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.
I have a brokerage in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee that focuses specifically in land, so what I have done is created a nationwide advertising service to attract more buyers. I advertise on several investor channels like CNBC, Bloomberg, Fox Business and then also channels watched by people interested in land and the outdoors like the Outdoor Channel.
Since it is near the New Year, please allow me to use this illustration. Many people make a resolution to diet and exercise to lose weight in the New Year. They may buy a new piece of equipment and some new workout clothes. They go hard for a couple of weeks, and slowly excuses begin to interrupt the routine and eventually there is no real progress. Then the person can say, “I tried the Bowflex for a while, but it didn’t really work for me.” The truth is, they didn’t do what Bowflex recommends and therefore they did not achieve the desired result.
If a property doesn't have access to one or more of these staples of reasonable living, the property (for all intents and purposes) may not be considered build-able. After all, who would want to build a house where they can't flush the toilet or get access to clean water? If a property isn't build-able, you will lose a massive portion of the property’s usability, marketability and value. Since most people buy land with the intent building on it, you will definitely want to be aware of anything that could become an obstacle to that objective.
Since it is near the New Year, please allow me to use this illustration. Many people make a resolution to diet and exercise to lose weight in the New Year. They may buy a new piece of equipment and some new workout clothes. They go hard for a couple of weeks, and slowly excuses begin to interrupt the routine and eventually there is no real progress. Then the person can say, “I tried the Bowflex for a while, but it didn’t really work for me.” The truth is, they didn’t do what Bowflex recommends and therefore they did not achieve the desired result.

Your responses is truly encouraging. I am Construction Manager, starting out in development. I could really use your insight or how to begin. I want to build an resort, a place where families can come with all the amenities that you have to pay leaving the state of NY. With Executive suites for out of state executives. some rooms, some kitchenettes and E. Suites. Anyway, I found this great location, went to the town to see who owns the land. It is in a commercial area. I have a broker who will reach out to the owner for the sale. What would you suggest my next steps should be; get the property, get it survey, have a design prepared. I want to get investors on board. What would you suggest, I have for pitching my proposal to investors. I currently work with Architects, Engineers and they are willing to support me in this project. Just not sure what my next step should be. Any recommendations.
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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).
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).
Like most free listing sites, the format isn't necessarily optimized for vacant land properties (like the kinds I typically sell), but it's certainly possible to work within the parameters they give you (Pro Tip: On the first step when they ask for an address… you can also enter in the GPS coordinates of your property, in case it doesn't have a registered address yet).
On the surface, it seems like such a simple creature – but there can be A LOT of potential problems lurking beneath the surface of any piece of land. I wouldn't necessarily say all these issues are common, but the fact is – any one of these things could potentially be a deal killer if not addressed properly. When you take it all into consideration, it adds up to a sizable list of things that ought to be investigated as part of your due diligence process.

Thanks Ann! I’m so glad you got some good value out of it. I think you’re probably on the right track in getting outside help with the zoning details – that can be quite a confusing area if you don’t have any prior experience with it. If you have a builder in mind, you may want to get them involved on the front end too – as they will be able to point out most of the important details you’ll want to evaluate before they’re able to start building (even if you don’t plan to build for a while, they’re still great for some free consulting if they’re expecting to help you at some future date).


Very informative articles, and exchanges. I have a general question about subdivisions. I am looking to sell a 5 acre parcel, that would accommodate about 45 lots. The lots would be sold, with houses built, for a minimum of $750,000 each. Would you say there a rough guide, as to what percentage the cost of land should be for each lot sold? Obviously, the lower the cost of the acquired land, the better for the developer, but I’m just wondering if there is a ‘rule of thumb’ in the business. For example, no more than 25% of a lot’s sale price should go towards the cost of the land? I am not looking to push the buyer to their break-even point, but I want to get a fair price too.
Facebook is a website that needs no introduction. In addition to being the dominant player in social media today, it has also grown into a very active and effective place to buy and sell real estate. Whether you choose to post properties for sale in the Facebook Marketplace or in one or more a local “For Sale” Facebook Groups in your area – this social platform offers a TON of opportunity to get more exposure.

