Steps to Buying Land in Washington State

The following observations have been written as a simple guide to the process of buying land in Washington State and building properties. Whether you’re looking at real estate in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, or other areas, there are things to be aware of when looking to buy land in Washington State. The characteristics of the land for sale will subsequently affect your choice as to what home you will choose to build.

New Property Purchasing

If you’ve found the perfect plot of land for sale and are wondering what home to put on it you should do some simple research to obtain critical existing information about the land for sale before purchasing such as . . .

  • Lot topography
  • Wetlands
  • Property lines
  • Tree removal-some cities and counties regulate this
  • Road(s) and access
  • Water
  • Sewer or on-site sewer (septic systems)

Lot Topography

If you are looking to buy land in Washington that has some slope on it, you will want to determine where to put the home on the flattest part of the land to minimize construction cost. If the area you want to place the home is the only spot on the land and it has a slope, you will need to adjust the cost of the home upwards to cover the cost of any additional concrete for the crawlspace or a walkout basement. You may also need to obtain the services of a Geologist so as to determine any factors that might affect the home’s location or surrounding areas in which the home will be built. This is commonly referred to in new home construction as a GeoTech Survey.


With increased population growth in our areas this has increased attention towards safeguarding wetlands. They serve a purpose for our environment, but at times can make building a bit cumbersome for the land buyers. What can you do? Pay a visit to your county for any existing records or maps regarding the land that you plan on purchasing. The county maps and with the assistance of the person at the counter can help you to understand any wetland issue that might arise in your goal of building. This is a great way to start. Please, do not take the word of the seller. Unless they have existing, recorded documents that allay any issues about the wetlands, be sure to do your own due diligence throughout the sale.

Having wetlands does not necessarily mean that you can not build, it just may mean you will have to develop the property according to Washington State mandated laws or laws that are governed by the Federal Government. Oftentimes a persistent land buyer can obtain property with “issues” at a reduced rate due to the bulk of work that may be needed to build on that vacant land. But, you will want to do your research to make sure that it is buildable first.

Property Lines

Noting where property lines exist is a crucial part to determining where you will build your new True Built Home. Land with fewer acres pose an equal if not greater challenge than several acres of land due to the size. Each county and city have varying degrees of setbacks.

What are setbacks? These are areas off the property lines where you can start building. Some cities have 5,7 or even zero property line setbacks. A simple call to the city’s land and building service department should help you obtain maps and records with the needed information, allowing you to figure out what the square feet of your home should be and remaining usable acreage. Make sure that if you find a lot and then it fails through; do not assume that the property line setback will be the same for the next lot. Setbacks can change from one street to the next street over. It would be wise to make a call to determine if any change in the setback for the new lot. This information would equally apply to counties.

Of course the best way to determine setbacks and property lines is by survey. The prices vary depending on the size of the land and the location. Often before someone decides to put their land up for sale they have it surveyed for any prospective buyer. If they have not, sellers and buyers may agree to go in half for the survey. NOTE: Do not assume that if you have a survey that this will solve Geographical issues or wetland issues. Those are separate and may have nothing to do with land surveying.

If you have your property lines and you are aware of your setbacks, then you will be able to determine your “building envelope”. The building envelope of your land is the area that you can place your home or other structures on the property. The building envelope can also help you determine the square feet of your new home or other structures, giving you parameters to start the building process with.

Tree Removal

Some areas of Washington State have moratoriums on tree removal. This may mean that the land in Washington can be sold but not cleared. You will need to determine this ahead of time. The best location to obtain current laws regarding this is the Washington State Department of Agriculture.


Does your lot have a road to it? You might assume that it does but unless the easement to the road has been recorded, it might just remain a trail forever. This critical question can be simple to find out by paying a visit to the city or county that you are going to buy land in. Although this is a rare occurrence, we have seen this before. To build a home on your land, you will need to have good access to the land for trucks to bring materials.

Will you need to make road improvements? Some cities and counties require their residents who build a new home to make road improvements that can cost additional funds. Often the land may be discounted as a result. Check with your city or county for road improvement laws. NOTE: If road improvements are required, a civil engineer would like to be needed to officially submit a work order to the city.

Local Water Service

Likely the area you will be building in will have water either provided by a water company or city. These entities require that you pay for the meter to be placed at your lot. The cost will vary, so do your due diligence. If the land for sale had a home on it before then more than likely it has a meter on the property. This would obviously affect the cost of obtaining the water needed for your home. A simple call to the water district, or PUD will help you to determine this.


Most states require well-drilling companies to log or record the wells that they drill. As this is the case in Washington State, it will be easier to determine the depth that the well you may need to drill on your land will cost. This is not a fail-safe procedure. Some have had to drill deeper than a neighbor, and you might too. However, surrounding neighbors can help you to determine a depth based on their wells. Well prices are pretty competitive. We recommend going with a more recognized driller. NOTE: Your lender, if you are using one, will require a “certificate of water availability”. This is critical to assure the bank that the home will have water. This can be obtained from your local PUD or city. If you are having a well drilled, the driller will test the water with your local health department and then they will give you a water certification if the water is deemed safe to drink. The certificate will likely indicate the strength of flow for the well.

Sewer And On-Site Sewer (Septic Systems)

Your lot or vacant land will need to have the ability to dispose of sewage. Most city lots and some outside the city limits have sewers. The cost to connect will vary on conditions such as depth of the main sewer line, road improvements and distance. Check with your city as they have records indicating where the sewer lines run.

On-Site Sewer

Better known as septic systems. What your county will require that you put in place to care for your home’s sewer needs may be determined by soil conditions more than man-made laws. A septic designer will need to be hired. He will dig holes to test the soil conditions. Many think that pouring water in the holes is what determines soil condition. This is not the case. What they are looking for are types of soils and water table marks. A septic designer can often tell by looking at the holes what type of system will need to be designed in order for your land to meet on-site sewer laws. There are several types of septic systems. Read about them here.

As can be noted, development at times can seem a little daunting. Don’t be alarmed. It is most likely that the land you are interested in purchasing will have little or no issues. Think too of the tremendous equity that can be had. Oftentimes, if not the majority of times, building a house may mean you save as much as 1/3 or even more of the price for a new house of equal size and location. If you love the idea of saving thousands of dollars when purchasing your next home, then don’t be discouraged. True Built Home is here to assist in the greatest way possible. Please feel free to contact us.


The aforementioned land development needs should not be misunderstood to imply posts from Washington State/city/ or county laws and enforcement. It is rather, a simple outline of what you may or may not encounter while purchasing and or developing your land. The writers of this information are not surveyors, septic designer’s lawyers or civil engineers. Neither do they work for the counties, city, or Washington State. The writer encourages all home buyers to do their own due diligence to the investment when they buy land in Washington.

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