Land Safely

How to Buy

Everybody dreams of owning a place to get away from it all. Since escapist fantasy isn't always congruent with second-home-owner reality, we checked in with the experts for tips on buying smart.

NEVER BUY PROPERY SIGHT UNSEEN
"Considering what you're investing in," says Pam Long, a sales associate at Haines Real Estate, in Haines, Alaska, "it's worth it to spend $300 to $600 on a plane ticket and pay a visit."

WISE USE
Is this going to be an every-weekend escape or a twice-a-year vacation spot? "If you need to put renters in it to help pay the mortgage, you have to assess the market," says Tom Kelly, co-author of How a Second Home Can Be Your Best Investment. "Is there enough of a population to supply long-term renters? Are there amenities for other vacationers?"

TALK TO NEIGHBORS
Your building inspector is not going to point out the sinsemilla operation two doors down. And your realtor may not come clean about the vast subdivision breaking ground next year. Don't shy away from knocking on doors and asking questions about your future 'hood. Is it safe? Quiet?

THE RIGHTS STUFF
Those 20 acres might look vacant during the walking tour, but others may have a right to use them for their own interests. Make sure the seller is asked to disclose any preexisting rights (such as water or mineral) on the title report.

NO RURAL REMORSE
"It's still the wild, wild West out here," says Charlie Parrish, owner of Evergreen Realty, in Sandpoint, Idaho. "When people start looking for something too far off the grid, I try to steer them back closer to town." In some remote areas, he points out, municipal services aren't available.

IF YOU BUILD IT
Floodplain designation can derail construction of your dream home, as can setbacks. "It's worth the money to find out where you can and can't build," says Doris Hellermann, an agent with Pelican Realty, in Cedar Key, Florida.

WATCH THE WEATHER
Chances are, you timed your first trip when the weather was on its best behavior. Better find out what the conditions are like the rest of the year, especially in an extreme climate like Alaska. "It's paradise here," says Pam Long, in Haines, "but it's not paradise for everybody."

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