Learn to evaluate the risks and rewards of subdividing land into residential lots. In this first of three articles on the subject, a developer and real estate lawyer provides landowners specific items to evaluate when considering whether or not to subdivide land. Come back for the next articles in this series that provide insights for landowners based on the author’s real world experiences with the subdivision process, as well as a hands-on description of the steps landowners should take when subdividing land.
But do not — and I repeat — do not try selling directly to a developer/builder. These folks, when dealing directly with a property seller, will base their typically lowball offers on a “fair market value” determined by appraisers they hire, who are typically agenda-led cronies. Such offers will almost certainly not take into account the recent increase in land values that all this upscale multi-tenant development is creating.
First and foremost, it is vitally important to understand what a property can be used for, and what the highest and best use of the property is. With a simple phone call to your local planning  & zoning department, most offices can give you the answer to this question in a matter of seconds. Once you know the zoning classification (e.g. – residential, mixed-use, commercial, industrial, agricultural, etc.), ask them to give you some examples of what type of property would be allowed under each of these particular zoning classifications. They may even give you some ideas that you hadn't previously thought of. Once you understand the most ideal use of the property – you can quickly determine whether it will fit your needs (or the needs of those you intend to market the property to).
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
First, you need to understand the exact dimensions of the parcel of land you are evaluating. Next, call the local zoning department and ask them what the designated building setbacks are for the property in question (building setback requirements are very common, and are imposed as a way of giving order and consistency to the buildings in any given area). When you take these setbacks and regulations into account (relative to the size of this parcel of land), is there still enough room to build something worthwhile – or does it render the property useless? I've come across several properties that were designed (albeit, unintentionally) to be too small and after factoring in the setbacks – you can't build anything on them at all, leaving them virtually worthless!
FindMyRoof does a pretty decent job of putting together a nice listing that gives all the basic details in an easy-to-follow format. It's not a terribly complex process to create a listing, and the site doesn't draw in a huge amount of traffic – but it is a relatively targeted audience of real estate buyers, which may make the site worth your time and consideration.
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Overall, I like how Oodle makes it pretty quick and simple to compile a listing, and the syndication with Redfin is another huge selling point for the site. Assuming you can get the site to keep your listing active without flagging and removing them (which was unfortunately a big obstacle for me), it's a nice little outlet to get some additional exposure for your listings.
Great article. I’m having trouble finding information, as most of it is about buying and constructing right away. I’m looking for information on how to buy a rural piece of land 2-10 acres where I can camp on it for a couple of seasons to get the best site to build a little summer/fall shack to get away on the weekends. So I won’t be building right away, just ‘squatting’ on my own land for surveying purposes, see where the hottest/sunniest spots might be, etc. Do you have any advice on what regulations/restrictions I might come across? Is this a “depends on” on kind of thing, meaning, different counties/townships all might have different rules? Thanks again.
When you are buying and selling lots and land, working directly is often the best way to go. Agents don’t typically put in the time or energy that they’d put into a selling a house. Comparatively, the commissions are low, and the land market is slow. When a parcel is listed on the MLS, the price is often inflated to cover commissions and other fees that will offset the seller’s profit. Typically there is less money and less effort put into marketing a piece of land, so it ends up sitting there, with the price being slashed time and time again.
Hi, Viz. That really is going to depend on your local laws and any possible restrictions related to the land, as well as the best size to make the new lots appealing to builders and home owners in your local market. You should get in touch with local real estate experts in your market, like a surveyor, attorney or real estate agent with lot and land expertise to help you better understand the local regulations and the most marketable lot sizes for your subdivision plans. Good luck!
Hey Seth, as always great article! I found the free online marketing ideas (like posting on Craigslist) especially creative and helpful. Thanks so much for helping me through the stressful process of selling my home. Since you asked what other creative tips I’ve found–I read this eBook in my research and found it so helpful that I thought I’d post it here in the chance that it could help someone else. Here it is: https://www.homelight.com/sell-your-house-online-ebook
I was contacted by FNAC about acquiring the note on the house that I have been owner financing. The representative I dealt with was Terrell Wade. He explained everything to me and assured me there would be no cost to me for their company to get all the paperwork they needed to close this transaction. I was very pleased with his professionalism and courteous manner as he explained things to me and answered all my questions.read more
We are India's fastest growing online real estate marketplace, Born out of the need to rearrange the look for a home, free of phony postings and interminable site visits, we made an unique property seek stage that filled the gaps left by others in the market. Led by passionate issue solvers, and supported by top investors from around the world, we are ready to wind up the most trusted set up to locate a home in India.
Hi Steve…great article! In my village there is a 1.4 acre lot that is of interest to me, but I don’t want the whole thing. I am only looking at about a third of that. Problem is…the entire 1.4 lot is owned by our local school district and the administration building sits on the front part of it. The backside of the lot (the part I am interested in) is totally unused and mostly wooded. There is a very distinct treeline to where the lot could be divided. How difficult would it be acquire that piece of land behind the building…given it’s owned by the school district?

