with that term.

Surrounded by other land and no public road frontage. Might require an easement across someone else's land. Neighbor may not grant easement.

Originally posted by @George C. :

There is sometimes a diamond in the rough that everyone else thought was unbuildable, that you *can* build on after you get it dirt cheap. I got one like that in 2008, it was worth $125K as buildable, but it was unbuildable as most thought and I got it for $19K, after speaking to the Engineer who got a failed perk 20 years earlier. He told me that there was a chance that a section of the property might perk & it did while I had it under contract. That one was a home run.

While we're doing definitions -- "perk"? That's new to me , can you explain? Thanks!

Jean, " Perk" stands for, percolation test where holes are dug & water is timed as it leaches into the ground. In our area we don't do perk tests anymore, they do "soil logs" where they take measurements of the layers of earth, seasonal high water table and take samples from dug holes. We still call them perk tests for some reason though.


While we're doing definitions -- "perk"? That's new to me , can you explain? Thanks!

Short for percolation. The soil must absorb water (perc) at an acceptable rate for new septic systems.

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