Land Buyer's Guide for Rural Arizona
This information is intended for those who are considering a move
Never buy Arizona land sight unseen.
to any of the small rural towns in Arizona.
It may have
one or more of the following problems:
- The property may be in the middle of a wash. If the site has a ravine
or stream running through it then it may be a major drainage path for
rainwater from surrounding properties during Arizona's monsoon rains.
How high is the surrounding cliff bordering the ravine? That is how much
water will come pouring down that little creek bed when a wildfire burns
the vegetation miles upstream from the property.
Nothing will survive the torrent of water. Not buildings, trees, shrubs,
or vehicles. Corpses of homeowners have been found hundreds of yards
downstream from their flood-wrecked homes.
- Lack of water. If there is no piped water, it may have to be hauled from
miles away by tanker truck at some expense. The water table may be too
deep to make drilling a well practical. The entire state of Arizona
has insufficient water. Some rural places have none.
- Inaccessibility. There may be no vehicular access to the property due to
the presence of steep canyons or ridges in the path of the road that would
be expected to reach the site.
Easements are no guarantee of vehicular access. Beware of ranch "
developments" where only a map was developed, not the land. Do you
enjoy backpacking over steep terrain?
- You may be provided with a plat of your property, the accuracy of which can
be confirmed by having your property surveyed by a licensed surveyor.
- Fences, roads, and other physical landmarks that separate
properties may be misaligned with the true property lines.
A survey of a property is the only way to confirm the location
of property lines.
- In most counties you can check with the Planning and Development
Department to confirm that a property's zoning is compatible with how
you wish to use it.
- The land around your property may change. You can check with your
county's Planning and Development Department to find out how the
surrounding properties are zoned and to see what future developments
are planned. The view from your property may change.
- Some areas have covenants and/or zoning restrictions that
may limit the use of a property. It is important to obtain a copy of
these guidelines (or confirm that there are none) and make sure that you
can live with them.
- Land buyers can use a Vacant Land Seller's Property Disclosure
Statement, which is a document provided by the realtor, to learn
important facts about a property. You must verify the accuracy of this
document. For example, the phrase "electricity is at the lot
line" may not be correct.
- Easements may require you to allow others to construct roads and
utility lines across your land. There may be easements that are not
of record and therefore are not enforceable. Check issues concerning
- Property buyers should locate the nearest fire hydrant to their lot
and determine if its location is sufficient for their
needs and their homeowner's insurance requirements. Hydrant installation
is expensive, but costs much less when installed with a water main.
- Some counties, such as Pinal, issue the legal address number with
the House Permit, not with the land title. In these counties, apply for
the House Permit early so that insurance or mortgage paperwork does not
have to be re-done.
- Rural towns have many unpaved dirt roads. Being able to drive
to your property does not guarantee access at all times.
- Response times of firefighters, the sheriff's department and
paramedics may be slow in extreme conditions. A reflective lot
address should be posted where it is visible from the street.
County ordinance may require this.
- If you gain access across property belonging to others, it is
wise to obtain legal advice and verify easements through the
county recorder's office.
- While your county maintains most roads, some properties are
served by private and public roads that are maintained by those
who use them. Some county roads may not be maintained by your
county. Contact your local highway department to determine what
type of maintenance is performed and who provides it.
- Extreme weather conditions can destroy roads. Check to see if
your road is properly engineered and constructed.
- Your county will repair and maintain county roads. All other
roads, however, are the responsibility of the landowners who use
them. A dry wash or ditch can become a raging torrent and wash
out roads, bridges and culverts necessitating repair or
- Check for adequate vehicle access before you build because
some roads are too narrow for large vehicles. If you are having
a manufactured home delivered to your lot, be sure that the access
road is wide enough to allow passage and that it is not too steep
and has no sharp turns that would be difficult for large trailers.
If there is a fence along both sides of the narrow access road,
you should ask for permission, before you buy the property, to
remove one or both fences for temporary truck passage. The
landowner may refuse permission!
- When they have driven more than one mile from the school,
school buses may travel only on county maintained roads. You may
need to drive your children to the nearest county road to catch a
bus. Your local school district can provide you with bus schedules
- Unpaved roads generate dust. Roads in many towns are not treated
for dust suppression, making dust a fact of life for residents.
- The post office may not deliver to your rural house. Instead,
you may be given a mail box in the local post office. Ask the
postmaster if delivery is available in your area.
- Building a rural residence may be more expensive and time
consuming because of added delivery fees and the extra time
subcontractors need to reach your site. Expect delays in construction.
- If certain utilities are not available at your property, check
with the utility companies about their plans for future service
- Water rates vary greatly in Arizona because the state consumes
more water than it has ground water available. Some small towns have
the highest water rates in the state. Phoenix and Tucson use water
from the Colorado river.
- The cost of bringing a water main to your property can be very
high. Get a written estimate from the water company and do not rely
on a "guesstimate." Make sure you know the proposed
location of the water meter and where the water pipe will likely
- The pipe used to run water from the meter to your house
may have a reducer joint from 1" to 3/4" diameter pipe.
This is the point where an underground pvc pipe is most often
likely to spring a leak after 10 years or so. If you know the
location of this reducer joint, you will know where to dig when
your water bills start going up unexpectedly. Underground leaks
at pvc pipe joints can double your water bill each month. Toilet
tank leaks can also double monthly water bills.
- If piped water is not available, you may need to dig a well,
join a well cooperative, or have water trucked in weekly. Wells are
often expensive to install and maintain.
If an electric pump is used and the motor shorts out, you may be
without water for a week and face huge replacement costs. Get an
estimate for these charges.
