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.

Whether you’re selling your land yourself or with the help of a real estate professional, it’s important to ensure that you have all the necessary documents to complete the transaction. It’s highly recommended that you consult with an attorney to ensure that your contract includes all of the necessary information and to ensure that you aren’t missing any important documentation. If you plan on selling the land yourself, be sure to do your research to avoid complications during the sale process.
A Perc Test (also known as “Perk Test”, and more formally known as a “Percolation Test“), is a soil evaluation that tests the rate at which water drains through the soil. If a property doesn't have easy access to the local sewer system, a perc test is required to determine whether a septic system (the alternative to a sewer) can be installed on the property.
You have to be careful, however, that the access road you create cannot also be used for subsequent developments in neighbours' gardens. Otherwise the developer, having bought your garden, will knock on your neighbours' doors and buy several back gardens. If this happens, Mr Noel said: "The access road beside your house, which you thought was only going to be used by a couple with one invalid carriage suddenly becomes the way into a development of 30 homes."
Especially when I'm buying vacant land out-of-state, my first line of business is to understand the topography of the property. There are many, many places around the world that have very unpredictable elevations, cliffs, mountains, valleys, ravines and more. In many cases, the topography of the land can have a huge impact on the build-ability of a property. For the same reasons you can't build a house on 90-degree cliff, you should be doing some preliminary research to find out where your property is located, and what the lay of the land is.
In the right location, today’s seller’s market makes it so you could put your home on the market as-is and likely still receive interest. But if there’s a possibility you’re misdiagnosing your home as a desirable purchase for a teardown, you should think about preparing the home properly for the market, as minor updates and cleaning can go a long way. You could have your property appraised to see how it would likely fare compared to similar homes in your neighborhood, or consult a real estate agent to see if they expect more builder versus homebuyer interest.
If you feel that you have been a victim of real estate fraud, there are many resources available for you as the victim. Your first step is to contact the local District Attorney’s office and report the incident. Our office will stand by you and provide any relevant information to support your claim. Here are additional agencies that can assist you and provide more resources:

Steve, my son in-law has 10 acres of land. About 13 miles from a town & we have talked about me living on a small part of the land he would need to subdivide about 2 acres to me. But if he does sell me these aces. I want to make sure that he gets the land back can the land be in both our like a car title. & being I am getting older it would be nice to live close to one of my family members. & I love to out country. Jane
Another surprise to landowners attempting to subdivide their land is that the act of subdividing can raise any number of additional requirements and costs on your land. While your existing parcel may have been grandfathered so that it does not have to comply with some newer laws and regulations, undertaking a subdivision can trigger a new set of impacts and requirements.

You’ll want as much money as you can make as quickly as you can get it – but developers play a longer and broader game.  Land you sell may become one small part of their land bank in your locality and, if you’ve signed the wrong deal, you may find they never get planning permission for your land because they choose to promote one of their other local sites which looks an easier consent to win.

This all boils down to how badly the developer needs your home, how much money he stands to gain by moving quickly and how robust the multi-unit housing market is. If the final offer falls a bit short of where you’d like it to be, factor in the negatives of staying: more construction noise, additional traffic and all the dough you’ll have to fork out to comfortably remain there. Realize, too, that condo prices, in particular, can be mercurial and turn on a dime if the greater housing market starts going south, which might give your buyer cold feet.

Additionally, the land contract should indicate how many payments will be made, their due dates, grace periods (if applicable), fees for late payments, and how the buyer should deliver each payment. Under a land contract, buyers are usually treated just like a property owner, and will be responsible for paying property taxes, insurance, and any utility bills associated with the land use.
Hi, I found your blog via searching for help for a decision. I have two 10 Acre parcels with views of the Stanislaus Mountains in Northern California that are part of an 8 parcel development back in 2006 for $160k each (ouch) with the intention of building a home on one and the other as an investment. One has a well the other does not. There were two owners of the development that built right before the financial crises but no one has built since. I wanted to lower the property tax so I listed them each for $60k, not thinking I’d ever get an offer and since dirt is not selling in that area well, but low and behold within two weeks I received two offers on the parcel with the water well (one from a real estate agent/2nd from a neighbor behind the property). I’m not sure but I think both have different intentions for purchasing which doesn’t matter (you are able to grow marijuana in that county). Now I’m uncertain about selling since it was not my intention and I’d really like to recover my investment. Should I wait to see if land values rise to what I paid back then or should I take the money and run!? They both asked for owner financing. There is access to power and the development’s access is through a gated community. Any comments would be welcomed and appreciated. Thank you!
You can also look to certain companies and organizations that have a concentration of people that may fall in the above mentioned roles such as investment companies (i.e. Charles Schwab, Fidelity), financial advising companies (i.e. Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch). There may be a higher concentration of people who can both afford and want to build their own custom homes or to build income-producing properties. Try linking yourself to financial advisors who may already know of people who have these types of dreams. This isn't a comprehensive answer of all the possibilities but just some thoughts. Good luck!

