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.

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.
Jonathan is passionate about helping people buy and sell land. He is an associate broker with Southeastern Land Group, LLC (SELG) and is the Responsible Broker for the company in Mississippi. Jonathan is an Accredited Land Consultant (ALC), working with Southeastern Land Group (AlaLandCo) since 2008, serving Alabama and Mississippi. He is a member of the Alabama and Mississippi chapters of the Realtor’s Land Institute (RLI), and is currently serving as Vice President of the Alabama Chapter. Jonathan specializes in marketing rural properties online, and is a contributor for LANDTHINK.com, writing articles focused on helping people buying and selling rural land.

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.
This website gives sellers the option of listing their properties on the MLS for a flat fee (without signing a contract with a real estate agent). Granted – this extra feature isn't free, but it's a nice little premium tool that isn't offered by most of the other platforms on this list – and considering what a HUGE additional audience the MLS represents, I thought it was worth pointing this out.
Your potential buyer needs to see more than just the words you use to describe the land. They also need to visually connect with the property via high quality maps and pictures of the parcel and surrounding area. You don't need to have 50 pictures but you do need at least five or so to give the buyer an idea of the terrain, soil and views as well as the road of where they would access the land. You should include a plat map (call the county for a copy), general area map (I like to use Google Earth for maps) and a topographic map is always helpful as well. You can always contact a local surveyor if you need help preparing the maps and getting the GPS coordinates.

"When you walk into a dealership you have a pretty good idea what you want to buy and what your budget is, whether it's $20,000 or $50,000," explains Veissi. "Some people walk out owning a car that they can't afford (and getting financing terms that are not favorable). Often that is because they bring emotion into the buy." In addition, you need to hire professionals with a good track record—an engineer, appraiser, realtor, and real estate attorney. You will avoid a lot of headaches once you start negations, he adds.


As for pricing, your suggestion of $20,000 x 98 seems high for a sliver of road frontage to add a turn lane. Granted, you have the right to try to sell your property for whatever you think it is worth (unless it is a government taking for market value, or if you just don’t own the property in the first place), but that does not mean someone will buy it if it is overpriced. The developer likely has other options. Usually valuations in a situation like this are based on an appraised (or negotiated) value per acre or square foot, and then a survey determines the precise size of the sliver of land that is being conveyed at that rate.
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.
This is fraught with problems due to human fallibility. As long as you and your neighbor(s) get along great, everything’s fine, but there are about a million ways for it to go wrong. If he get’s pissed off at you, your water goes off. If he dies and stops paying the electric (pump) bill, your water goes off. If he decides to fill his private lake and uses up all the water, your water goes off. What if it was originally his well, you move in, then a month later says the well has to be redone – are you paying for half of his expenses enough though you just got there? If you refuse, your water goes off. The possibilities go on and on… so keep it in mind.
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!
Very interesting read. I am looking at some desert land in both NV and AZ. They are between 40-80 acres each. My budget seems to afford places that either have an old well, or power at the lot line, but not both. Which utility do you feel is initially more critical to have of the two? I know adding a solar system or having power brought in is very cost prohibitive, so my thought was to go with the power on the lot. I figured I could always have water trucked in and stored in a tank since the properties are easily 2WD road accessible. I figure that buying property with an old well may be worthless and not worth the price increase of the property. And I have been reading that drilling a well is a gamble. Thanks in advance for some insight.
The trick with vacant land is to understand why it's vacant in the first place. I've run across quite a few vacant lots that seemed attractive at first glance, but eventually, I discovered the reason nobody was using them was that you CAN'T use them. If one (or more) of the issues above are prohibiting someone from putting a property to good use, believe me – you don't want to find out after you already own it.
Once we have completed our title examination and have established that there is clear title to the property, we will coordinate with you to set up closing. A title professional will prepare the necessary documents for you to sign, notarize, and return to them. Once the signed and notarized documents are received, the agreed upon funds are distributed and you get paid! Our process is simple, straightforward, and typically takes about 2-4 weeks to complete.
If, for whatever reason, you don’t want to use Craigslist, another option is Facebook. Mark said, “right now, people are selling all day long on buy/sell groups on Facebook.” However, these are not the typical real estate buy/sell groups. “They’re going to Craigslist buy/sell groups, recreational vehicles buy/sell groups, hunting buy/sell groups, or fishing buy/sell groups.”

There are hundreds of millions of people passing through this site each month (with many of them coming from syndicated outlets like AOL, Yahoo, Trulia and more) and most of them are there with the sole purpose of looking for real estate to buy and rent. It's also worth noting that many buyers start their search with Zillow (instead of looking only at their local MLS listings), so it's a great way to gain exposure to a massive (and targeted) audience at no cost.


