11 pitfalls you may encounter when you purchase building land and how to avoid them

You have decided you want to build the house of your dreams. To do this you will have to find a plot of land suitable for this purpose.

You have found a potential building site that's right for you and you have an intense desire to purchase it, but before proceeding you want to be well informed about the process.  

You start searching for information and soon find yourself overwhelmed by the content of dozens of documents, curious concepts and rather absurd advice.  

Does this remind you of a situation you have already experienced? Buying land where a house may be constructed doesn't have to be such a stressful ordeal. 

We are here to help you through the process.

So how should we proceed to ensure that the land-purchasing operation is a smooth process? Follow these tips and you're firmly on your way:

1. First and foremost, make sure that the documentation relating to the plot of land under sale is complete 

Before embarking on this adventure, bear in mind that documentation is king. We know very well what it’s like, for example, when you discover that one of the documents is missing.  

Make sure you have prepared all of the necessary documentation to avoid any mishaps during the initial stage of the process. This is the list of documents that are required: 

- Certificate of ownership (or land-registry certificate): the document proving the right of ownership; 

- Copy of the cadastral plan, which indicates the position and layout of the registered plot of land; 

- Proof of occupancy: the document which contains data relating to the occupier/holders, usage of the land, the surface area and a description of the units located on the plot of land; The proof of occupancy does NOT provide evidence of ownership of the building.  

- Location information: information relating to the location is important for several reasons. It will indicate whether a land-use plan has to be drawn up, whether the realisation of any road infrastructures is in sight, whether or not the plot of land is fitted with any facilities (although this information may be misleading), whether it is located within a protected area etc. 

You should verify whether the plot of land has a double registration (yes, this may also occur!).

To find out how to download the ownership certificates, watch our YouTube video.


Otherwise you can visit the website Zajednički informacijski sustav zemljišnih knjiga i katastra (Common land-registry information system), and access the e-Citizen platform, using your credentials, and download the verified extracts.

The request for a release of information concerning the location must be submitted electronically via the eDozvola system (Electronic Permit) or presented to the competent administrative authority for construction and land-use planning.

2. What conditions have to be satisfied in order to initiate a building project? 

It is very important to verify the conditions established for construction work. After checking the relative information relating to a specific location it would be appropriate to consult a local architect. 

It is also important to consult administrative officials of the local entities responsible for the issuance of permits. 

All sorts of situations may arise! For example, there have been occasions when, following the replacement of certain officials, a particular office has not issued permits relating to situations, the circumstances of which were perfectly identical to those presented in other previous requests. 

We would suggest that you remain focused on the procedure. Acquire all the information you need concerning the relative topics and check everything at least twice. 

3. Is the form of the plot of land suitable for what you have planned? 

The length/width ratio of the area of land upon which buildings may be erected is by no means of secondary importance and, in fact, in most cases it is defined by the land-use plans of the relative local ‘Self-Government’ units. 

For example, if you intend to build a multi-family apartment building you would need to know what the possible length/width ratio of the building would be for a certain type of construction. In any case, in order to ascertain this a part of the plot of land would have to be excluded when the layout of the building space is determined. However, in this case it may occur that the total number of available square metres is not sufficient for the construction of a multi-family housing unit and would only be suitable for a single-family dwelling.     

Conclusion: for a particular edifice the size and form of the plot of land are essential aspects. 

4. The geodetic survey 

On the basis of our own experience a geodetic survey should be carried out before a plot of land is purchased.  

It is possible, however, to encounter a situation where the survey presents a surface area smaller than that indicated in the certificate of ownership. A situation such as this will raise a series of questions.

First of all, the purchase price of the land would become questionable and, secondly, if the surface area is smaller than the minimum required for the construction of buildings, how should we proceed?  

Conducting a geodetic survey for any neighbours resident in adjacent property would also be a convenient measure. We have in fact heard a lot of stories about adjacent plots of land and relative terms. There is always a possibility that this type of situation will become rather complicated and one might run the risk of losing various square metres within the surface area considered. The entire process of acquiring permits which you undertake may even be contested!  

5. Access to the plot of land 

When you buy a plot of land, full ownership of the same will be transferred to you. 