Hi Chris, thanks for the comment. That’s a pretty subjective question (there are a lot of variables to consider), but I don’t see how it could hurt the value of your overall estate. The question is – what is the land actually worth? Is it worth more or less than $25K? One way to find out would be to follow the ideas in this blog post. As long as the property is worth substantially more than $25K (and assuming you actually want the additional land), it’s probably a worthwhile investment… but again – it’s impossible for me to tell you anything concrete without looking at everything (which I can’t really do).
Even though Craigslist is clearly the winner in terms of traffic, it's not necessarily the most versatile medium. There are plenty of restrictions in place (like the inability to link to third-party websites and embed videos), however with the tools that are available – it's more than enough to inform buyers about what the property has to offer and drum up enough interest to generate some legitimate leads and sales.

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.
Prospective buyers for your undeveloped land are likely to have a multitude of questions. Prepare your information about the land ahead of time to be as informed and helpful as possible during the sale process. Buyers who anticipate building a home on the land will want to know about current or future access to public utilities and options for a septic system. Buyers more interested in recreational use will ask about zoning restrictions and seasonal weather conditions on the land. All types of buyers may have questions about nearby services, such as hospitals and commercial centers, as well as the quality of cellular reception on the land itself.
Thanks Seth. Great ideas! Going after investors if you have a property that could be an attractive buy for them is something most people wouldn’t think of. Chances are, that if an investor isn’t in the market, he/she probably knows others who are. Forums are also a good idea as people will actually look at and read posts as opposed to other platforms where people scroll through without a car.

“I visited the property on Sunday and most of the lot was inundated with water. It is apparent that the soil is saturated for significant periods. Based on my observations, which are consistent with the available online data, it is my opinion that the lot is unbuildable since it does not meet the minimum New York State Dept. of Health (NYSDOH) requirements for the design of an onsite septic system. NYSDOH requires at least 12 inches of native useable soil above the high groundwater level and the septic system cannot be situated in a wetland. While NYSDOH has many other requirements to comply with, these two deficiencies cannot be addressed by any approvable design.


There is swampy/nonbuildable property next to me that is landlocked by 5 residential properties. We are interested in purchasing it – yes, we want landlocked swampland. We spoke to the owner who said he wants to sell it at whatever the going rate is for vacant land. Prior to offering him a very lowball offer, we’d like to gather resources that show the property’s true “potential” so that we don’t offend him. Other than a printout of a map, is there something more official we can acquire that shows he is landlocked? Also, the tax record shows the property’s assessed tax value is 100k, which is definitely inaccurate. Is there a way to have that reassessed to reflect its true tax value? We heard through a neighbor that it is recorded as nonbuildable and he doesn’t have to pay taxes, but I have not been able to find anywhere to verifiy that. Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer!!!

In addition to online listings that target lot and land buyers, effective property signs always should be part of your marketing plan. Don’t just use a standard “For Sale” sign; we suggest that you have a sign custom-made for selling your lot or land (which can be done relatively inexpensively these days). You can help tell the story with your custom signs by including a few key points like acreage and property features. The sign(s) should be located for visibility, look professional and be kept clean and upright.
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