Land Buyer's Guide for Rural Arizona

This information is intended for those who are considering a move
to any of the small rural towns in Arizona.

Never buy Arizona land sight unseen. It may have one or more of the following problems:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

Property
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 easements carefully.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
Access
  1. Rural towns have many unpaved dirt roads. Being able to drive to your property does not guarantee access at all times.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Extreme weather conditions can destroy roads. Check to see if your road is properly engineered and constructed.
  6. 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 reconstruction.
  7. 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!
  8. 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 and times.
  9. Unpaved roads generate dust. Roads in many towns are not treated for dust suppression, making dust a fact of life for residents.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
Utilities
  1. If certain utilities are not available at your property, check with the utility companies about their plans for future service expansion.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 run.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Some aquifers serving wells are in danger of contamination from toxic waste dumps. See the website Poisoned Wells for an example.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. If sewer service is available for your lot, check with the local sewer company about costs to connect and recurring charges.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
Mother Nature
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 problems.
    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.
  5. 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.
Livestock
  1. 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.
  2. 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 livestock.
  3. 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.
Neighbors
  1. 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.
  2. 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
  1. What is the property's Tax Parcel Number?
  2. What is the property's zoning?

  3. Is the property accessed by a county right-of-way?
  4. Is the property accessed by a private roadway?
  5. If yes, is it a recorded easement?
  6. If yes, what is the county recorder's document number?
  7. Is the width of the easement sufficient for your needs?
  8. Does the county maintain this road?

  9. Does the local water company have a meter serving this property?
  10. If not, at what compass direction from the center point of the property is the nearest water company main?
  11. How many feet from the property boundary is this main?
  12. Is there a recorded easement from this water main to the property boundary?
  13. If yes, what is the county recorder's document number for the easement?

  14. Does the local power company have an electric meter serving this property?
  15. If not, at what compass direction from the center point of the property is the nearest primary utility pole with electric power?
  16. How many feet from the property boundary is this pole?
  17. Is there a recorded easement from this pole to the property boundary?
  18. If yes, what is the county recorder's document number for the easement?

  19. Is the property within a local sanitation company district?
  20. If no, has a percolation test been conducted on the property?
  21. If yes, did it pass or fail? Obtain results.
  22. 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.

  23. Is the property within a fire station district?

This guide was adapted from the True Oracle Land Buyer's Guide.