Everything You Need to Know About Land Loans

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Buying a parcel of land, either as a long term investment or on which to build a new home, is not quite as simple as you might think. Unless you’re in a position to pay cash up front, you’ll need to borrow some money to finance the purchase. But borrowing money to purchase raw land is not quite that straight forward.

Land loans are unique financial products, and they are handled differently than mortgages and other secured loans. If you’ve never purchased land before, you may find the process a bit more challenging than you expected. But a short primer should help you understand how land loans work, and what your options are when looking for a lender.

Land Loans vs Traditional Mortgages

Banks and other lenders tend to view land loans with a wary eye, and consider them to be more of a risk than a standard mortgage. The reason for this is simple. Borrowers are much less likely to walk away from a home loan, particularly if the property is being used as a primary residence. Moreover, a house on a lot has greater value on the open market, and makes for a more secure form of collateral. Undeveloped land, on the other hand, doesn’t deliver the same degree of investment security for the creditor.

People are much more likely to walk away from a land loan than a mortgage, potentially leaving the lender with an unimproved parcel of land which they will have to sell to recoup their losses. Consequently, land loans can be more difficult to obtain, particularly if you don’t have a definite plan in place to improve the property and increase its value. Banks also tend to charge a higher rate of interest to offset the additional risk.

Financing Considerations

There are a number of variables that can influence your financing options when buying a piece of land. The most important of these is the land itself, its location, and how it will be used. While any parcel of land has some intrinsic value as a real asset, you are much more likely to be approved for a loan if you can show that it also has value as an investment. Location is key, and lenders are much more likely to underwrite a loan for a prime piece of desirable real estate than for a plot of land in the outskirts of nowhere. Should you default on the loan, they will have an easier time disposing of the collateral and offsetting any potential losses.

Another key consideration for lenders is the nature of the land you will be buying. For example, raw land is deemed a far greater risk, and is much more difficult to finance. That’s because it lacks any man-made improvements (clearing, roads, sewer, water), and it will take a major influx of time and money to increase the land’s market value. Buying raw land can be significantly cheaper than buying already improved land, but it will be harder to find a lender willing to finance your purchase. If you do find a lender willing to work with you on your purchase of a raw parcel, you may find that your loan will fall under the umbrella of commercial lending, in which case you should expect higher interest rates and more restrictive repayment terms.