These can include a requirement that you dedicate part of “your” land that is in the road right-of-way to the local government, causing you now to be working with a smaller parcel. Other rules may require you to build or improve roads, sidewalks, curb and gutter and even to plant trees. In addition, you also may be required to install water and sewer connections and meters for the lots, or to pay capacity fees, impact fees and other assessments when adding the new homesites.

Great article. This is actually the first time I am learning about all of this. I bought my first property (that I currently live in) in 2012 and I am interested in investing in more property and generating passive income. My question is, once the property is purchased how do you ensure that it sells? I’m assuming that the only way to generate income from vacant land is for someone to build property on your land. If there is no interest in that land it could possibly turn into a loss.
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.
If you want to investigate the situation on your property, you could always order an environmental report. They can either do a high-level look at it (without doing any soil sampling), or they can drill soil borings to verify if there are any chemicals in the soil (which of course, will cost more). I’m guessing you could find out more on whether or not it’s an issue to be concerned about with a quick phone conversation.
I recently had the opportunity to work with Grace Chang regarding the partial purchase of a note that I brokered to FNAC in 2015. Grace informed me, out of the blue, that FNAC would purchase an additional partial, or the full remaining balance, if my client was interested. I contacted my client and she was very pleased with the offers from FNAC. My client happily opted to sell an additional partial, and, thanks to Grace's knowledge and professionalism, the transaction was completed quickly. Grace Chang is a pleasure to work with!read more
Can you tell me how does the developer acquire and secure several acres surrounding the 1 acre he owns to expand his development. The problem is that the developer lacks financing and cant afford to acquire the adjacent land, yet he wants to prevent other parties from building on the adjacent land so as to ensure there is enough space to expand his development.
Double check ad data for any property you’re considering; they’re often full of mistakes – not necessarily misleading information, but it comes from laziness. What doesn’t help is that when a listing first gets posted, apparently nearly all real estate websites post it as their own without checking it for accuracy. For example, we’re considering a property that has multiple issues:
You also need to confirm that each of your planned lots will be properly serviced. Most homeowners expect to face a public road (with adequate frontage) and have water, sewer, power and other utilities available. So be sure to confirm both that typical utilities are available for your lots and that they will have the capacity to handle the load from any new homes that would be built on the subdivided lots. Do your research and have your surveyor locate water, sewer, gas, electricity and other utility lines and infrastructure on your plan.
Rezoning isn’t a quick process, and there are no guarantees. “Sometimes councils won’t rezone because the land is too fragmented and needs consolidation,” Coutts says. “It can easily take four to five years. Some landowners don’t have that time, so it can be a very daunting and upsetting process. You can see why they say ‘just sell it and let’s get out of here’. But if you can wait and manage the process effectively, the rewards can be considerable.”
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.
You mentioned that the adjacent development already is “underway” and that the developer recently sold 92 lots. This makes me wonder why the developer would be coming to you now about roadway frontage for a turn lane. Usually the road improvement plan is in place prior to the subdivision being formally approved and recorded and the developer secures rights to all of the land it needs for turn lanes in advance. The existence of lots in this development suggests that the road plans already should be approved. Get information from your local planning or subdivision department (as applicable, or possibly the DOT) and see if you can find the plans for offsite road improvements for this subdivision. It’s possible that there was a lapse in the planning process — or that the original roadway improvement plans have expired if the project was abandoned during the downturn — and the need for land for a turn lane has recently come to light. Do your research to understand the facts.

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.
If this process overwhelms you, consider hiring a land broker. A land broker will take a commission but they will handle all of the above for you. Hopefully they will price the property so that you make almost as much as you would have without hiring the land broker meanwhile it saves you a lot of time and hassle. I do not recommend working with a land broker who charges a flat upfront fee even if the property doesn't sell as there is no built-in incentive for them to sell the property. Keep on top of them and make sure they are doing their job. Unless the commission is hefty, a land broker isn't going to care as much about selling your land and may end up just listing it on their own website and letting it sit there forever. Communicate regularly with your land broker so your listing remains a priority for them even if it's just to get you off their back!

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.


If, for whatever reason, you don’t want to use Craigslist, another option is Facebook. Mark said, “right now, people are selling all day long on buy/sell groups on Facebook.” However, these are not the typical real estate buy/sell groups. “They’re going to Craigslist buy/sell groups, recreational vehicles buy/sell groups, hunting buy/sell groups, or fishing buy/sell groups.”
On those notes, pay attention to who you’re likely buyer will be, and seek out those people. If the land is zoned for commercial businesses, make entrepreneurs and existing business owners your target audience. A real estate agent who is selling a flat property that gets a lot of sunshine may want to reach out to energy companies who are looking to build solar arrays.
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