Buying a rural block

We found that buying in rural NSW was a pretty big change from buying a house in town. There a few things to look out for, and some of them are more important than what the house looks like, or whether there’s a DLUG or induction cooktops or fancy power outlets. Of all the things to consider, access is usually the first hurdle because if you buy a property, you probably want to be able to get there. Zoning would be the second and both of these can be checked online if you're happy to do some backyard conveyancing.

Access

There is land for sale all over the place and some of it has no legal access. We found an incredible block early on, we even spent a couple of weekends there with friends but after talking to the neighbours and conducting title searches we found that there was no way of legally accessing the land. It was too bad because the block is incredible, rising up to 1500m (that’s just under 5000 American) but it was a bit too far away to be any more than a weekender. So sure, physical access is usually possible through neighbourly gentlemen’s agreements but when ownership changes or the neighbourly relationship take a turn you’re out of luck if there’s no established legal access.

There are at least two main ways, and one theoretical way to access land. I’ll cover the theoretical bit last.

Council roads

Council roads are public roads that anyone with a corflakes card and a barina can drive on. They can be dirt or sealed. Access via a council road is the most convenient and well defined form of access. It’s great because you don’t have to maintain the road, the council does and there’s no uncertainty about how you get to your block.

In the areas we were looking this kind of access generally lead to former sheep country that had been subdivided into 100 acre lots.  The blocks often had big houses on flat land with few trees. Access was easy to establish but the prices were high and the topo was mundane.

Easements

An easement is a right of passage or use that a person has over someone else’s land. Through easements you can cross another person’s land to access your own. In NSW easements are listed on land titles and registered with Land and Property Information. There’s a good overview of easements here.

To establish legal access, your lot will need to be benefited by easements over each lot you need to cross to get to it. To check this, your conveyancer will need to pull the titles for each lot and check there’s an easement that benefits your land. If you’re keen you can do this too using  SIX Maps to identify the lot and DP (Development Plan) number of the lots you need access through. Then, you can do a land title search through one of the LPI’s information brokers.

Easements are a common and practical way to access rural land. There are limits today on how many easements can be in place to access land, but back in the day there was no limit so it’s not uncommon to cross 5 or more other lots.

Crown land, road reserves or paper roads

Theoretical roads. These exist on maps. Some of them have been surveyed with the future of flying cars in mind and they can traverse cliffs like they’re as flat as croquet lawn. They’ll abruptly end in the middle of the bush and then appear on the map a kilometer (0.62 American) later. In other words, they often don’t really provide practical access to the land.

Land use zones

Another critical factor. Councils make the rules when it comes to what you can and can’t do on a particular block of land. There are a range of zones that will be detailed in a Local Environment Plan for your area available on the local council’s website or www.legislation.nsw.gov.au. You’ll need to check the zone land is in, and the restrictions and types of development that are permissible in that zone. Some restrictions may also be on the land title. Restrictions for environmental zones can include things like not destroying, moving or burning timber either fallen or standing, so it’s definitely worth checking the zone if you’re relying on building anything or a supply of firewood.

Who to talk to

Agents and owners are not reliable sources of information on this so it pays to do a bit of fact checking yourself. This will also mean you’re more informed during discussions with your conveyancer if it looks like a deal. When it comes to conveyancers, choose someone local with experience in the area and contacts in the local council. There are intricacies in every council’s rules and confusing old system and torrens titles numbering for blocks and lot numbers. Conveyancing rural land can to be more complicated than urban work, so finding the right conveyancer is worth a few phone calls. The neighbours and others in the community will also be helpful, so knock on some doors or go have dinner at the local pub on a Friday night.

There’s a lot more in this but it’s Christmas party season and there's revelry to attend to. Leave a comment if you want to share your experience.

- Adam