Honestly, since you’re the buyer, there’s no real reason not to use a realtor (because they’ll take their money from the seller, not you). I’d just be sure to get one who knows their stuff (i.e. – make sure they have some level of experience dealing with vacant land, as it’s a whole different animal than what most realtors are used to dealing with).
If you’re looking at a vacant lot in the middle of the desert or near the top of a mountain with nothing around for miles, you will probably want to verify with a professional that water will be accessible if/when you need it (and if your only option is to have it hauled in by truck, you'll want to get an idea for how much this will cost on an ongoing basis).
If you have created a land contract, you’ll also need a memorandum of land contract. This is, essentially, an abbreviated legal document that references the main contract created. This simply serves as a public notice that the buyer is interested in the property without you and the buyer having to disclose and record the entire land contract. Because the deed of the property will not be filed until you’ve received full payment on the purchase price indicated in the contract, this memorandum will be filed with the county and the city to serve as a record that the buyer is interested in the property.
I’m not the best person to answer that, because I’m not a lawyer and I know very little about what your rights are – but I imagine it could be difficult to prove much without a signed contract. That being said, I’ve heard that there are potential claims on the grounds of “squatters rights“. If you’ve lived at the property for 20 years, there may be something worth exploring here.
As for what type of land can be used for horses – you’d probably have to call your county or municipality planning & zoning office and ask them what the zoning would have to be for this particular use. Once you know the answer, it’s pretty easy to generate a list of these land owners with a service like AgentPro247 (as I describe in this blog post). You could then send out a direct mail campaign and try to find deals on this type of property (at least, that’s why I would try to do if it were me).
Planning Consent. This will be needed before development is begun, but who obtains it is a question for landowners. Embarking on the planning process at your own risk can pay off, but it is a gamble and we recommend that you speak to either a surveyor, a planning consultant or a planning officer at your local authority to get an idea as to whether or not an application for consent for development would be successful. Many such applications will go to appeal. Is the planning consent you obtain going to be the one developers need? This is why many landowners enter into promotion agreements or conditional contracts which oblige others to apply for planning, as they often have a greater chance of success on the right terms. Be aware though, that extensive price negotiations can take place once planning consent is obtained, and the actual net development area can be calculated. This will take into account any ‘extra’ costs such as wildlife surveys or ground investigations that are required as a result of the planning conditions.

My only real complaint with Zillow is with their video feature. While I'm certainly glad they provide ANY options to add video (unlike most of the free listing sites I've come across), I'm not a huge fan of their 2-minute self-shot video option. It's not easy to show a property in it's best light in under 2 minutes and/or by only using the camera in your pocket. It's unfortunate that they don't offer the ability to upload or embed a higher-quality, better-produced video. If they added this option, it would be a MAJOR improvement to their FSBO listing platform.
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.
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.
One of the best ways to do this is by using Google Earth (which is free) and the topography map from Earth Point (which is also free). With Google Earth, you can search for your property (using the address or coordinates) and zoom in using your mouse buttons and the control/command and shift keys on your keyboard. This will allow you to tilt the earth so you can see precisely where all the hills and valleys are in your area. 

At the center of everything we do is a strong commitment to independent research and sharing its profitable discoveries with investors. This dedication to giving investors a trading advantage led to the creation of our proven Zacks Rank stock-rating system. Since 1986 it has nearly tripled the S&P 500 with an average gain of +26% per year. These returns cover a period from 1986-2011 and were examined and attested by Baker Tilly, an independent accounting firm.


Mortgagee’s consent. If your land is subject to a legal charge you will require the lender’s consent to the sale. If you are selling off part of a larger parcel of charged land you will need to obtain a release. This might mean the renegotiation of your financial arrangements, which again, is sensibly addressed early in the transaction. Speak to your relationship manager and your solicitor.


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.

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.
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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.
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.
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“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.
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.
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.
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.
I probably wouldn’t go so far as to put down a gravel drive or anything else yet – simply because you don’t know what your buyers will have in mind, and they may want to go in a different direction with the property altogether… but something as basic as a perc test and survey will apply to most potential buyers (and it’s not terribly expensive to do).
If you’re looking at a vacant lot in the middle of the desert or near the top of a mountain with nothing around for miles, you will probably want to verify with a professional that water will be accessible if/when you need it (and if your only option is to have it hauled in by truck, you'll want to get an idea for how much this will cost on an ongoing basis).

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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.
Consider your own needs when pricing, and understand how pricing could impact buyers’ interest. When selling real estate, you sometimes have to choose between getting the highest price and possibly selling quicker. Plus, your pricing may be influenced if you need to sell for financial reasons. In addition to your own situation, pricing your property ultimately requires an understanding of the land market as a whole, why people are buying lots or land in that area and who these people are. A good real estate agent with land expertise can help greatly in this process.
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