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.
First impressions are lasting in real estate. When selling a home you would never leave out your dirty laundry for potential buyers to see, and you should also clean up your lot before it is shown and marketed.  Cut the grass (or weeds), remove trash and take marketing photos of your property when it is looking its best. Some sellers even plant wildflowers to make their vacant land look beautiful. It’s like staging a home, but you’re just working with raw land instead.
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.
Calculate all of the costs to bring the land up to the condition you would like. What is it going to cost you to build out the property? That is the cost of acquiring the land, the entitlement, the cost of construction of the land, the cost of marketing to people to build it up if it is a retail space, plus the cost it takes to secure any money (i.e., loans)? You also have to factor in a reserve for costs associated with things such as air conditioners, wall coverings, and so on, says Veissi. "Those things have a shelf life, so, they are going to take x amount of time before they need to be replaced."
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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).
After identifying your likely buyers, try to think like them so you can focus your message to convey what they need to know about your property. Have information ready about schools, shopping and other nearby amenities. For developable land you can be prepared with zoning information and insight from local authorities about the location and capacity of water and sewer service. Each property is different, so customize your information for your situation and your targeted buyers.
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