- Some aquifers serving wells are in danger of contamination
from toxic waste dumps. See the website
Poisoned Wells for an example.
- It is important to determine the proximity of electrical power
to your property. If there is no utility pole on your property line
or within 30 feet, you may have to pay additional charges for
installation of a primary pole and transformer. If you want an
underground line to your house instead of poles and an overhead wire,
an electric pedestal will be placed next to your house and you will
pay substantially more for installation. Check with the local power
company to determine costs for your lot as soon as possible. Do not
trust property disclosure document statements on utility issues.
- Be prepared for significant power outages year round. Small rural
towns are like third world countries when it comes to electric power.
You should anticipate interruptions and power surges which may cause
problems with computers and other electronic equipment. Keep several
LED flashlights instead of candles.
LED flashlights last a long time on one set of batteries, do not
pollute the air, and will not burn the house down.
- If sewer service is available for your lot, check with the local
sewer company about costs to connect and recurring charges.
- Sewer service is unavailable for many rural locations and an
approved septic system will be required. The type of soil you have
available for a leach field will be very important in determining
the cost and function of your system. Make the purchase of the
property contingent upon a successful percolation test.
- Contact your county's Department of Health if you want to install
a gray water system. Gray water can be used to water shrubs and trees.
Do not expect to own a lawn unless it is warm season, dry soil grass
such as Buffalo grass that uses little water and tolerates drought.
- Natural gas service may be available in your area and your realtor
will have the phone number of the provider. If natural gas is not
available, neighbors may be able to tell you which companies supply
liquid propane to your area and who has the best rates. If there is
already a propane tank on the property, find out if it is owned or
rented. If it is rented, you need to know the name of the company
that rents it because only they will provide propane for that tank.
- If telephone service is provided in your area, Internet DSL
service is also often available without toll charges. Satellite
Internet is always available, but has built-in delay times on back
and forth interactions. Large file download times can be quick.
- For new houses on undeveloped rural property, the phone company
may take up to 30 days to send an engineer to provide an estimate
of the fee they will charge to extend a telephone line. When you
place the order for new service where no phone line exists, ask for
a new phone number rather than transferring an old number. You may
want to move into your new house before phone service is available,
and disconnecting your old phone number could cause the order for
a new phone line to be canceled and re-issued, delaying the new
service by weeks.
- It may be necessary to cross property owned by others in order
to extend utilities to your property in the most cost effective
manner. It is important to ensure that proper easements are in
place to allow utilities to be brought to your property.
- While vegetation around your home can be attractive, it can also involve your home in a wildfire.
"Defensible perimeters" are recommended by the State Fire Marshall for protecting buildings
from wildfire and for protecting vegetation from igniting. Trees and shrubs should be more than 30 feet
from a building. If you require a propane tank, its location should be vegetation-free.
- Topography determines the volume and direction of water
runoff across your property. When drainage ways are altered, the
results could damage your property and that of your neighbors.
- Flash floods can occur throughout the year, turning a dry wash
into a river. It is wise to take this possibility into account
when situating a building.
- Rural development encroaches on the natural habitat of coyotes,
bobcats, mountain lions, javelina, deer, snakes, rats, scorpions and
other critters. It is best to enjoy wildlife from a distance and
know that failure to handle pets and trash properly can cause
Do not feed wildlife! Coyotes going after leftover dog and cat food may take your cat or small dog next.
Seed blocks left out for quail will attract javelina who will enjoy using the block as a soccer ball.
- Do not surround your house with gravel unless it is kept well away from the house.
Gravel attracts scorpions which love to enter buildings and find their way into bedrooms in search of insects.
- Arizona has an open range law. This means that if you do not
want livestock crossing or browsing your property, it is your
responsibility to fence them out. It is not the responsibility of
the rancher to keep his livestock off your property.
- Livestock may be permitted in some parts of your town. Animals
and their manure can cause objectionable odors. Your county may
have a handbook containing allowances and restrictions regarding
- If the property next to yours has animal pens or dog kennels
and is on higher ground, you should consider the possibility of
septic water runoff coming onto your property. Make sure this is
not a problem. If your water supply pipe is under this area,
consider finding another property.
- Check the surrounding properties. Do any of them have trash blown against the fence and litter in the yard?
Is any property a rental? Do tenants change frequently?
If the house next door is below your standards, you might consider avoiding the property.
- It is possible to do a criminal background check on your nearest neighbors.
Many states and counties have court records online listing criminal proceedings which can
be accessed using person's name or property address.
Land Buyer's Check List
- What is the property's Tax Parcel Number?
- What is the property's zoning?
- Is the property accessed by a county right-of-way?
- Is the property accessed by a private roadway?
- If yes, is it a recorded easement?
- If yes, what is the county recorder's document number?
- Is the width of the easement sufficient for your needs?
- Does the county maintain this road?
- Does the local water company have a meter serving this property?
- If not, at what compass direction from the center point
of the property is the nearest water company main?
- How many feet from the property boundary is this main?
- Is there a recorded easement from this water main to the
- If yes, what is the county recorder's document number for
- Does the local power company have an electric meter serving this property?
- If not, at what compass direction from the center point of
the property is the nearest primary utility pole with electric
- How many feet from the property boundary is this pole?
- Is there a recorded easement from this pole to the
- If yes, what is the county recorder's document number for
- Is the property within a local sanitation company district?
- If no, has a percolation test been conducted on the property?
- If yes, did it pass or fail? Obtain results.
- If the test failed, where on the property was the test
conducted? The best location for percolation is where native
vegetation is growing thickest and highest.
- Is the property within a fire station district?
This guide was adapted from the True Oracle Land Buyer's Guide.