Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News. Since joining the Consumer Advice team in 2015, she has focused on breaking down the homebuying and selling process, as well as reporting on trends in the real estate industry and their effect on the public. Thorsby previously worked in research and communications for commercial real estate information company CoStar Group, and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, where she worked for the student-run newspaper, The Michigan Daily. You can follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at dthorsby@usnews.com.
Thanks for the article Seth. Very informative. Vacant land is one of those types of property I’m coming across in my search for good deals on houses. I’ve been a little brave offering people a cash offer for their lot. Only to find out later the parcel has a myriad of challenges. (Most of which could be dealt with-time and money, but still not worth it). Thankfully nobody took the deals yet. I have learned a lot and gained more understanding. I am closer to getting raw land at a great price that is build-able! Articles like yours, helps guys like me, stay focused and saved from troubles! As we know the bigger the challenges and unknowns the higher the risk-and the payday. Tread carefully.
These are the questions I ask myself before I buy any piece of vacant land. This isn't intended to be an all-inclusive list of EVERY possible issue you could ever encounter, but I’d say it covers about 95% of the potential concerns you ought to be aware of. Most of these issues come up very infrequently, but they are very important things to consider nonetheless. Remember, you don't need to be afraid of buying vacant land. You just need to be informed.
Selling land is usually a more complicated process than selling improved property. When you sell a property with a building, its use and value is established by the building on it. Before buying unimproved land, most buyers want to investigate what they can do with it to determine what it's worth. At the same time, the buyer pool for land is usually smaller than the buyer pool for improved property. With this in mind, selling land quickly requires unique strategies.
Hotpads is a unique one on this list, because it's only intended for listing properties (houses, apartments, condos, etc) for rent, not for sale. Nevertheless, this still fills a major need for many property owners, and since it's one of the bigger players in the space, with a very well-designed layout and interface, it's definitely worth mentioning on this list.
Investors look for future potential. A priority would be to look at a municipal developmeant plan to see if the property is within a plan area. Personally, I would never invest in land that is not already under a municipal area structure plan. If you want to take a risk, you could look for land that was in the obvious path of development and be prepared to hold the land for a very long period of time.
You also have to bear in mind that you cannot be exactly sure how the development will change the landscape of your street, or impinge on your privacy, or cause other problems, until it is actually built. David Henry of FPD Savills cites one case in which the owners of several large Victorian houses clubbed together and sold part of their gardens for development, only to find that their baths would no longer drain properly at certain times of day. The existing drainage systems could not cope with the extra load.
Hire an appraiser to determine the value of your land if you don't have the market knowledge to do it yourself. Without knowing what your land is worth, it will be hard for you to assess the strength of the offers that you receive. The appraisal will also determine the highest and best use of the land, and you can use that information to target your marketing activities.
A type of local council zoning covers every home in a suburb. This is a planning instruction that tells developers and planners what can be built on different parcels of land. For most houses, the zoning is low-density residential – this means that only houses can be built on this land. But in some areas, high-density zonings are more common, or even mixed-use zonings. And zoning can change, if the plans for your suburb change. When a piece of land moves from low-density to high-density zoning, it has increased in value for a developer.

If the property is part of a Home Owner's Association (HOA) it will most likely have even more stringent restrictions in place to help maintain the “quality” and formality of their neighborhood. The idea is to keep any bizarre behavior OUT of the neighborhood (e.g. – cars in the front yard, lawns nobody takes care of, houses that look out-of-place or aren't built to code). 
And I know what you mean about the assessed value – this number means almost nothing in my mind, because the county will usually peg this number as high as possible, because it allows them to charge more in tax revenue for the property. I think you can get it reassessed in many cases, but there usually aren’t any guarantees that your request will get traction, and the process isn’t necessarily fast or easy. It may be worth your while to call the local tax collector and just ask them how much the annual tax bill is – that should tell you pretty quickly what the obligation would be.
A really rough guideline that alot of spot-lot developers use is that the land should be somewhere between 10 and 15% of the sales price of the home. So, if the homes on ten acres were selling for $1 million, the developers were likely paying $100-150k for the lots. The home on your lot would likely sell for substantially less given the smaller lot size, so expect less for the land sale.
Consider your own needs when pricing, and understand how pricing could impact buyers’ interest. When selling real estate, you sometimes have to choose between getting the highest price and possibly selling quicker. Plus, your pricing may be influenced if you need to sell for financial reasons. In addition to your own situation, pricing your property ultimately requires an understanding of the land market as a whole, why people are buying lots or land in that area and who these people are. A good real estate agent with land expertise can help greatly in this process.
×