Hi Dave, thanks for stopping by. You’re right – it’s very hard for me to give you any concrete opinion on this (because there are a lot of factors to weigh with any piece of vacant land). I’d say if you’ve looked at all the potential downsides and established that there won’t be any issues from that end… and if you’ve got a fairly decent idea as to what the property is currently worth (and you’re buying it for a price that is significantly BELOW that number), then sure – there probably is a fair chance that you can make money on it.
Comparables for land can be trickier than for home sales in your area. Although the assessor's valuation on your taxes can provide a starting point, consider factors like whether your property has utilities to the property line, views, zoning and any preapproved building plans to determine its worth. Location is always one of the most critical factors. In San Francisco's Pacific Heights area, for example, a buildable cul-de-sac lot of less than 4,000 square feet can sell for more than $9 million.
Very good question, Trevor. We plan to do a blog article on this subject soon. You are pretty much on the mark with your example of 25% of the final to-be-built home’s value as a rough guide to a lot’s value. You’ll see that some markets use different valuations (even within the same city or region), but in many markets an estimation of the value of the lot generally can range from around 20% of the home value (for more rural or lower price point homes) up to around 30% or more (often for higher end communities or for urban/infill areas with less lot supply and higher home prices). Of course for some lots/properties these rules simply don’t apply, like oceanfront lots or land with other unique characteristics.
Hi Aracely – great question. You might want to contact the local planning and zoning department – ask them if you’re allowed to camp on the property and/or build whatever type of structure you’re planning to build. You’re right – most townships and cities (not the county necessarily) have different restrictions that come into play in different areas. You’ll probably find that the more rural areas have less and less restrictions, but generally speaking – you should always investigate, because some rules will most likely apply.
ClassifiedAds is another free listing website with a similar look and feel to Craigslist. You aren't required to maintain an account here, and the ads on this site also come with a nice little inquiry form at the bottom of each listing – so it's one less step for an interested party to contact the seller for more information. The listings also allow sellers to link to third-party websites, which is a nice little extra feature you can use to send extra traffic to your selling website.
About 15 years ago the best way to market your rural land was either a classified ad in the local paper, signage off the highway or the local pennysaver. Larger companies would use radio or some other direct marketing technique. All of these marketing strategies were slower and more expensive than the options today. I know we all like to complain about inflation but in terms of online marketing we're in a deflationary environment!

I might add that in some development-friendly communities, the city and developer might try to play the eminent domain (condemnation) card. Ostensibly, eminent domain should be used only in the exercise of public good such as a new highway or road widening, though some cities get away with it in dubious circumstances. Your agent should know whether this could be an issue. Such a scenario, as unlikely as it is, would probably force you to hire a lawyer to get a decent price.
Negotiating:  A good agent can help you navigate the negotiation process and give you perspective on what to offer and what to accept in order to help you reach an agreement with a potential buyer. Negotiations are often tense and can become emotional. The agent serves as the go-between, and is paid to defuse and diffuse the negotiating process. A man that I showed land to last week, was planning to sell a property he owned and do a 1031 exchange into a property I have listed. He told me about a cash offer on his tract that was “as good as in the bank” for about $350,000. One of the owners that adjoined this man’s property had made the offer about a month before he came to see my tract. His adjoining owner called back yesterday and dropped his offer from $350,000 to $315,000. Had I been his agent, I would have advised him when the offer came in to go ahead and accept it. His delay in accepting the offer probably knocked him out of buying my listing which he liked a lot.
Having a knowledgeable professional on your side always helps when selling your lots and land. There are many benefits from having specialized expertise on board, so we encourage you to work with a real estate agent who specializes in lot and land sales. They will help you understand the market, set a price and market your land to the right buyers.
Do you know if the developer had a local brokerage do the sales for the project you mention? You might want to contact the developer, but I'd also suggest you speak with a Realtor first to get a market analysis for the value of your property. Then decide if you want to put your property on the market or if you want to explore contacting either the developer or the owners of properties adjoining yours to see if there is interest.
