Q: I’m purchasing some land with the purpose of building after my home sells. I’ll be receiving the money for this purchase as a gift from relatives.

The land is for sale by owner. How do I make an offer and close? Do I need a real estate attorney? Does it need to be contingent on the accuracy of the survey?

A: I don’t know where you live, but since you are purchasing this property “by owner,” that is, without the assistance of a real estate agent, you should probably hire a real estate attorney who can help you put together a proper offer to purchase contract.

Basically, an “offer to purchase” includes the address of the property, how much you’re paying for it, and the date of closing, among other legal matters. You may also wish to include a financing contingency — in case you can’t get a mortgage for the property, if you’re applying for one.

You simply fill out the offer-to-purchase form your attorney will give you (or, you can probably pick up a generic one in any stationary store, though I would beware of using one like that without having an attorney look it over first). Include the amount you wish to pay and present it to the seller. Give the seller a specific amount of time (say, 24 to 48 hours) in which to either counter the offer, decline or accept it. After that time, the offer should expire — that’s something the contract should state in writing.

The contract should also talk about what is included with the property, if there are any outbuildings on the property, and should specify that the purchase is contingent on the survey (so you know you’re buying what you think you’re buying). You might also want the contract to address such matters as whether there is water and sewer on the property or available to the property, and if local zoning regulations will permit you to build what you want.

In the contract, you should ask the seller to purchase a title policy for the property, that names you as the beneficiary, so that you know the land you’re purchasing has no title problems. But be aware that in some states, title insurance is solely the buyer’s responsibility.

If you choose not to use an attorney, with whom you should be able to negotiate a flat fee, you’ll need to hire a title or escrow company to facilitate the closing. The attorney will give you legal advice about the contract, disclosures the seller is required to make by law, and can help navigate other legal concerns that arise when purchasing vacant land. The attorney and title/escrow company can assist you in closing and recording the deed.

This is a substantial purchase, and I urge you to at least talk to a real estate attorney to make sure you are protected under state law.

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