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Just as no two people are exactly alike neither are any two properties, whether bare land or improved.  Here in the Bitterroot Valley there are certain considerations that are critical to the purchase of property, especially bare land.  Water, water rights, wells, septic systems, bridges, roads, easements, utilities, and permitting are all important and require at least a basic understanding by the would-be buyer.

Water and Wells

Perhaps the most important consideration when considering purchasing property in Montana is the availability of sufficient water.  Unless you live in an area served by a municipal water company you will need to dig a well.  Digging a well might sound like a routine procedure but there are certain areas where water is hard to get.   This is an area where our knowledge of the area and our network of local contacts can be a real asset to potential buyers.  We have access to the DNRC Water Rights Bureau water rights and well log data base and are able to quickly assemble information about the depth and flow rate of all recorded wells in the surrounding area which is being considered for a home site.  Of course, there is never a guarantee of a successful well but the information we can provide will be a great help in making this important decision.  Many buyers make the drilling of a successful well a contingency in the purchase agreement in order to avoid any unpleasant surprises.  The buyer usually pays for the well and the seller agrees to postpone closing until the well is successfully completed.  Buyers should be sure to state the maximum depth and minimum flow rate they will accept.  The going price for a well is approximately $23 per foot not including the pump, pressure tank, and wiring.  Be prudent and deal only with a licensed, bonded well drilling contractor.

Water Rights

In Western Montana water is scarce and therefore precious.  Nothing is more misunderstood and fought over in Montana than water rights.  Water rights date back to the 1800's and "first in time is first in right".  This means that when there is a drought those whose water rights are dated the most recent will lose their water soonest.  Water rights transfers are done at closing and fees are generally below $100.

Records are kept by the DNRC Water Rights Bureau and may easily be accessed online.  There are also field offices located around the state to help you should you need personal service.  Private water consultants may be hired to provide reports on specific properties and water rights.  Fees for these services are usually reasonable, between $100 and $500 depending on the effort required.  In short, get informed and avoid unpleasant surprises.

Septic System

Septic systems are a way of life in rural Montana.    It is vitally important in Montana to verify that the property you are interested in meets all the requirements needed to obtain a septic permit.  Septic permitting falls under the jurisdiction of county authorities in Montana and can be a complicated procedure.  The ground water level is critical in determining whether a septic is suitable for a particular property and high ground water can make a septic permit an impossibility.  The type of soil and terrain can also affect the suitability of property for a septic.  This is one area where our knowledge of the local area can be a real benefit to you.  Don't just assume you can put a septic system anywhere.  Know before you buy!

Roads and Bridges

Montana is a large state with a small population and does not have the funds to adequately maintain all the roads and bridges in the state.  This makes it important to determine ownership and maintenance of roads and bridges in advance that provide access to the property being considered for purchase.  A road that is nice in the summer may be impassable in the winter.  There is also the matter of maintenance fees on private roads to be considered.  These are usually reasonable but should be known in advance of any property purchase to avoid unpleasant surprises.  Let us provide you with this information before you buy.


Please be sure to inquire about the availability of electric and telephone service in areas you are interested in.  These services are not always available in Montana and the cost of providing them can be prohibitive.  There are easements to consider in addition to $6 - $8 per foot to run the underground cable.  Please let us help determine the availability and feasibility of services in the area you are considering.


In some rural counties building permits are not required for certain types of buildings (farm structures, residences of less than 5 dwelling units, private garages, and private storage buildings).  All electrical work requires permitting and inspection.  Plumbing permits are required to hook up to public water systems and sewer systems.  Homeowners, however, may do their own plumbing without a permit on their own homes.  Farms and ranches are exempt from permitting.


An easement is the right to use the land of another for a particular purpose.  An appurtenant easement is annexed to the ownership of one parcel and allows the owner the use of a neighbor's land.  The easement transfers with the property and is said to run with the land.  It is considered an encumbrance.

One type of easement to be especially wary of is an easement by prescription.  When a claimant has made use of another's property for 5 years or more in Montana an easement by prescription may be acquired.  The claimants use must have been continuous, exclusive and without the owner's approval.

Conservation easements are a way to protect natural habitats for wildlife and plant life.  It is similar to donating assets to charity in that it benefits the donor with tax benefits and benefits the public by preserving land from development.  High income buyers may find it advantageous to acquire property and place a conservation easement on it.  The resulting loss in value results in a charitable contribution that can be deducted from gross income.  Property taxes are also reduced.  Estate taxes can also be reduced and can enable heirs to keep the property rather than being forced to sell it to pay estate taxes.  If this interests you I will be glad to provide you with additional information.


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