But should we consider any land-use plans of the local Municipality?  

Will any new urban development projects come into force at a later date? 

Does the width of the access road comply with current regulations with respect to its intended use? 

The answers provided with respect to these questions are important. In particular, it should be noted that the minimum width established for a driveway leading to a family house will differ from that determined for a multi-family structure. 

6. Who owns the access road leading onto your land and why might this condition cause a lot of headaches, more troublesome than those deriving from other procedures?


The first thing to do is to ascertain who owns the road providing access to your property. 

If it is privately owned, you will need to know whether the right of way exists and what the relative conditions of the same would be. 

It is absolutely necessary to verify the ownership of the access road, considering its entire length, as far as the point where it joins the main road. The access road may be divided into various land-registration (cadastral) parcels, so you definitely want to make sure that no one is going to block access to your property or intimidate or threaten you in any way. You may not even know who the owner of the access driveway is. 

Let’s consider an example of this sort of situation. 
You have bought a plot of land but the access driveway to the same is owned by people you do not know. For example, it may be owned by exiles who departed from Istria in 1947 (or just after the Second World War) with no trace of their place of residence being preserved.  

The access road may be owned by a person who has no desire to provide their consent to its use or has imposed a crazy price. 

If you find yourself in one of these situations, the driveway may be registered as non-classified, however this would be possible only if it is visible on Google maps (orthographic maps) and recorded before 2011. Otherwise it is necessary to establish a land-use plan for the property in question but this would constitute another topic of discussion. 

So what procedure has to be followed to register a non-classified road? It would be necessary to consult a surveyor and seek advice from the municipal council, the land registry and property registry offices. How long would it take to carry out the procedure? 15 months, two years, even three years … 

If, on the other hand, you are dealing with a racketeer who wants to exploit the situation and make a profit, the only thing worth considering is how much you would have to spend. 

Furthermore, the officials may consider and pay attention to the actual appearance of the road. If the road does not appear at least as a dirt road, it may occur that a licence for its use will not be granted and perhaps the same situation will arise with regard to the building permit. Unfortunately, this may also depend on the approach and policy adopted by the official who deals with the issue. We can only wish you the very best of luck in this regard. 

The important thing is to be aware that although the land is adjacent to a hard-surface (tarmac) road, this does not mean that the issue relating to access has been resolved. 

It may happen that these roads are classified under a higher category and the subject responsible for their management will not permit a connection of this kind (e.g., regional roads or state roads). In these cases, an alternative solution must be found.    

7. Have you ever heard of the ŽUC? 

The Županijska Uprava za Ceste (ŽUC) is the Croatian County Roadway Administration. 

By way of an example let us consider the following situation.

There is a local roadway and all houses have access to it. 

However, the rules change. The road adjacent to your land does not have a minimum width of 4m. As a result, permission to access the main road from this driveway is not permitted. 

We may find an infinite number of other examples. Roads, driveways, access lanes and other similar areas may definitely constitute a particular issue. 

Suggestion: carefully check the requirements that would be applicable in your own case. 

8. Right to install infrastructures 


Let us hypothesise that the road is private property and in order to obtain permission for the installation of infrastructures it is necessary to possess the right of way.  

It is important to know whether the right to proceed with the installation and perform maintenance of the infrastructures for the land you are buying is recorded in the certificate of ownership. In the absence of this right the connection of utilities will not be possible.  

Some municipalities present a situation whereby if the public water-supply infrastructure is not close enough for connection, according to the new rules the roadway must be owned by the local municipality or the State so as to avoid pre-existing easements.  

And this is where the problem arises. 

If the owners of the roadway are not interested, they ask the Municipality to purchase it. Then we find that the Municipality has no available funds or this is not one of its priorities, and this is how a vicious circle may be triggered. 

9. Things you may need to know about connection to the water supply network 


It's useful to identify where the main point of connection to the water supply system is situated. If the plot of land is located at a distance of more than 30-50 metres from the main connection point, rather than a permanent connection it will only be possible to obtain a temporary water-supply link. 

In the case of a temporary connection the meter must be located at a maximum distance of 30 m from the main network. This means that the position where the water meter casing has to be installed will have to be determined. 