This has got to be one of best articles out there about land investment. Thank you so much for the advises. I live in San Jose, CA and I am also looking into buying land myself to build a residential home on. I’m somewhat skeptical about it as i’m very new to this whole process and afraid i might be stuck on a parcel that is not build-able or would cost too much to develop. The parcel i’m looking at is currently zoned “commercial”, however, the surrounding area is heavily residential so i wonder if this was a city’s mistake. To avoid troubles down the road, I plan to hire a professional for all the permitting and developing advises/estimate (if you know anyone in the Bay Area that provides this type of service, could you please refer?) but I just don’t know how much i can completely close my eyes and just sign wherever i was told by the professional. Any advise will be much appreciated.

Particularly in popular neighborhoods and areas where undeveloped space is limited, purchasing existing property for the sole purpose of building a new structure on the land is fairly common. In many cases, developers and building companies will redevelop multiple properties in a neighborhood, knowing buyers will eat up new, bigger homes where midcentury ranch houses once stood.
I’ve never heard the tip to create your own website when you have a home for sale. I also have never heard the tip to keep an eye out for “For Rent” signs to in order to look for more homes for sale. I’ve heard that it’s a good idea to find homes for sale that have been on the market for a while because there’s more room for negotiation, thanks for the tips!
A large piece of undeveloped land may get you the greatest return if you subdivide it and sell each parcel separately. Have the land surveyed to determine which parcels are suitable for home building, which have other uses and which are likely to remain undeveloped. Keep one or more parcels for yourself if you still want an investment stake in the land, in case its value rises in the future.
We currently own 10 acres of land with a lot of road front footage. A very large nice development is underway adjacent to our property; the developer also recently had some type of auction and sold 92 lots. It has been brought to the attention of my husband and I that no homeowner construction can begin until development access issues are resolved. Presently, they have issues with line of sight entering into and out of the development; the development has a small privately paved 2 lane road entering onto the public highway system. Our property sits high on a small hill, it is large enough to occlude site to the left when pulling onto the highway. Our home also sits on a curve. We also have fencing – similar to what you might call pasture fence – that also occludes a drivers site pulling out as well. The developer has sent a neighbor (also his friend, may even be a partner) – who lives in the only house built in the development – although how they built that with restrictions in play – I do not know… Maybe because it was a single dwelling??? It was there before the current developer purchased it from the previous developer (who built the home in there as a “spec house”. First, this representative showed up saying they would like for us to move our fence and they would pay for us to move it (how kind). We just listened… And told him we like our fence just where it is – we know that even with the fence moved the line of site is still occluded – the hill would have to come down or be graded somewhat for it to work. 92 homes would also generate a lot of traffic. A turn lane was mentioned but no details were given – in fact no plan was presented at all. We think he was just feeling us out. My real question is how much should or could we ask for the property if we agreed to whatever their plan is – of course, we would see the plan proposals and bring in a lawyer. I don’t know how to begin to calculate it! I have considered 92 lots multiplied by something! Maybe 20,000 each? My husband spoke with a member of the NCDOT who was out here doing some surveying – he stated that the DOT really had no interest in the property – I want to take that to mean they would not force access for the developer – but I do not know – my knowledge is very limited on this subject. Bottom line is they are in “a real pickle” if we decide not to accommodate/sell them the needed frontage. No money has been offered – it was just stated that we would be compensated. It seems we are in the position of power as far as a selling price – as they cannot develop without meeting those requirements. What would/do you advise and what resources should I use to educate myself. I have found the Policy on Street and Driveway Access to North Carolina Highways and been reading over it. I really do not want us taken advantage of either as far as the construction phase and the end result to our remaining front yard.
Settle on a price that is acceptable to both parties. But don’t exceed the price you initially set as your maximum amount to pay. No property is worth paying more than you can afford. "Decide what a transaction is worth to you. A property may be worth more in value to you than the actual appraisal. Take the emotion out of it and deal with it in terms of dollars and sense," confers King. And, "don't be afraid to walk away from a deal, just do so with a handshake and a smile and do not burn that bridge."
Know what the land is zoned for. From the beginning, you need to have a clear understanding of what this land is zoned for. You don’t want to discourage buyers by keeping them waiting until you have the answer, and you definitely don’t want to mislead a buyer with incorrect information. It’s better to be honest and then refer the buyer to information about changing land classifications and zoning exemptions.