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If the buyer has secured financing or is planning on paying with cash, a contract for sale will be necessary. This contract will specify the terms of the sale and may also specify other documents required before transferring the deed. This may include the financial documents that are necessary to secure financing. The contract may also indicate that title insurance will be provided. In this case, the title company may be involved in the transaction.
Hi Seth – very helpful blog indeed. I have recently been given the opportunity to buy the 6-acre wooded lot, zoned residential, that adjoins my already-owned 3-acre lot for $64k. I know the terrain of the 6-acres quite well as I’ve had to chase my dogs all through it when they get loose. On the back end is a power line right-of-way, so certainly nothing will be built behind it. It does have a site cleared for up to a 4-bedroom home, a “proposed” well location, and although the site will not perk, the seller has an off-site discharge permit issued from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for a sewage disposal system. The owner will finance, with $998 down payment and $688/mo for 10 years, but that comes out to a LOT of money for 6 acres so I would likely come up with 40 percent down on my own, and pay off the rest with a personal, lower-interest loan. My concerns when it comes to land, especially as an investment: would the monthly payment for the land not be better spent to pay down my existing mortgage? Or, would the monthly payment for the land not be better invested in something with a higher rate of return? Of course, from a diversification standpoint the land may make perfect sense. I live (and the land is located) in an area mid-way between Washington, DC and Richmond, VA – – – an area that is growing like mad. I have a tough time believing that in the 15 years I have left until I retire I would LOSE money on the investment. And unlike a 401k or an IRA, which can disappear overnight should an economy tank, land will never be totally worthless. I would not actually DO anything with the land (aside from perhaps harvesting some firewood) other than to HOLD it for 15 years until I retire and leave this area.
Hi Victoria – you’d probably want to check with your local municipality to see who owns these parcels that surround the house (or you could also check out this tutorial or this tutorial to figure it out yourself). You generally don’t want to touch any trees that aren’t on the parcel that you own… but in terms of whether those surrounding parcels are “preserved woodlands” – that’s an answer you could probably get from someone with the local government office. Just Google the township or county clerk, give them a call and see what you can find out.
If an application is turned down, it is usually because access to the site is difficult or it adjoins a main road. The ideal building site has frontage on an existing road. As little as 30 ft to the side of your house can provide enough land for a new house, although permission is more likely to be given on tight plots if existing houses in the street are closely packed.
Even though you hope to sell that land fast or to sell that land online you will still want to ensure that you have a sign or two made and placed in a prominent spot on the land in question. This way anyone driving past the land will be able to see that the property is for sale and can get a hold of you in the easiest way possible. This especially true when you want to sell land by owner as you may not have to ability to reach as many potential buyers as a property listed in the Real Estate databases, you need to in effect create your own marketing and having a sign will help to advertise when you want to sell land fast.
If you’re providing seller financing, you’ll still need to draft a deed, but this deed will be held in escrow until the final payment is made. Once that payment is made, the deed will be filed with its respective government agency, typically the county clerk. You can have an attorney, title agency, or a financial institution hold the median in escrow for you until the buyer makes the final payment.
Just like you'd stage a home, you want the vacant land to show at its best. A lot overgrown with weeds is going to look less desirable in the eyes of a potential buyer than a lot that's apparently cared-for. Professionally trim trees, mow grass, remove weeds and perhaps plant wildflowers to show the property at its best. Visit the property weekly – or hire someone to do so – to remove windblown trash, beer cans, fire rings or anything else that might detract from its curb appeal.
great article and timely. I have several undeveloped lots located in urban and well rural settings., from quarter acre to 120 acres. I am also thinking of developing the lots my self but need a step by step process including spread sheet showing cost of development and potential roi. what type if assistance should I expect from local gov’t in this process for environmental goals, building green, workforce housing etc. thanks
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