For many prospective home buyers, a large private yard is a very attractive feature, but one that can appear to be financially unfeasible. In Greater Boston, land is extremely expensive. According to the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, value of land in Boston’s Metropolitan Statistical Area is the highest in the United States outside of California. How then, can a budget-conscious buyer afford to buy a well-located home with an oversized lot?

The answer to that question requires thinking outside of the box. An unconventional approach to this problem is to actually target land that contains wetlands. Typically, one thought enters the mind of a buyer who hears the word “wetlands”: run away. The presence of wetlands is known to cause such a hassle to some homeowners that many believe wetland purchases should be entirely avoided. The myriad of obstacles wetlands can induce– from regulatory restrictions and red tape, to costly flood insurance premiums (or worse – actual flooding!) – can indeed be a death knell to an unprepared and uneducated buyer. However, with the guidance of a well-educated professional and due diligence, a buyer can learn to turn the burden of wetlands upside down and become empowered to use wetlands as a benefit and not a detriment.

The most important item to understand about wetlands is that they are protected by the Wetlands Protection Act and the Rivers Protection Act. The protections apply to both coastal and inland wetland areas, where development is mostly prohibited in actual wetland areas and highly regulated in the buffer zones that surround them. Furthermore, municipalities often set forth a set of stricter regulations in addition to State regulations. Homeowners/developers must obtain a permit from their local Conservation Commission in order to perform work within a wetland buffer zone. If a permit is issued, the Commission may require mitigation measures that could add to the cost of a project or, in the worst of cases, render it unfeasible. Furthermore, wetlands are often accompanied by FEMA flood zones, which trigger expensive flood insurance premiums and pose an actual risk of flooding. For all of the above reasons, wetlands are significantly less expensive to purchase than uplands.

The value of land is primarily determined by the economic return that it can generate when developed to its full potential. The potential economic return is influenced by factors such as size, location, zoning regulations and market demands. The diminished development potential of wetlands and their buffer areas renders wetlands less valuable economically. For example, a single family home on a large residential parcel that meets the regulatory requirements to be subdivided into two buildable lots will have a much higher value than one that cannot. However, there are residential properties that meet land area requirements for additional development, but cannot be further developed due to the presence of wetlands. Therefore, the additional land area adds little economic value, and little added cost to the property. In Greater Boston, there are residential properties situated on parcels partially covered by wetland areas that do not negatively impact use of the home, but do provide additional land area for privacy, scenery, and passive recreation – all characteristics that can make a homeowner very happy.

It is important not to overlook the challenges presented by buying wetland property, but equally important not to overlook the opportunity. With proper guidance from an experienced professional, a prospective homebuyer has the ability to take control of wetlands and turn their burden into an advantage. At Music Street Realty, we are proud that our legal experience enables us to provide unmatched knowledge to our clients, and to guide them through complex processes such as wetland purchases with relative ease.