Before getting started, check out a few sample ads for houses and you'll notice that they are emphasizing the benefits and amenities of the house. Don't sell the steak, sell the sizzle. Raw land is no different. Take a good look at what makes your land compelling. Mountain views? Water? Hunting? Recreational area? Good access? In the path of development? Trees? Then get out the thesaurus and use some colorful adjectives to describe the area and land. Of course, you will need a section for just the facts such as: elevation, access, terrain, deed conveyance, taxes, driving directions, GPS coordinates, sewer, water, utilities, mineral rights, etc. I like to use a simple table outlining all of the basic attributes and facts about the land. It is essential that the potential buyer have easy access to this basic information but it won't help sell the land. Your language and conviction about the area need to be conveyed to a potential buyer and that is what will sell the property. More information is always better than less. Once you have your content well laid out then you need to add images.
A major issue that we see when people try to sell property to their friends is that they’ll cut breaks for their friends. Perhaps their friend doesn’t have the money, so they’ll allow for later payment while transferring the property to their friend. Always ensure that you are engaging in a business deal that is within your best interests. If your friend does not have the money to buy the land, have a contract written up with payment details and guidelines. Never trust someone blindly - this is a business deal and should be treated as one despite your friendship.
If a property doesn't have access to one or more of these staples of reasonable living, the property (for all intents and purposes) may not be considered build-able. After all, who would want to build a house where they can't flush the toilet or get access to clean water? If a property isn't build-able, you will lose a massive portion of the property’s usability, marketability and value. Since most people buy land with the intent building on it, you will definitely want to be aware of anything that could become an obstacle to that objective.

I have an opportunity to buy 53 acres of recreational land. 9 of the acres is a pond and another 16 acres is CRP land. I was thinking about sub dividing these lots for a private campground. I currently own a single lot in a private campground about 70 acres and most lots are .18 ac that sells for $4000 each. I am looking to do the same as the owner did years ago, but with possibly my own piece of land. Without tipping off the owner on this opportunity, land for sale, what problems may I encounter, or unforseen costs will I run into?
Get Proper Tax Advice. This is an absolute, and again must be done early on in the procedure. Professional advice is needed to structure the transaction in the most tax efficient way, making the most of any reliefs and exemptions that may be available. Income Tax, Capital Gains Tax, Inheritance Tax, Value Added Tax and Stamp Duty Land Tax are all taxes which may need to be considered and planned. Many developers will want to certain that the seller has obtained professional tax advice before exchanging contracts.
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."
I’m sure it could be done. I actually live in a subdivision that started exactly like how you’re describing back in the 70’s. I think it can be a pretty big speculative gamble unless you’re absolutely certain that there’s a huge demand for what you’re creating… but if you end up being right, you could easily make millions (depending on how big of a project you’re looking at).
This whole subject always fascinates me, because it’s a pretty difficult question to answer. Even most appraisers don’t really know what they’re talking about when it comes to valuing land… a vacant lot’s true value is usually a very elusive number to nail down. You may want to see this blog post for more details on how I look at it: https://retipster.com/valueofland
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.
In terms of an investment – I only buy land when I’m getting it for FAR below market value (which basically guarantees that I’ll be able to sell it some day for more than I paid for it)… and it doesn’t sound like that’s necessarily what’s happening here. If you think you’d be able to use it for something that would increase the overall value of your current property, then it may make sense… but if not, then it may not make the most sense from an investment standpoint.
Advice: One of the added benefits of hiring this agent is that they can advise you on much more than just the price of your land. A true professional will have a network of individuals that can help you with anything from tax planning to pond building. An experienced agent can tell you what is possible. They may know many things that can save or make you money during your transaction. Most of the time a good agent will help you net more money from selling your property than you can get on your own.
Very informative articles, and exchanges. I have a general question about subdivisions. I am looking to sell a 5 acre parcel, that would accommodate about 45 lots. The lots would be sold, with houses built, for a minimum of $750,000 each. Would you say there a rough guide, as to what percentage the cost of land should be for each lot sold? Obviously, the lower the cost of the acquired land, the better for the developer, but I’m just wondering if there is a ‘rule of thumb’ in the business. For example, no more than 25% of a lot’s sale price should go towards the cost of the land? I am not looking to push the buyer to their break-even point, but I want to get a fair price too.
48. Using a similar approach to how I find motivated sellers, you can find a list of all the properties in your area that have sold for cash over the past 6 – 24 months. From this list, create a direct mail campaign and contact them. Let these people know that you have some great deals on real estate and that you're looking for investors who want to buy them for cash.
And consider that the developer may not really “need” your property, and may just be looking into options for improving the entrance to the community. It’s worth noting that a more beautifully landscaped or designed community entrance adjacent to your 10 acre property could increase your property’s value. Also, building a friendly relationship with the developer may lead to a buyer for your property in the future.
This issue can be overcome if you can establish a legal, recorded easement to the property. This can be done if one of the neighbors is willing to allow you access through their property – to yours. In many cases, a neighbor shouldn't be expected to do this for free, you'll have to give them a reason to help you (usually in the form of money). Again, this isn't an impossible issue to overcome, but it is definitely something you'll want to be aware of before you purchase.
Environmental issues. Contaminated land is what springs to mind when environmental issues are mentioned, but in this scenario, what is most likely are potential flooding or drainage problems. A history of flooding or waterlogging is clearly not going to be welcome news for a developer, but equally if the land has been used for potentially contaminative uses in the past or is near to sources of contamination, remember that remedying any actual contamination is costly and will significantly affect the value of the land. Any past surveys or reports that have been carried out should be to hand if required.
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!
Remember, the goal is to get your listing in front of as many potential buyers as possible, and the buyers who browse on Website A may never think of browsing on Website B (or C, or D, or E). Since we can never know precisely where our next buyer will come from, it may be worth your consideration to look at what each of these options can bring to the table (and since none of these cost a dime, the only thing you stand to lose is your time).
Unfortunately, I owe $4000 in back taxes on the 2 acres. Most of the $4,000 owed is mostly penalty fees, since the annual tax on the 2 acres is $300 yr. My home on the 5 acres is valued at $500,000 and the 2 acres is valued at $14,000. If I pay the past due tax fees and penalties on the 2 acres, and have both properties joined, will the value of my home increase since it will be on 7 acres instead of 5 acres. And if so, will my homes value only increase by the value of the 2 acres ($14,000) for a total of $514,000? Also, the 2 acres is land locked and on a steep hill. Thank you in advance for your help.
If you’re in a neighborhood where builders are particularly active, you may have already gotten a knock on the door or letter in mail asking if you’re interested in selling. Stanley says he receives many calls from sellers to bring his attention to a property as well. When it's the right kind of property, most builders are happy to make an offer on a home – often in cash – that makes the process simple, quick and free of commission paid to any real estate agents.

