For sale: Cheap land (© Realtor.com)

This 1.27-acre property in Modena, Utah, was listed for $2,500, as of mid-October. // © Realtor.com

Despite deeply discounted housing stock, there are those who dream of building a home of their own.

If you intend to lay a foundation, you must first own the land, so it's good that bargains can still be found. States such as Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming have pockets rural enough to drive down the cost per acre. (Bing: Tips on buying land for investment)

Among the least expensive land listed on Realtor.com, the website of the National Association of Realtors, as of mid-October were a 1.25-acre, $1,000 plot in Frostproof, Fla.; a $1,200 acre in Belen, N.M.; and six acres in Hockley, Texas, for $1,306.

By comparison, the most expensive lots on sale included a $999.9 million parcel in Salt Lake City; a Beryl, Utah, property priced at more than $146 million; a $100 million Fort Myers, Fla., parcel; and a chunk of land in Virginia City, Nev., with a $90 million price tag.

On websites such as Craigslist and eBay, brokers and owners are going directly to customers. Among land up for grabs recently was 4.3 acres in Southern California for $5,900; a 50-by-100-foot lot in Clarksville, Texas, bidding at a mere $147; and 49 acres in Nevada, in all its barren, dirt-road glory, for $17,900.

What's your home worth?

Based on cost per acre, these plots of land may seem a bargain. But if land is dirt cheap, there is usually a reason.

Typically, the farther from metro centers you get and the lower population drops, so does the cost. This can be great for those looking to avoid the hustle and bustle of city life, but it also means amenities may suffer. How close are the nearest police and fire stations, schools, supermarkets and hospitals? Where does the water supply come from? Is municipal sewerage available, and are there restrictions on septic systems? Can your cell phone get a signal?

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In some municipalities, zoning regulations and building codes may stop you from building. Roads may be deemed inadequate for public safety vehicles, making the plot legally unlivable. Make sure no conservation or habitat-related restrictions are in place. In some parts of the country, you may need to make sure construction would not upset historical artifacts, such as an American Indian burial ground.

High crime rates and a lack of job opportunities drive down property values. Weather and geographical concerns in some areas can drive down value while increasing headaches. Land in parts of Texas and Florida comes relatively cheaply, but can you endure the rocky terrain and blistering heat of the former or the high humidity and mosquito attacks of the latter? Hawaii, once you move away from its luxury locations and tourist traps, has swaths of affordable land. That affordability, however, can mean development roadblocks such as volcanoes and lava hot spots.

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The "bargain" you find could end up costing more than you had expected.

For tax purposes, vacant land is considered an investment vehicle (MSN Money: 8 costly mistakes investors make). As such, you lose the ability to write off the interest paid on a loan to make the purchase, something you could do if there were already a home serving as a primary residence. On top of that, home or no home, you will be subject to property taxes.

From a financial standpoint, free trumps cheap. Though the days of government land giveaways via the Homestead Act are long gone, some local governments are still deeply discounting real estate — sometimes to zero — to attract residents and businesses and boost their tax base.

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Kansas (in particular Rawlings County), Alaska, IowaMinnesotaNebraska, Michigan, North Dakota and Ohio are among the states that have had, or still have, land offerings, usually as a trade-off for building a user-occupied home or starting a business.

Examples include:

  • Manilla, Iowa, is offering 15 lots at no cost for individuals or entities committing to build a single-family home. The lots feature paved streets, on-site utilities with no hook-up fees and, as an added incentive, 100% tax abatement for five years.
  • Muskegon County in western Michigan is giving away industrial-zoned property to any enterprise that can promise the creation of at least 25 jobs. The land, valued at as much as $30,000 an acre, is offered in proportion to the number of jobs promised. A business with 25 employees gets five acres; creating 75 jobs nets 20 acres; and 100 on the payroll earns 30 acres.

Information on many of the states offering free land programs can also be found at the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs website.

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But if you need something now, here is a list of some of the least expensive land parcels, from Realtor.com:

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