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.
It depends on a number of factors, are you trying to find cash buyers for your land, what is your time frame to sell the land, and are you trying to get full market value for the property, and how much work do you want to do to sell it? Depending on your answer to those questions the method by which you decide to list and market the property is going to be different.
We hope this helps provide valuable insight for landowners about the pros, cons and items to evaluate when considering subdividing your land. Check back soon for our second article in this series about Subdividing Land: Tips for Landowners from a Developer, where we will describe some real world issues that we have seen in subdivision attempts. Plus, the third article in the series will provide hands-on details about the steps to take if you decide to subdivide your land into lots.

Hi Eric – that’s a good question. I haven’t done much work in that part of the country, but I know that (as you mentioned) there are workarounds for both water and power IF you’re willing to pay for it. I guess it’s just a matter of understanding which one would be more expensive to sustain over the long term, and then you’ll have your answer as to which utility is more important.


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If you intend to hold onto a property for any length of time, beware of a super high tax bill relative to the actual value of the property itself. I haven't run across this issue very often, but for various reasons, there are some properties that have some ridiculously high taxes in proportion to the property’s actual value (for example, if a $10,000 property has an annual tax bill of $2,000, THIS IS TOO HIGH). In my experience, I've found that a reasonable annual tax bill usually falls in the range of 1% – 4% of the property’s full market value.

Today I had a land owner tell me to keep her property in mind, and that she would pay my fee if I sold her land. She said she did not want to list her land with an agent because the previous agent she used did not even bring her one offer during the time of their listing contract. That is understandable from her side, but the odds of me making that sell are pretty slim.
I’m learning the hard way about the hidden costs of buying empty land. Unless utilities are already there, it can be VERY expensive to run them from the street to the building site. For example, one parcel we looked at was about 1000′ feet off the main road where utilities are located. To run city water, gas, electricity, and cable could run anywhere from $10-100 per foot! Multiply that by 1000 and I better understand why developers say that they spend the same on running utilities as they do on the land. It may cause us to reevaluate our goals and possibly shift to buying a property that already has a rundown home on it.

Hi Rainie, if it were me, I’d be most concerned about the septic system (making sure the property passes the perc test, if it’s not located near a sewer system), making sure it’s not in a flood zone, and making sure the property is zoned properly for the type of house I want to build. Judging by the fact that there was a house on the property before, you probably won’t find many surprises here… but it’s always good to verify.
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.
Use a title company if you are not familiar with deeds, deed conveyance and closing of real estate. I prefer First American Title and you can find them anywhere. They will handle the monies, title search, title policy, deed, recording of the deed and pro-rated taxes, etc. Fees will vary and you can certainly negotiate. Typically the seller pays for the title policy and the buyer pays for half of the escrow fees. You can always charge an extra recording fee to offset these expenses.
If you truly are in a hot area, which it sounds, your land has already been researched and investigated and deemed not to be desirable to the surrounding developers. A one acre parcel in the realm of larger subdivisions going in is only desirable if it's IN THE WAY, or if your house is an eyesore that will affect the marketing of the bigger development (which I'm guessing your house is not an eyesore). 

I agree with Ellen Chung, finding the right type of buyer to target is very important. Also, you should consider the amount of time you have to sell the land. If you are short on time due to back taxes owed or other financial obligations, your best bet may be to talk to a vacant land investor. You will not get the full market price for your property, but the typically can pay cash and close quickly. 

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I agree with Ellen Chung, finding the right type of buyer to target is very important. Also, you should consider the amount of time you have to sell the land. If you are short on time due to back taxes owed or other financial obligations, your best bet may be to talk to a vacant land investor. You will not get the full market price for your property, but the typically can pay cash and close quickly.
I am considering buying a quarter acre, to build a house for my retirement in a few years. I have never bought land before but it is in an area that will definitely increase in value over the next few years so I want to lock it down now and build the house I want later, rather than purchase a home and make payments in addition to my current home. Thanks for the tips on how to assess, my question is whether I should use a realtor and/or get a property appraisal. I will probably pay cash for the land. Thanks much!
Know what the land is zoned for. From the beginning, you need to have a clear understanding of what this land is zoned for. You don’t want to discourage buyers by keeping them waiting until you have the answer, and you definitely don’t want to mislead a buyer with incorrect information. It’s better to be honest and then refer the buyer to information about changing land classifications and zoning exemptions.
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