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Protect Your Land Before You Sell

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

This piece was published on June 10, 2022, in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal and is published here with edits to include additional resources.

More than ever, Spartanburg County landowners are in a position to make a difference for generations to come. The real estate market, according to some real estate agents, is “insane” and the short supply of land and high demand for housing has inflated prices, reduced listing times, and resulted in some of the fastest development growth this county has seen.

What can be done to hold onto the character of this place we all call home? First, it takes landowner willpower. The folks who hold land today have the biggest say in what our community looks like tomorrow. Corporations and people alike shape Spartanburg’s landscape. Their values become the community’s values when they decide how their property is put to use. Do we value short-term interests or long-term sustainability? Is there a balance between helping ourselves now and in the future?

I’m sure it happens more than anyone would like: a landowner sold a piece of property – perhaps one that has been in the family for generations – only to discover it was developed in a way that went against their intent or perhaps even promises made during negotiations. What can be done to protect against broken promises and undesired future use?

One way to make your mark on the future of Spartanburg’s landscape is to place a conservation easement on your land. We have a few land trusts in Spartanburg to help. A conservation easement can be a flexible document; it doesn’t have to be a total ban of development on a property. An owner can identify areas where any future building is allowed and areas where conservation values take precedence. A great benefit to the conservation easement is that the easement holder, or land trust, has a duty to enforce the agreement for generations to come. If, however, you have a smaller property, you might not be able to work with a Land Trust due to their acreage minimums. So then what?

The Land Trust Alliance has great resources about conservation easements. Learn more

While they’re not as powerful a tool as the conservation easement, deed restrictions are a fine way for some landowners to preserve the character of their property. There’s no “holder” of a deed restriction in the same way a conservation easement has a land trust to enforce the terms of the easement. They also don’t always hold up in court if circumstances significantly change. However, a deed restriction is a tool a landowner can use to prevent unwanted future use of the property. When properly drafted and recorded they’re considered “appurtenant” meaning they “run with the land.” This is to say they stay with the property, regardless of who owns it in the future. A deed restriction, or covenant, could limit development within a certain number of feet of a waterbody. It could also limit the number of buildings on the property, or the amount of land that can be cleared. It’s up to the person recording the restriction to express their values and goals for the property.

Both conservation easements and deed restrictions will affect the property’s value. Since the property has rules about its use, some buyers will be deterred from buying, especially if their intent is to develop or flip the property. Remember, you’re removing some of the utility of the land and a selling price will reflect it. However, as a landowner interested in selling, you’ll know your property will be kept in the state you desire. Other great benefits come with easements and restrictions. You’ll attract the kinds of buyers who have similar values as your own. You also won’t have to see your former parcel converted to some unwanted use next time you drive by. Most importantly, you’ll make your mark on the way Spartanburg County looks in the future.

In a time when it’s attractive to sell to the highest bidder and land deals happen more rapidly every day, you have options! Speak with a land trust and your lawyer before cashing in on your property in this “insane” market. And make sure a buyer’s promises to protect your property are put in writing and “run with the land”.

This article does not constitute legal advice. Consult an attorney before altering your property’s legal condition.

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