Over the last several years our church has been involved in a search for a permanent home. We currently gather in leased facilities that are no longer meeting our needs. Needless to say, the last several years have been very educational for me. The following are some things I have learned throughout this process of acquiring property and preparing to build.
You must be realistic in terms of your time frame. If you are in an area where land is scarce, then expect your search to take longer than you expect. CrossWay Christian Church is in Nashua, New Hampshire, which is more than 95% built-out. It took us nearly three years to find a suitable piece of property. If there is plenty of property in your area, then perhaps your time frame will be shorter. The bottom line is, expect everything to take longer than you think. Much longer.
Enlist Team Members
Looking for property can consume a pastor's time. And the crazy thing is that people still expect you to have something worthwhile to say on Sunday morning. It is important to form a small team and commission them with the task of discovering property that might work for your church. I worked with two guys in our church. Teams that are too large accomplish little. Communicate to them what you are looking for and let them get started. Once a potential property is located, you can get involved. Until then, you can work on your sermon.
Areas of Focus
Before you start looking for property, it is helpful to have a good idea of where you are willing to look and what you are looking for. A few leaders of our church took the time to drive around our region looking at the possible areas in which we could locate our church. We then took the time to pray. We were able to narrow our focus down to two areas of town. That decision focused our prayers and our search. Focus also has to do with the things that are deal breakers for you. Must you be on a main road? Must you be in a residential area? Must you have sewer and water? Must you have an entrance and exit on two different roads? These are some important questions. We were able to ignore a section of one area that we had chosen because it was too hard to get to. Just as in purchasing a house, it is helpful to know what you want before you get in the car to go look.
Hiring an Agent
Another question is whether or not to use a real estate agent. In most cases, you will want to interview and select a good commercial real estate agent. A residential agent can be helpful in educating you with areas of the city, but in most cases they will probably not be as helpful in locating larger parcels of land. Thankfully, one of our members works in the field of locating property for development. His access to Internet databases and other contacts helped us in our search for land. If the church does not have expertise in-house, then you will probably want to hire an agent to work on your behalf.
Property For Sale
In our city, where property is scarce and fast moving, most parcels are barely on the marketand then, they are gone. In fact, many never really get listed. Someone with land for sale makes it known to people looking to buy land and the transaction will happen without the land ever getting listed. This is yet another reason to work with a good commercial agent; he or she may know about land that is available even though it is not listed. We looked for property and we sent letters to people in desired areas who owned three or more acres of land, asking if they or someone they knew might be willing to sell land to us. It was a long shot, but there is so little land in Nashua that we were trying to turn over every stone. In the end, we bought a piece of land that was not on the market. Someone in our church knew someone who wanted to sell a twelve-acre piece of land.
Choosing a Decision Maker
It is important to know who will make the decision to purchase property once it is found. Do the elders make this decision? The staff or trustees? Does the congregation have to vote on the purchase of property? This is an important question. I'm not advocating who should make this call in your church, but fewer people will speed up the process. Once it is clear who will make the decision, make sure you communicate it to your congregation.
Do not feel like you have to have all your answers before you sign a purchase and sale agreement. Think of this period like you would think of being engaged. You are very serious about the property, but nothing is official. Make sure you work with a competent professional to write an agreement that gives you plenty of time to do your due diligence. Also, make sure there are safeguards and contingencies for the church written into the contract. Obviously, try to get as much time as possible for the due diligence period. Our due diligence period was only three months. It could have been longer. Some people miss out on a piece of property because they are hesitant to sign a purchase and sale agreement until they have more facts. If you have questions, fine. Make the contract contingent upon those answers, and then "pop the question."
Expect to spend some money during the search for property as well as during the due diligence period. You will want to do various surveys, studies, and tests, all of which will cost money. Some lenders require specific items during this due diligence period. Do not be afraid to spend money during this phase. If a survey or a study uncovers something that will make it difficult (or impossible) for you to use the property for your intended purpose, a few thousand spent now will be well worth it. And like time, expect everything to cost more than you think it will.
Giving it Up to God
We should ask and expect God to be involved in this process. I was first told about a particular ten-acre piece of property in December of 2004. After meeting with the owner, our leaders decided to sign a purchase and sale agreement on that property. I left to visit relatives on Christmas day and the owner was going to draft a purchase and sale agreement while I was gone that could be signed when I returned. On New Year's Day, the owner called me to tell me that he had changed his mind. He did not want to sell the property after all. Happy New Year!
We began to pray. We kept looking for other pieces of property but we began to pray that he would change his mind. He called me at the end of October to tell me he had changed his mindright at ten months later he was ready to sell the property. Of course the price went up, but when we surveyed the property we discovered we had a little over twelve acres instead of ten. The point is that God has continued to surprise us every step of the way. He asks us to trust and many times he asks us to trust big. But his faithfulness has been even bigger still. Truly, great is His faithfulness.