Like most free listing sites, the format isn't necessarily optimized for vacant land properties (like the kinds I typically sell), but it's certainly possible to work within the parameters they give you (Pro Tip: On the first step when they ask for an address… you can also enter in the GPS coordinates of your property, in case it doesn't have a registered address yet).

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.

Hi David, I think it has everything to do with the zoning of the property, and what the local municipality will allow you to do with it (given the size, shape, location, and what exactly you’re hoping to do with it). Once you have a specific property in mind, you could find out pretty easily by calling the local planning & zoning department. Just ask them what can be done with the property, and they should be able to give you your answer!
When you take advantage of this option you don’t have to go through all the aggressive marketing tactics that are needed for property selling. You are not going to be using up time by having to conduct showings of the property. You are not going to be hassled with a bunch of leads that you generated that really were not the right target market for you. When you want to sell property fast then time is the priority and this is one of the major benefits you derive with the, we buy land option.
A major issue that we see when people try to sell property to their friends is that they’ll cut breaks for their friends. Perhaps their friend doesn’t have the money, so they’ll allow for later payment while transferring the property to their friend. Always ensure that you are engaging in a business deal that is within your best interests. If your friend does not have the money to buy the land, have a contract written up with payment details and guidelines. Never trust someone blindly - this is a business deal and should be treated as one despite your friendship.
Thank you very much for the write-up. I learnt quite a great deal, being a novice in real estate business. As a matter of fact I stumbled on your article while searching for information about possible investment opportunities on a piece of land. One of our client conferred a nine-hectar piece of land to us and we’re considering what investment would be appropriate on it. That’s what pushed me to start searching for things to do before investing on a piece of land, and I must confess that your article provided 95% of the answers. Thank you again. I guess I know how to go about it now, who to talk to and what to look for. In case you’d like to know where I’m writing from, I’m based in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon (Central Africa), a country so geographycally blessed with a long history of political stability and an accomodating business environment. If you happen to think of an investment opportunity in Africa put Cameroon on your priority list. Let’s keep in touch.
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.
The modern real estate housing market fluctuates on a daily basis. While houses typically sell quickly, most vacant land parcels are stagnant and can be difficult to sell. Land owners can find it nearly impossible to sell their land. You will more than likely have possession of your property for a long time and continue to pay the real estate taxes while you own it.
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