Farms, Ranches & Acreage in the Mountains and Plains
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Wide open spaces, a place for the family to enjoy, want to raise some livestock! All of these are great reasons for owning a 35 acre or larger parcel in Colorado. But with the decision to own a larger parcel of land comes some other considerations to be aware of that will help in your process of choosing the land. This article is not to dissuade you from owning a larger parcel of land, merely to provide some insight into what needs to be investigated. Many of these items are not complicated especially if you are working with a knowledgeable real estate professional that understands what to be looking for.
Moving to a larger land parcel from your residential neighborhood means a bit of a lifestyle change. What you give up such as a grocery store at the corner can be outweighed by having a quiet place that allows you to do many of things you want to do that you can’t in the subdivision setting. If those things are more important to you, then a larger tract of land should be considered.
More than anything as you begin your search for properties you will see many times that properties for sale are 35 acres or larger in Colorado. This is because the state government has typically set 35 acres as the smallest tract of land that is technically not considered to be in a subdivision. This 35 acre rule is the case in most of the counties in Colorado however, there are some exceptions such as Weld County. Because of the state rules, zoning and other regulations that the state or county might impose on you as a landowner are not in effect such as water and sewer systems, curb and gutter, etc. What you might pay for a 2 or 5 acre lot in a subdivision may be close to the same price you might buy 35 acres because all of this infrastructure did not have to be approved and installed.
Water is another reason why 35 acres is a magic acreage. Typically a 35 acre parcel can receive a permit for a well that is less restrictive and can allow for more uses such as livestock watering. Once you fall below the 35 acres, livestock watering may not be available unless other conditions are met. Those exceptions are varied depending on circumstances more specific to the property you might be buying.
As a general rule, if over 35 acres, your permit would allow up to 15 gallons per minute, irrigate an acre of ground and water livestock, under 35 acres those uses could be reduced or eliminated entirely, again depending on the specific circumstances of the property. Be aware that in some areas of Colorado water may sometimes be difficult or impossible to locate water, so it is advisable during your inspection of the property to know what to expect. Normally, a local well driller in the area can provide some advice, or visit the Colorado Division of Water Resources for more information. Permits for wells are relatively simple to acquire from the state and a knowledgeable broker can assist you with this process. A real benefit to having a well is not having a monthly water bill. Infrequently, some maintenance on the pump or well may be required.
Some properties may have specific water rights such as ditch rights or an irrigation well. Ditch rights may be available in certain areas and can be beneficial for crop or hay production. Irrigation wells, although sometimes available on 35 acre type properties, are a pretty rare occurrence.
Generally, sanitary systems are not going to be a sewer system operated by a district. Rather you would have a septic system for disposing of your human waste which is comprised of a septic tank and a leech field. These are typically well functioning systems that may need some cleaning on occasion.
Utilities such as electric and phone are many times adjacent to the property, but this is not always the case and should be confirmed during your inspection period to make sure there are no additional pro-rated costs that could surface after purchasing the property. Many times natural gas will not be available in rural areas, instead propane is substituted for natural gas by way of a large tank that is normally above ground (sometimes underground is available). In more remote areas, you may find that none of these services are available and it is not feasible due to the cost to bring such services to the property. When this occurs, you may consider an off the grid system which can be a combination of wind, solar, solar well pump and back-up propane generator. There have been many advances in these options in the past decade and they are very functional in more remote areas.
Even though you may not be in a subdivision sometimes there may be covenants or restrictions on the property placed on the property by the person who owned the property previously which could be the original rancher or farmer, or a developer of the 35 acre tracts. The covenants may be very modest covenants simply to help preserve value of the property, or more detailed, similar to what you might see in a neighborhood subdivision. You should review these covenants to make certain you are comfortable with what you will be able to do on your property.
One of your main reasons for purchasing a 35 acre parcel is to have animals such as horses, cattle, etc. Keep in mind that Colorado is a semi-arid state and a 35 acre of land can’t support a large number of animals on it without providing supplemental feed. If you are looking to have horses to ride, it is sometimes preferable to have some additional area to ride on. In some 35 acre type areas bridal easements may be in place for the general use of the people living in the immediate area.
Over the past few years there has been much discussion regarding minerals (oil and gas primarily). You cannot necessarily rely on an owner’s knowledge of the mineral rights they may or may not own. The owner is probably not trying to misinform you, they actually may think they own more than they do. Minerals rights can be severed from the surface and a title commitment on the property may not be accurate as to ownership of minerals on a particular parcel of land. To be certain, it would require a mineral abstract done by an attorney which can be fairly expensive and we have normally found that most sellers are not willing to pay for an abstract. Many, many times, some if not all of the minerals have been severed from the property. You might receive some ownership, but very possibly not all. Therefore, a person that owns the minerals may allow an oil/gas company to drill for the product. Your say in this may be in negotiating location of the drilling and potential surface damage payments that is provided to you. The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission can also provide additional information on these issues.
Experience in Colorado indicates that a high percentage of land sold does not come with all of the minerals and many times none of the minerals. If owning the minerals is a major consideration in you purchasing a property, to eliminate time and effort, you should make this known immediately to the seller or land broker when inquiring about a property.
Depending on where the property may be located there may be BLM or National Forest close by or adjacent to the property. If this is an important consideration because of wanting access to more land for some of your uses (hunting, horseback riding, etc.) you should make this known to your broker immediately so other properties without that option are not considered for your purchase. You should also expect that these properties may be more difficult to locate and also will have a higher value attached to them.
Most have heard the adage of “location, location, location” and this is also true for the 35 acre type of properties. The closer to town or ski areas, the more expensive. It also holds true if the property has access to Forest Land, has ditch rights or an irrigation well, has trees on the property or has water on the property such as a creek or pond and a buyer should be prepared for a higher price because of the location or various beneficial attributes to the property.
Financing is typically available for large land tracts however, your options of financing such land parcels are not the same as financing a home. Many banks are not interested in this kind of financing. Better avenues might be the local banks in rural areas that are familiar with land in their area. If working with a land broker, the broker should be able to provide assistance with some contacts. You should expect to have a higher interest rate, shorter term and a larger down payment for land loans.