At this point it is necessary to obtain the consent of the owner and of the local Municipality upon whose land the water meter casing unit will be installed. In most cases the relevant municipality offices will have to be contacted. If, on the other hand, we are dealing with a private individual, the consent must be authenticated by a public notary.    

Is everything clear so far? We also feel that far too much information has to be considered.

Let's carry on! 

Some Municipalities do not permit the positioning of an inspection pit at the street/road level, and only a ‘vertical’ solution is authorised. 

On the other hand, certain Municipalities do not authorise any kind of temporary connection, which means that the water-supply network must be constructed. 

It all boils down to spending money. There are a lot of variables and it’s likely that the cost of the procedure may be very high and, of course, quite excessive.

And then, of course, we have to wait for the Municipality to intervene. And if the Municipality has no available funds the only thing you can do is go to the local church and express your desires, seeking the assistance of the Almighty Lord. St. Francis of Assisi, who was a promoter of the Via Crucis or the ‘Way of the Cross’, may decide to lend you a hand. 

As we were writing this section, we came across some other information. In cases where an insufficient pressure level is identified in the plot of land where the water-supply connection is located issuance of the conditions required to obtain building permission will be denied. 

10. Electricity 

The fact that your neighbour has been provided with electricity does not mean you will also have it. The network distribution sub-station of the Croatian HEP national electricity power company is thus an indispensable factor. 

The most important information to be acquired concerns the number of kilowatts (kW) available in the area you are interested in. 

All sorts of situations may arise! For example, a surplus of kilowatts may have been available at the time you began to acquire information, but then, a couple of months later, new homes were built in an area adjacent to the land you intend to buy. These new homes have used up the surplus number of kilowatts previously available and you would now not even have enough energy to charge a battery. 

It is a heavy blow when they tell you that no kilowatts are available and you will have to wait for the construction of a new electrical transformation sub-station. 

Just so that you know, the HEP power company will not release this information until all of the plans are ready. So, first of all you have to purchase the land. You should then hire an architect and at that point you can enquire whether there is a sufficient supply of electricity or not. 

Yes, we know, this doesn't make any sense at all. It really doesn't. 

P.S. Anyway, while you're there waiting in the queue, you might consider taking a tranquilliser. 

11. What happens if there are utility infrastructures that cross your land? 

Let’s consider an example. A typical situation would involve the presence of various infrastructures (principal water-supply pipeline, optic fibre cables, electricity lines or a wastewater/drainage system) installed across the land you intend to buy and the requirements of the local Municipality impose a "minimum distance of 4 metres from any pipelines". 

However, the water-supply authority requirements clearly indicate that the pipeline has to be positioned at a distance of 6 metres. In cases such as these you cannot build anything on the land in question as the Municipality has not been able to establish an agreement with the water-supply authority regarding the conditions.  

It is certainly rather unfortunate if we encounter a situation in which the direction or layout of utility infrastructures across the land is not clearly indicated as relative digital archives do not exist. 

There are also examples where a certain infrastructure crosses an area of land and the certificate of ownership indicates no easement that has been recorded in the land registry. 

Other situations may present a situation where planning permission has been issued regardless of the fact the land is crossed by an electric power line that is not recorded in the property registers. 

The officials did not notice it when the building permit was issued but only when they visited the site to initiate the process leading to acquisition of the usage permit.  

So how should we proceed in a situation like this? 


In any case, the process may present many situations where we have to start thinking and seriously reflect on the appropriate way to proceed.

Well, just keep at it and move forward, double-check everything and carry out the necessary research concerning all of the details. 

We really don’t want to end up leaving you rather scared. Far from it! Our desire is to provide a complete summary of everything that can go wrong. 

It is our intention to prevent the possible occurrence of all of these annoying inconveniences during the purchasing and sales process and to ensure new owners become aware of the relative situations.   

We should note that the most important thing following a purchase is to avoid having the impression we have been outsmarted in some way and, rather, we should feel we have achieved our goal and can now establish some clear plans for the future. 

Do you have any examples of other difficult situations? 

Write to us and let us know about them. In this way we will help others avoid all those situations where we end up saying, “Oh, God, why did this happen to me?”